Fishing Plastics on the Cape

Shooting the rapids in the PolyCraft on the way to find the barra.

Shooting the rapids in the PolyCraft on the way to find the barra.

Yearn for something different? Cannot afford a luxurious, expensive boat in these times of increasing interest rates and financial pressures? There are other cheaper alternatives for adventurous, fun and/or family orientated fishing trips.
Water craft such as canoes meet these criteria. Canoes, in their various forms, date back thousands of years and during this time, they have been successfully used for crossing anything from creeks to seas and even oceans.
They are light-weight, portable and the more recent plastic versions are almost indestructible. Also, canoes provide a means of exploring new and varied fishing alternatives; many of which cannot be undertaken easily by larger powered boats. For the fisherman on a tight budget they are a significantly cheaper option than many, if not most, aluminium or fibreglass boats.
Canoeing is also a great form of fitness that enables the paddler to fish while exercising – it’s amazing how often you find yourself paddling against the wind.
There are, however, some polarised viewpoints as to their suitability when fishing waters inhabited by estuarine crocodiles. In such locations, you can never be too cautious. That said I have used canoes on Cape York, with a degree of trepidation at times and caught numerous species including jungle perch, sooty grunter, saratoga and the ever sought after, barramundi.
Easter provided an opportunity to chase barra on the southern Peninsula, on one of Lakefield National Park’s feeder watercourses, while paddling two differing plastic water craft.
My son Matt and I were paddling an old Coleman Scanoe, while Anthony Gomes was trailing his latest toy – a Polycraft 3m Tuff Tender from Boatscene in Cairns. His plastic boat at only 3m long was a beamy 1.4m wide and tipped the scales at a robust 80kg. While the Scanoe was a touch under 5m long, almost half the weight of the Polycraft and still relatively beamy, at 1.1m wide.
First impressions were that the new Polycraft looked bullet proof. To put it bluntly – it would bloody well have to be. If you have ever seen Gomes in full flight, this plastic boat will have to be of tank-like construction to tolerate the treatment he dishes out. I’m sure that Gomes, in Mexican, means bulldozer.
The point was rammed home even before the Polycraft hit the water. On lifting it off Anthony’s roof racks the stern touched the deck and I tried to turn it around and lower it gently to the ground. Anthony just said ‘drop it’. His demeanour more than inferred ‘none of that pussy stuff around here; its plastic with a 10mm hull and it will take it’.

Paul Graham with one of the better barra for the trip.

Paul Graham with one of the better barra for the trip.

On trying to carry it to the water the first pangs of disappointment with its construction set in. There were hand rails to use, but you couldn’t easily get your fist through the gap between the metal carry rail and the side wall. It needed to be a good 10mm wider to allow for a more comfortable carry. Accordingly, the poly boat was dragged to the top of the slope and let slide to the water’s edge. The rough treatment put an almost perverse grin on Anthony’s face – he really wanted to see just how tough these craft were.
Meanwhile, the Scanoe was carefully lifted off the vehicle and carried down to the river. As it wasn’t mine, I had to treat it somewhat more lovingly than the Polycraft.
It was time to throw the gear in and set off. Now, the Scanoe is a bloody roomy canoe and with only two backpacks and several rods we had room to accommodate a third fisherman. Come to think of it, a couple of scantily clad, busty hand maidens holding the golf umbrellas for shade and serving cold drinks, at a squeeze, could also fit in the Scanoe.
Although spacious, I was sure that later on in the day, after hours of paddling and sweating profusely, I would miss my tinnie with its carpeted floors, padded swivel seats, below deck storage, esky full of cold drinks and, electric motors at both ends.
Anthony toyed with the idea of throwing on a 15hp Suzuki outboard, but the river appeared too shallow. So he opted for a 54lb electric motor, several tackle boxes, an esky and an assortment of rods. The large electric was an overkill; during one quiet stretch, it pushed the Polycraft and towed us at far better than paddling speed.
Anthony looked like Lord Muck as he stood astride his craft using the electric to easily manoeuvre the Polycraft downstream. There is something soothing and decadent about the gentle whirr of an electric motor pushing a canoe. What happened to the days of yesteryear when energetic and rhythmic thrusts of the paddle were used to propel a canoe?
It didn’t take long to encounter our first rapid. And if we shot one rapid we shot 20. There was no stuffin’ around. Gomes lined up his preferred course, lifted the electric and using the oar as a lever, blasted his way downstream – I don’t know why he bothered to line it up. The Polycraft resembled a pin-ball as it bounced off all and sundry, emerging unscathed. His performance was nothing like a ballerina gracefully rising en Pointe. It was more akin to a dog cocking its leg on a fire hydrant.
We worked our way downstream luring the various feeding stations. There was an assortment of both bank and mid-stream structure that consisted of numerous rock bars and, the boughs of statuesque old blue gums that had many wets ago toppled into the water, when the eroded banks had failed to support their weight. The barra, however, proved elusive and the only fish that would rise to our lures were archer fish and spangled perch.

