Launching the tinny at Le Grand beach became an eventful and, at times, stressful experience. Early in our trip, there was little swell and so mastering a beach launch in small waves really wasn’t too hard. But as the swell began to pick up we found it increasingly difficult to get out through the waves. We had only one failed attempt that ended in the boat being about ¼ full of water as waves crashed over the bow, and The Nav seated on the front seat. So we had to pull the boat from the water, drain it and have another go. Needless to say, I did lose a bit of confidence in the beach launching, but the skilful boat handling experience of HWIITN (He Who Is In The Navy) meant we made it through and out onto the water for another great day of exploring and fishing.
With a hot tip from the local fishing tackle shop about where to find a bombie in about 16m of water, we headed for the western most tip of the rocky headland. From here, we moved only two or three hundred metres offshore and drifted around a number of spots. After a few weed-eaters and a few moves, we were on the bite. It was here that The Nav landed the first ‘good’ fish of the day – a Nannygai. He was a little undersized and so he went straight back in, but within a minute the rod was bending and the reel starting to scream. And in came a beauty. Nannygai are sometimes known as red snapper; they are great to catch with plenty of headshakes and a great battle. And in came another. This one was just over 43cm and he was a keeper.
On the way back into the beach is a fabulous little cove with a white sandy beach and that same crystal clear water. We spent several afternoons swimming and fishing in this cove.
It proved to be a great little herring spot and the provider of the biggest squid of our whole trip. The Driver reeled it in after complaining for more than an hour that there was ‘stuff all here’. This was the fattest, heaviest squid we had seen.
A few days later we tried our luck at ‘the Nannygai bombie’ again. It was a strong offshore wind, but the headland gave us reasonable protection, as we weren’t that far from land. We drifted around between the mainland and the various islands. Some bigger boats coming back to Esperance seem to use this area as a bit of a channel and at one stage two boats came very close to us. Shaking our heads and wondering ‘why so close’ we were pleasantly surprised when they pulled just close enough to yell out to us, “all ok?” – they were just checking we were safe. Perhaps this was not an area they usually saw little tinnies drifting?
Not long after the neighbourly safety check, our rods started bending and reels were spinning. Within minutes of each other, we each landed a Sea Sweep. The Driver’s got returned to the ocean, but it wasn’t going to swim so we retrieved it and decided he would become dinner. We weren’t sure how good they were to eat, but it was worth a try. Turned out that The Driver liked them, but not for me.
The Driver had his head down in the boat cleaning the fish as I wound in mine, unhooked him and promptly returned him to the water. Slowly he swam back down. The next time I looked up to the water I saw this guy right alongside the tinny…
He was close, really close, and getting closer. Now we are absolutely ‘water people’ who spend many a waking hour on or in the water, but other than a reasonable sized shark swimming next to me while I was windsurfing off Carnarvon, I have never seen such a big shark in the wild, so close.
His back was a browny grey colour, perhaps even bronze. Underneath he seemed to be an off-white or sandy colour. The creepy thing was that he was only a few metres from the boat and he was nearly as long as our 3.7m tinny. Long pectoral fins held him steady in the water. He wasn’t frightened and was very inquisitive. Having just appeared from nowhere, we couldn’t believe the boldness and curiosity of this fellow. He just started doing laps – up and down alongside the boat. He didn’t swim much past either end of the boat; it was like a really tight ‘S’ bend that just kept bringing him closer and closer.
We threw over a couple of squid heads, which splashed into the water. The shark had no interest in them at all and didn’t even turn to look or investigate what they were. By the time his head was no more than 2m from mine, it was time to go. The second the outboard motor started, the shark turned and looked straight at it, swimming closer. We took off and didn’t look back! We headed into our secluded cove and made sure we were very close to shore and in waist deep water before jumping in for a swim!
Once safely back at camp we read the local fish identification guide, which stated that bronze whalers were seen in these waters. He seemed to fit the description, so we assumed that was what we saw. Since returning home we have had a number of people tell us that bronze whalers are not inquisitive sharks – in fact they will move away from boats. A mate who works for Fisheries thought perhaps it was something a bit bigger – maybe a great white – so he got a shark expert, Vic Peddemors, to check out our pics but unfortunately the quality of the pics and the wind on the surface of the water made it pretty hard to determine. Vic suggested possibly a Dusky shark. Another mate who is a regular scuba diver also made the same comments about the size and behaviour suggesting it could have been a dude in a big grey and white suit. Goosebumps just thinking about it.