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Tales of the travels, trials and triumphs as we explore Australia in a converted bus

Motorhome Travels - December 2010


We have been camped at Cliff Head (just south of Dongara) for a few weeks now. We arrived here in time for the opening of the crayfish season and we have spent quite a lot of time in and under the water since then. It has been really fascinating to see the changes underwater as the crayfish molt their old deep red shells, wait under ledges in their new soft white form until their armour hardens then set off for deeper water. Our professional cray-fisherman friend Ian, has long spoken of the white crayfish that are caught at this time of the year then suddenly disappear.

On our first visit underwater the ocean floor was littered with what looked like dead crayfish. These discarded shells are so complete that you have to wonder how the crayfish got out of the shell leaving it so totally complete (I found this cool video on YouTube that shows a crayfish molt in action). Under every ledge and rock crayfish hide as they wait for their new shells to harden. During this time they do not venture out even to eat and are therefore not caught in the fisherman's pots. They are still vulnerable to those of us who visit them on the bottom and pluck them from their hiding places.

Almost all at once they decide that the new armor is good enough to head out in search of food. This is bonanza time for the fishermen as the hungry crayfish pour into their waiting pots. We had two pots set for this time and got our quota of 12 crayfish (6 each) almost every day. This feast does not last for long and within a few days almost all of the new white crayfish have gone from the shallow (dive-able) waters into much deeper waters off shore. Our catch in the pots drops to two, then one then zero per day. We see fewer eyes and feelers under ledges and eat more fish and sausages.

Ian says that they will not be back for a few months and in a few days he will move all of his pots out to very deep water.

Here are a few of the photos I took a couple of mornings ago of Ian and his crew heading off for the days fishing. It was a calm morning with really great light.

Sunrise at Cliff Head, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
Sunrise at Cliff Head, WA

Trixie, Ians fishing boat waits on her mooring at Cliff Head, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
Trixie, Ians fishing boat waits on
her mooring at Cliff Head, WA

The old landcruser makes its way to the beach with crates and the days bait, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
The old landcruser makes its way to
the beach with crates and the days
bait, WA

Pete the deckie, fetches the dingie, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
Pete the deckie, fetches the dingie,

Ian (left) and the crew launch the loaded dingie, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
Ian (left) and the crew launch the
loaded dingie, WA

And so begins the days fishing, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
And so begins the days fishing, WA



It is hard to get away from Cliff Head - that is why we are still here. The weather has been amazing and we have been able to go out snorkeling and diving almost every day. We have just returned from an early morning boat trip and the water is about as clear as I have seen it here. The purpose of this mornings wetness was not to return with fish for lunch (although we did not return empty handed) - but to try out the new spear gun arrangement.

The shack shower with the outside iron removed, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
The shack shower with the outside
iron removed, WA

You see next Thursday (the 16th) is the opening of the season for all "demersal fish". This includes the famous West Australian dhufish (pronounced "jew-fish"), most prized of all West Australian fish. To ready ourselves for the 16th, I have added an extra rubber to the spear gun and additional cable.

This will provide additional range and a greater punch. Dhufish are both large and quite shy, so a good range on the spear gun is very important. It takes quite a bit of time to get used to new rubber on the gun and we took an empty beer can out with us to use as a target. After an hour in the water shooting at the can, I am satisfied that the spear gun is shooting ok and the dhufish have something to fear come Thursday.

The shack is ready for the new vinyl floor (and the dogs are wondering what is happening), WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
The shack is ready for the new vinyl
floor (and the dogs are wondering
what is happening), WA

We are both enjoying free diving so much (as opposed to SCUBA diving) that we have decided to take a course to learn to do it better. The course claims that by completion, most people are able to double their time underwater. Tracey can already hold her breath for a good 40 seconds longer than me - so if we both double our breath holding time, the gap will be even wider! (not that I am at all competitive :-)

For the last few days we have been helping Ian (the local fisherman) undertake some much needed maintenance on his shack. A few days ago we re-clad the shower (the corrugated iron walls had all but disintegrated), and yesterday we laid new vinyl floor covering in the kitchen/living room.

