Fishing for a complement

Ben Stubbs finds flathead and bream, trevally and mackerel in the South Coast's aptly named 'Bay of Plenty'.

Robert De Niro squints into the rising sun as he steers our fishing boat across the water. Dolphins flick through the waves ahead of us and the boat tips in the swell, allowing the spray to catch us full in the face as we chug towards the beaten grey rocks of Bowen Island, pushing our fishing party towards the lip of the marine park in Jervis Bay.

I'm feeling queasy from the handful of sea-sickness tablets I swallowed in the pre-dawn darkness. Maybe I took the wrong tablets? Perhaps there was a warning not to take them with coffee? In my befuddlement, I imagine this might be some strange re-enactment of Analyse This and I'm being taken out to "sleep with the fishes". I stick my head over the side and close my eyes, lulled by the drone of the engine.

As my stomach settles and my eyes refocus, things gradually make sense again. I recognise that De Niro is, in fact, Angelo, the skipper of our fishing charter, who has an uncanny resemblance to the Hollywood actor. He motions me into the cabin and explains that the seas are already rough for this early in the morning and we won't venture outside the shelter of the bay today. I'm told the prevailing north-east winds blow down the coast to cool the sweltering mainland during summer, creating the howling winds and rough seas we are now ploughing through.

As the sun pitches higher in the sky, we head towards the lighthouse and the silhouette of the cliffs on Point Perpendicular to fish for leather- jacket, flathead, snapper, kingfish and salmon.

Slicing up the waters of Jervis Bay's marine park are the imaginary lines of the Booderee National Park. Certain sections of the marine park are designated sanctuary zones and they exclude commercial fishing operations to protect endangered species and to allow the underwater populations to flourish.

Assured that there are still many fish available to us across the "Bay of Plenty", or Booderee, as it's traditionally known, we cruise through the mottled water, catching flashes of silver as fish dart below us.

At Long Nose Point the rocks are polished smooth from the winds and full of holes. Along the headland we see the rusted remains of torpedo tubes, once placed strategically across Jervis Bay to protect the naval facilities during World War II.

Just past the battle relics, scuba divers explore the depths of "The Docks", an underwater cave system that shelters marine life, including schools of grey nurse sharks.

Today as we round the broken edges of the cliffs, the points look like the tips of submerged skyscrapers, evidence of an Atlantis below the surface. Angelo says the rocks around the edge of Jervis Bay are world-famous for game fishing.

As warm currents push across the bay, they provide the perfect environment for marlin - anglers congregate around Point Perpendicular to test their skills fighting these game fish.

As we motor along, groups of dishevelled fishermen dangle out on the cliff edge with their fishing lines. Behind them are tarpaulin shelters rigged up against the cliff face and the peculiar sight of inflated kiddie pools, brought in to hold bait for their long-haul adventures, some lasting more than three hours with a single fish. Last year a fisherman on Point Perpendicular caught a world-record marlin off the rocks - it weighed a whopping 148.5 kilograms.

Ready to do some fishing of our own, we throw out our lines and hit the sea floor, hoping to snag sand-dwelling flathead or a school of kingfish drifting through. We adjust our sea legs to the tilt of the grumbling black ocean and I load my hook like a shish kebab with an assortment of squid and sticky fish strips that I'm convinced will be irresistible. Angelo watches the mess I've made of my hook. "You need a hand?" he offers. I'm a little offended but, on second thoughts, it's probably best if I let the expert help me.

I look to the end of my rod and feel the tug of the line against my fingertips. I check my watch repeatedly, showing none of the patience that is essential for a true fisherman.

As if sensing my short attention span, the line strains against my hand. Like a twitching nose about to sneeze, the rod jerks and arcs and I pull up in a reflex motion, snagging something in the depths. Then ensues a colossal tussle of man and fish. On the end of the hook is a rock fish, bigger than legal size but not nearly as impressive as my battle promised. As we pull the bright orange creature onboard, Angelo assures me rock fish taste "just like lobster" when they're fresh and lightly fried.

We start the engines and head off again through churning waves in search of more fish. I'm reminded of Jervis Bay's history as an inlet of shipwrecks and wild weather. Protecting the bay from the worst of nature, the cliffs of St Georges Cape sit in the water like a balled fist, stripped to the knuckles from the wind. The ruins of the lighthouse on the point recall haunted stories of the disasters that have occurred here. A plaque among the crumbled blocks on the headland tells of the 26 ships that met their end along the Jervis Bay coastline between 1805 and 1928.

Among the long list of tragedies is a story of an assistant lighthouse keeper of St Georges Cape, Edward Bailey. He was fishing off the rocks below the lighthouse in 1895 to supplement his income and support his family. He ventured out on a ledge, got tangled in his lines and fell. He was eaten by sharks.

After a succession of disasters, the lighthouse was deemed a failure and three years later it was replaced by the current beacon on Point Perpendicular. The structure was left in ruins.

We head into calmer waters towards the fairy penguin colonies on the protected shores of Bowen Island and drop lines again. With the help of onboard computers, we find an underwater pocket alive with activity and in a matter of seconds the sea is boiling with fish. As if we are dropping lines into a wishing well, we haul up a succession of flathead, trevally, bream, gigantic Australian salmon as well as slimy mackerel, used as baitfish.

As one of our party reels in a photo-worthy flathead, an inky shadow picks up speed and heads towards the boat. Just as I'm about to yell "shark!" a solitary seal slices through the water and expertly grabs the fish from the line, leaving the angler slack-jawed and empty-handed.

We have a healthy catch from our morning on the water and we head back across the bay towards Huskisson. My sea-sickness tablets seem to be wearing off and my stomach mirrors the lurch of the ocean as we float past white sand beaches strewn with driftwood. As I hop off the boat and regain my balance, I think I'm in need of a sleep - and not just with the fishes.

Ben Stubbs travelled courtesy of Tourism NSW and JB Fishing Charters.


Getting there

Jervis Bay is 200 kilometres south of Sydney. Follow the Princes Highway past Nowra.

Staying there

Dolphin Sands has bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Huskisson opposite the information centre. Phone 4441 5511 or see For camping in the national park, phone the Booderee Visitors Centre on 4443 0977.

Fishing there JB Fishing Charters has bay, reef and deep-sea fishing options from Huskisson. Phone 0412 506 422 or