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Girls Catching Fish

Girls Catching Fish

More and more women are wanting to learn how to read sonar sounders properly. And just like reversing a boat trailer, their preferred first stop for instruction is not the partner who thinks he knows what it is all about.

Whether it is Annette Swaine, ex-police officer now running a boat hire business; Melissa Kenny who runs a cleaning business and drives trucks on a mining site; Minjaia Welham who is a teacher’s aide; or scores of others from a myriad of backgrounds and occupations, they have one thing in common: the desire to know how to tune and interpret what is on their boat’s sounder screen accurately, and then to set about identifying and catching the fish it is showing.

Irrespective of whether it is 2D traditional imaging, side imaging or down scanning, they are turning in increasing numbers to Australia’s foremost fishing coach, Ryan Moody, to learn how it is done. And they are doing it online.

The COVID-19 lockdown has provided the perfect opportunity for many women to take on the structured online courses. This includes learning from Ryan’s ‘real-time’ recordings of on-screen imaging and understanding what it is actually showing.

Course participants learn critically important concepts, like when a grain of rice is actually a barramundi; why smaller images on the sounder do not always mean smaller fish; how a diagonal line is not actually something to ignore but rather very often signifies a fish rising in the water column; the different profile a fish has when it is looking directly at the boat’s side scan transducer than when it is sitting parallel to it; and scores of other key factors. Collectively, all these galvanise into the deadliest fishing asset you can have on a boat – knowledge.

Minjaia Welham with red emperor
Minjaia from Mossman, Queensland, said she used to sit in the family boat looking over Nick’s (her partner) shoulder. “I just became obsessed with looking at the sounder constantly,” she said.As a result, Minjaia undertook one of Ryan’s courses to learn about Wonky Holes – areas where underwater springs flow up through the seafloor and stir up bait for serious reef fish. “Some of the points Ryan makes in the course about Wonky Holes you just go, wow, okay – that’s what is happening there,” Minjaia said. “When the kids were very little, I was always at home and I thought, ‘No – I’m going to go out fishing too.’ It was more so to prove a point than to actually catch fish. But I got my first 96cm nannygai, and I was hooked from there on. And that’s my favourite kind of fishing — nannygai from Wonky Holes.”

Fortunately for Minjaia, some Wonky Holes are located just 30 minutes’ boat drive from where she lives. As well as catching a trophy-sized nannygai, Minjaia also has extensive lists of red emperor, red bass, fingermark, marlin, mahi mahi, giant trevally and coral trout on her impressive piscatorial tally.

Melissa Kenny with nannygai
Melissa, from near Townsville, has undertaken a number of Ryan’s courses starting with Barra Basics. She has her own boat, the 5.5m fibreglass centre console, Miss Adventures Too.“I’ve always loved fishing. I think it’s more the peacefulness, and I love the ocean,” Melissa said. “Many, many years ago, when I was a teenager, I was kind of homeless for a bit. I always went to school, but I would save bits of dinner and I had my $2 handline, and I’d go down the creek fishing. That was my way of dealing with a lot of what was going on in my life back then. I loved that whole challenge of going out and trying to target a species and catch that species. It’s my comfort zone and there’s no stress in the world.

“I did Ryan’s Barra Basics course first – I’ve since been through the course countless times. Each time you go back through it, you pick up something you didn’t see or hear the first time. There’s so much information in it, it’s hard to take it all in at one time. My favourite part was learning to watch the water and its lines – you learn a lot about how to read what you’re looking at,” Melissa continued. “With my first boat, I didn’t want my son to grow up in front of computer games, so we would just go out and bumble along. We would catch catfish, and all the other crap fish. But once I started doing the courses, I started catching some decent fish. I struggled to pay for the courses as a single mum, but it was so worth the money to learn and then go out and catch decent fish. I’ve done all the other ones as well – Wonky Holes and Fingermark, Threadfin and Sounder Skills. I don’t do too badly when I go out now,” she laughed.

But Melissa wasn’t relying on a fishing and sounders course when she ‘caught’ a monster queenfish one day. “It took my bait then swam straight at the boat, launched itself over the motor, slapped me in the face on the way past, then started thrashing around in the boat with a hook, sinker and teeth flying. I had to jump on it and wrangle it bare-handed, while my fishing buddy, Tracey, stood at the front of the boat squealing like a stuck pig. It was hilarious!”

Annette Swain with barramundi
After 20 years in the police force, Annette is now a ticketed skipper. She simultaneously run fishing charters, as well as the Cassowary Coast Boab Boats franchise, Great Barrier Fishing and Island Tours, Port of Call Fishing and Boating Supplies, and a pontoon at Cardwell. Annette has four hire boats in her fleet, from a 4.2m tinnie to a 6m centre cab and two charter boats. For Annette, learning online was a great and very convenient attraction.A North Queenslander who spent a substantial part of her life growing up on a fishing boat in the Torres Strait Islands, Annette admits that fishing “has always been in my blood”. “I watched a lot of Ryan’s YouTube videos which were really helpful. I loved looking at how he sets up mackerel rigs,” Annette said. “He explains things really well and I really like his leader knots. I am doing the sounder skills because we didn’t have the gear growing up that you have now. I was a bit old school on the equipment, but I have learnt quite a bit from Ryan. He knows his stuff. You can understand what he’s talking about. He’s good at explaining things.”

For Annette, nannygai are her favourite species at the moment, but she also loves tracking down coral trout and game fishing. “We go in the billfish tournaments up here every year,” she said. “We got Champion Boat for under 7.5m last year with Innisfail Gamefish Club. The year before, I was runner-up in the female class and in the 2015 Cairns Bluewater comp, I got Champion Female.”

“Yes, I do like chasing the marlin, the reef fish and mackerel.” And what about her husband David? Annette quipped, “Oh yes, he helps a bit.”


Published in the August – November 2020 print edition.