The quietness of our mode of travel allowed us to take in the splendour of one of Cape York’s many mystical river systems.
The Peninsula is truly a spectacular wilderness with starkly contrasting seasons and vegetation regimes. The tall riparian forests that lined the banks, which are so characteristic of Cape York, towered over the vibrant green hues of the shrub and grass layers. Further a-field of the lush river banks a mosaic of Eucalypt and Melaleuca woodlands dominated the landscape, while springs actively discharged their life giving waters into the low points of the topography.
I was comforted by the fact that I was not four-wheel driving through this country at this time of year. With so much surface water concealing the tracks, I pensively wondered just how long it would take before a vehicle broke through the crust and sank to the diffs, languishing in a quagmire that would necessitate hours winching and not fishing.
Arguably the country was at its best and showed no signs of the moisture stress which would surely develop as the dry season unfolded and the vegetation gradually lost its lustrous hues, fading to shades of yellow and then finally withering to brown. Then, as has happened for millennia, fires rage almost unabated and torch the landscape which then await the life giving monsoonal deluges to renew the cycle. It’s ironic that on many parts of the Peninsula you could bog a black duck during the wet season and yet, during the dry, water is as scarce as rocking horse sh!t.
Another pool ended and a riffle section was encountered with a short sharp rapid. Both craft ‘boated up’ to assess the drop. Incidentally I noticed that the Polycraft had another 50mm of freeboard and gauged from previous rapids, the draft was similar if not less.
Rather than risk capsizing, Matt and I took the soft option and walked the Scanoe. What happened to yesteryear and the adrenalin-pumping deliverance-like trips into northern NSW searching out waterfalls to shoot in kayaks? Gomes just shrugged off my caution and careered off downstream in his D3.
We had been fishing for several hours and had failed to raise a barra, let alone catch one. You just have to accept it – some days you’re the pigeon and on others, you’re the statue.
On a quiet tract of river, Matt and I were taking a break under the pendulous branches of one of the many majestic Melaleucas that lined the banks watching a small azure kingfisher winging across the surface, when Matt casually stated that there was croc drifting slowly with the current, near the far bank.
Generally with crocs when you are in a canoe, there are only two sizes – big and ‘oh my god’. Thank god this one typified neither. It was about 0.4m long and was quite untroubled by our intrusion into its aquatic habitat. On approaching to within a paddle’s length, it casually submerged and disappeared into the turbid depths of the stream.

The crocs reactions were vastly different to the 1.5m snake that crossed our bows a short time latter. It couldn’t wait to seek refuge on the bank. Thankfully it didn’t try to seek sanctuary in the canoe. It would have been an interesting decision – remain in the canoe with an agitated and possibly venomous snake or, leap from the canoe into the river with the croc(s).
Abruptly, the topography changed and the gentle slopes of the river’s alluvial terraces gave way to a gorge. Our plastic boats provided a great vantage point from which to view the steeply incised metamorphic rocks that had been carved by thousands of years of wet seasons into a craggy landscape.
This imposing terrain provided totally different feeding stations to those we had fished previously and the most productive-looking water encountered all day. It had barra written all over it.
With the keen sense of anticipation that overcomes you on sensing that conditions have changed for the better, we hastily set about luring for barra. And it didn’t take long to raise the first.
My Mann’s Stretch 10 was mauled on hitting the surface. However, the barra dropped it almost as quickly as it had risen from the opaque depths to engulf my artificial offering.
I recast to the same eddy and enticed yet another barra. Again it missed. A metre further on another barra, with a mouth like a torn tent, slammed the lure; inhaling it totally.
We had been paddling for four hours without a sight of a barramundi. Then, in an intense five minute period, seven barra were landed, with six from as many casts. Unfortunately all were rats, with not a legal fish amongst them.
Just as the fishing had hit a purple patch and we were starting to imitate the pigeon and not the statue, I looked to the bank and there was the car; our paddle was over.
Anthony’s jaw dropped. With a furrowed brow he hauled his D3 up to the stunted tea-trees that lined the bank and wondered just how in hell 80kg of plastic could be hauled to the vehicle through the vegetation and over the remnants of the rock gorge.
I left Anthony psyching himself for the gruelling task ahead and took the opportunity to paddle further on. Another rat was lured from the timber, while a short distance downstream a steep bank with a break in the vegetation and no rocks to speak of was located. ‘That would do nicely’ I thought.
The rest was easy. A snatch’ em strap attaching the boat to the bull bar and both plastic crafts were hauled to the top of the bank.
To say the 3m Tuff Tender was tough is an understatement. Anthony was keen to name it the Cape Crusader. But given the short, far from streamline proportions of the Polycraft and its robust nature, it would be far more appropriate to flog a stubby across its bow and christen it ‘aqua pig or D3TT’.

By Paul Graham

Loading the boat back onto the Cruiser at the end of the day was a relatively easy affair.

Loading the boat back onto the Cruiser at the end of the day was a relatively easy affair.