Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessary to rise before dawn to catch a fish, although lifelong fisherman Shaun Furtiere, of Think BIG Fishing Charters, has fun with a complete newbie when he suggests a 5.30am cast-off.
Suitably caffeinated and dressed in layers (to ward off the chill) and sunblock (to ward off the sun), it’s the far more civilised hour of 8am when I meet Shaun on his boat at Martha Cove on the Mornington Peninsula. Joining us is Ashley Davis, chef-owner of Copper Pot Seddon and Messer in Fitzroy – a bloke who knows his seafood. Our mission: to dispel some myths, catch some fish, and score a delicious dinner. Easy.
Choose your quarry.
The red snapper is the hero of the bay, which is easy to understand. It’s tasty and looks great held aloft in an Instagram photo. But today we’re after squid and whiting. And that means choosing very different spots and very different tactics.
“Don’t make it hard for yourself and chop and change,” says Shaun. “Fishing here is very species-specific. You can’t go shopping. It’s the people who want a bit of everything who go home with nothing.”
Why squid and whiting? Because: delicious. “Whiting is my favourite eating fish,” says Ashley. “It’s so sweet, you don’t really have to do much to it when you’re cooking, just keep it nice and simple.”
It’s getting warm as we roar off to one of Shaun’s favourite squid hunting grounds. It’s important to find a current and let the boat drift while using a squid jig with vertical prongs, and to keep the jig moving in the water by jerking the line every three to five seconds.
Within minutes our first candidate emerges, a medium-sized squid that changes colour psychedelically as it reaches the shallows, before pumping an impressive amount of black ink over Shaun’s hands. It’s bagged and put in the giant Esky. Three more follow, the smallest of which Shaun turns into bait (another benefit of a charter is that the squeamish can let their captain do the messy stuff).
The fun of being out here isn’t simply confined to reeling in the bay’s bounty. It’s the sun, it’s the serenity, it’s the party pies Shaun keeps taking out of the warmer. Fishing, it transpires, combines our genetic predisposition for hunting and gathering with the Zen-like art of doing very little while appearing to do something.
Soon enough, anchored in sight of the heads where Queenscliff and Portsea bow to each other across the water, it’s back to work. As Shaun likes to say, it’s exciting when the whiting are biting. Probing the waters for our quarry – with whiting the technique is similarly to jig the line, fooling them into thinking it’s something alive and tasty – we come up empty-handed for 10 minutes until suddenly they start throwing themselves at the hook.
“With whiting, you catch one and all of a sudden you’re just reeling them in,” says Shaun as he energetically sets about playing deckhand, re-baiting lines with the practised efficiency of an old sea-dog.