Host: Kadiaitcha Pastoral Company
Written by Sam Chisholm
With a fresh breeze, bag & swag on the passenger seat and the dust fading into the distance by the avgas drums. The life of a mustering pilot in its prime, never in one spot for too long, hungry for long days, tough country, and wild cattle. The thrill of the chase is their drug, always looking to the horizon to see where it may lead, nothing to hold you down. No two days are the same and each sunrise brings forth new challenges to conquer. It’s the life of a modern day nomad with no fixed address, millions of acres passing under the helicopter skids every hour.
The landscape is breathtaking and untouched; some of the things that you see day to day have only been seen by a hand-full of other humans. Rock-art, ancient burial grounds, old wreckages and natural wonders are all part of the magic. Places like these are talked about amongst helicopter circles but not often made public. It adds to the mystery of the land and keeps these places special and untouched. Out of all the places sacred to helicopter pilots, there are none so revered than their secret fishing holes. A good fishing hole is literally the most guarded secret a pilot can have, always on the lookout for a better one, the spot that guarantees Barramundi with every cast, one that is completely inaccessible to the outside world ensuring consistent supply.
Flying into a stock camp where beef is the feature of every breakfast, lunch and dinner, a freshly caught fish is welcomed with delight by all. There are truly only 2 people you have to please on a cattle station, one is the manager’s wife and the other is the cook, often they are the same person. Hence, bringing a fish for dinner ensures that you will always be welcome back no matter how many cattle you miss during the muster.
A few years back in the top end of Western Australia one of the other pilots and I took two of the blokes from the stockcamp for a fish late in the afternoon to a not-so-secret but hard to get to fishing hole up the coast. Straight away Harley yelled out as a big Barra smashed his lure and started taking line. It was a nice fish and he quickly had it within a few meters of the bank. The fish was pretty heavy and we didn’t want to lose it so I said to Harley, “Bring it up here”, pointing to a little stream that ran into the main hole.
He guided it slowly past the mangroves and up the stream so I could the Barra with my pair of pliers pulling it up the bank. Just as we were removing the hook from the fish’s lip I looked up to see a crocodile emerging out of the water right where I had been standing a second ago and it started up the bank towards us.
“Holy shit!” I yelled leaping backwards dropping the fish.
The little bastard was closing in! Harley darted in and grabbed the fish and I kicked sand at the crocodiles face until it turned around.
He slipped back into the water and swam down the stream into the main hole where Toby was standing on the ledge flicking his favorite lure hoping for a fish. Drawn by the movement of the lure, the croc raced in getting tangled up in the line and eventually hooking itself to the lure. Toby tried to reel the croc in whilst he thrashed about on the end of the line.
It took quite some time to get him to the edge of the bank, all the while we were contemplating how to retrieve Toby’s favorite lure without losing any limbs.
After a moment of contemplation, we decided upon a catch and release. Harley never missed a beat; he was right behind me jumping onto the croc grabbing it firmly around the jaw so it couldn’t open its mouth. Ty put a zippy tie around its mouth and a hobble belt around its back legs. After we had the croc suitably secured and the adrenaline had subsided we loaded him into the helicopter flew it back to the camp along with Harley’s fish.
We spent the next half an hour trying to convince the cook to turn the crocodile into dinner. She told us in no uncertain terms with a string of colorful words that it wasn’t going to happen so we had no choice but to release it in the nearest waterhole. Unfortunately for the cook this waterhole just happened to be behind her tent. Needless to say she no longer reads her books by the waters edge of an afternoon.