The transformation has been quite remarkable and the old shack now looks very smart. Ian's dogs (both of whom rarely venture more than 3cm from his heals) were very worried about the changes to the shack. Perhaps they are fearing that a request to wipe feet before entering will soon follow.


We were up at the crack of dawn on the 16th - I'm not really sure why. I think it is just that we have been looking forward to the opening of the season for catching demersal fish here in WA.

We actually headed out to the spot where we had seen a sizable dhufish a few days earlier and sure enough he was still there. My first shot with the newly configured  (more powerful) spear gun was a disaster. There was tangled line and rubbers all over the place - needless to say the fish just swam off.

After a few more unsuccessful shots at some other fish I decided to convert the spear gun back to the way it has always been (single rubber). We returned to the bus empty handed.

To make matters worse, I had managed to catch my finger in one of the rubbers while loading the gun and almost dislocated the finger. Ice was applied by the resident nurse to reduce the swelling.

The first dhufish of the season, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
The first dhufish of
the season, WA

I had some doubt if I would be able to load a spear gun for a few days with my now very painful finger. Despite this we decided to head out to a different spot later in the afternoon. Sadly, just as we were leaving the mooring, the southerly wind arrived and it quickly became far to windy to go too far at all. I was keen to have one more go at the fish that sat and watched my embarrassing tangle that morning and we anchored once again at that spot. I had been in the water for just a minute or two when I spotted my fish. This time the old faithful spear gun (now back to single rubber) made no mistake and we had our first dhufish of the season.

There is a lot of really great fillets on a good dhufish - so we are not going to need to go spear fishing again for a while.

We are heading to Geraldton tomorrow or Sunday for the start of our 2 day Apnea (free-diving) course. We have been doing the breathing exercises that the course materials suggest and have both greatly increased our breath hold time (currently both at about 3 minutes).


We had a wonderful Christmas day. We got up really early - probably earlier than most of the good children looking to see what Santa had left. We were on the water before 6am and heading out in tandem with our motorhoming friend Jock. As it was very calm and there were two boats, we had decided to visit a reef that was a long way off shore (about 8.5km). This turned out to be a wonderful place just covered in all sorts of fish life and very clear water. The wind got up fairly suddenly and we had to head back in far sooner than any of us would have liked, but we did bring with us a good catch of skipjack trevally. We are just busting to get back to that reef.

Traceys 21kg Spanish Mackerel - shot in 8.5m of water on snorkel, WA - [Click for a Larger Image]
Traceys 21kg Spanish
Mackerel - shot in 8.5m
of water on snorkel, WA

We enjoyed the rest of the day eating and drinking (both way too much) with Ian and his Mum. All in all it was a great way to spend Xmas day!

The thought for boxing day was to repeat the same plan - however I was awoken at 2am by strong easterly winds and I felt sure that this had put an end to any thoughts of getting in the water today. Thankfully by 10:30am the wind had dropped and it was starting to get very hot. We took the boat out to a small reef that Ian suggested may house a nice Dhufish.

There was indeed a small Dhufish hiding under one of the ledges - but he was too small to be considered. Tracey speared a nice Western Foxfish with her new gun - a nice solid shot and a nice sized fish.

I was down on the bottom looking under a ledge when I heard the sound of her gun discharging, and when I turned to look I could hardly believe my eyes. She had just speared a huge Spanish Mackerel. The shot placement had been so good, the huge fish was hardly giving her any fight at all. I immediately looked to see if she was in any danger of being towed under or losing the fish (ready to add another spear if required) - but there were no such issues. I swam over and killed the fish with my spike and helped tow it back to the boat. The fish weighed in at 21kg and Tracey said that it took far more effort to hold it for the photo than it did to spear it.

We could not help but stop and think about what we were doing this time last year ... Tracey was recovering from life-threatening brain surgery to remove a pituitary tumor rapidly growing deep within her brain. One year on she is free diving to 20m, breath-holding for 3 minutes and spearing a 21kg fish. Life sure is strange!

I hope all our readers had a wonderful Christmas - Tracey and I thank you sincerely for all your support in 2010 and wish you all a very happy new year.


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