Existing Member?

Life Happens The adventures of Nora Dunn & Kelly Bedford, Professional Hobos. Nora writes, Kelly makes music. Together, we are on a lifelong journey to...wherever.

Fishing (and Whale Watching) at Ballina and Beyond

AUSTRALIA | Tuesday, 1 July 2008 | Views [5906] | Comments [3]

Byron Bay is lovely. It is a surf town full of surf shops, surf food places, surf cafes, and more surf-y stuff. Everything is horribly over-priced, but that’s what you get in a touristy town with tons of character.

It was the small towns and people we met outside of Byron Bay that make this area of the coast a place to remember though.

Ballina is a medium-sized town about half an hour south of Byron Bay. It has a modest tourist draw (being on the ocean and all), but pales in comparison to Byron Bay’s size and magnetism. This is a good thing for Ballina, if you want to get away from the surf shops and start to talk to some locals.

Dugald was the first local to make Ballina and the surrounding area very special for us. He runs a fishing charter enterprise called Ballina and Beyond, and lays proud claim to being one of the only fishing charters from north of Byron to south of Grafton – a large stretch of real estate by anybody’s map.

So he’s a busy guy.

But Dugald wasn’t too busy to take us out on his beautiful boat for a morning of deep sea fishing – a first for me.

“I got everything you need; just bring your netski,” said Dugald the day prior.

“My what?” I asked over the crackling cell phone.

“Netski. You know. To take your catch home in.”

After clarifying a few more times and facing increasing frustration on both our parts, I chucked it up to being yet another Australian term I don’t quite understand. A little investigative work over the afternoon would reveal that it wasn’t a “netski” he was asking for; rather an “esky” – or “cooler” for simple people like me. Kelly on the other hand, knew what an “esky” was. A sure sign that he’ll be a better fisher than I for sure.

Waking up in time to be at the boat ramp for 6am was painful. And because the days are so short at this time of year, the sun wasn’t even thinking about getting up for a while yet itself. Nevertheless, it was nice to get up and at ‘em nice and early to make the day a spectacular one. And spectacular it was.

Now I must pause in the story to share some small fears and phobias of mine: those fears being centered around The Ocean. I have documented my attempt to conquer my fear of swimming in the ocean, but something you may not know is that almost every time I get on a boat, my lunch gets off. I am a stout victim of seasickness, even on the calmest of days.

So with white knuckles and a ton of anti-nausea medication in my system, I braced myself for the next six hours on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Going over the break didn’t instill confidence.

“Going over the break” isn’t a euphemism for anything. It entails doing just that – going over the breaking waves as you travel from an ocean inlet past the surf and into the great blue beyond. The waves that faced us did not look friendly in the gray sky either.

I must say that Dugald took them like he was on a Sunday drive, and later he admitted that these waves were nothing. All I saw was a huge wave about twice as tall as the boat was long that was about to break right on top of us. We motored over the top before it broke, then charged down the other side, all of us being picked up off our feet and floating weightless for a second.

Cue in nervous laughter from Nora.

Beyond the break, we were cruising for about 20 minutes to an indistinguishable place in the middle of the water that only GPS revealed was the place to go for fishing.

“Really calm day today,” Dugald said as he scanned the horizon. “Calmest I’ve seen in months,” he said, as we pitched and rolled over the waves. About 10 seconds later I was thrown out of my seat going over a calm wave, a mere ripple by seamen’s standards. The vast sea of knobs and valleys of water, waves coming from any direction with no distinguishable pattern was making me nauseous with nothing more than a mere glance. Good thing I was pumped full of anti-nausea meds. I prayed for them to work.

Shortly after we stopped, I was tossed a rod that Kelly & I were to share, and three lines went in the water. Less than two minutes later, two fish were caught – a large red snapper, and a smaller pearl perch. I was not one of the lucky people to reel in the catch. But at what was promising to be a frenzied pace of fish jumping into the boat judging by the first two minutes, I braced myself for my imminent bite.

And waited.

And braced some more.

A fish or two here and there continued to be reeled in over the morning, as we dropped lines, waited, reeled them in and drifted to another fishing spot. I was dropping a lot of lines, and getting not much more than nibbles. I surmised that the fish can smell my fear of the ocean and are probably laughing at me and my silly attempt to be a seafarer.

Alas, this was no bother to us. We were out on the water, enjoying the nice weather, beautiful sunrise, and good company. We got a chance to get to know Dugald and his business a little better. Ballina and Beyond Fishing Charters has been around for about four years, and was built upon a lifetime of fishing passions and stories. When asked what he likes to do on his days off, fishing is his first response.

And it shows; he had a permanent smile on his face from the moment he turned the ignition on and put his hands on the throttle until we pulled the boat out of the water at the end.

Between conversation, dropping lines and reeling them in (all 80 meters of line I might add), I managed to reel in a red snapper, and some strange-looking bottom feeder that was donated to Dugald for bait. It was too bloody ugly to eat.

On the way back in we transformed from a fishing charter into a whale watching enterprise with front row seats. Between May and September, whales migrate up the coast, and whale and dolphin spotting is not uncommon. I’ve not had much luck with whale watching from boats (another experience in seasickness), and have seen them from shore in Hawaii from a distance.

But to be literally 10 metres from a fully breaching whale was an unbelievable experience. We saw pods upon pods of whales, swimming, playing, fishing, and breaching. Our boat easily maneuvered through the whales, and we got to play with them for about half an hour.

But all things must come to an end, as our sun-kissed faces and cooler (sorry – esky) full of fish were evidence to. Dugald promised us that going back in over the break was going to be much rougher than our trip out, and I was ready for the worst. I hadn’t been sick or had any phobia-induced panic attacks yet, but there was still time.

Dugald took the break like a champion. We rode in on the back of another wave, carefully missed the rocks on the side, and were on our merry way in minutes. Wow.

Once on shore, we surveyed our catches. Dugald was embarrassed at how little fish there was to be had today, but between three fishers, we caught 10 fish. Pretty good haul if you ask me.

We cleaned and filleted them (a task at which Dugald was predictably a master), and were on our way with four meals of red snapper and perch ready to go.

So now I can add this deep-sea fishing and whale watching experience to the list of ocean-faring adventures that didn’t result in puking or panicking. Thank you to Dugald and Ballina and Beyond for making this happen for us!

Tags: ambassador van, australia, ballina, deep sea fishing, world nomads



Wow cool sounds like a fun adventure. I love fishing and this sounds like a great experience for a newcomer to it (most of my 100s of fishing experiences have not measured up to yours).



  Thomas May 21, 2009 9:41 PM


That sounds like an excellent adventure, Im a local of the area and have never been on a fishing charter but this is an amazing story of your experience and im hoping now to get the time to go out and have a fish with dugald. Thanks for taking the time to document your trip.

  Jamie Sep 19, 2009 8:53 PM


Hi Dugald,
My family and I will be holidaying in Ballina 2-16 January. I am looking to go deep sea fishing for a day (or half day) with my son over the following period 4 - 7 Jan.
Do you have the vacancies and could you also give me an idea of cost.

  Aaran Booth Dec 10, 2012 8:30 AM



Travel Answers about Australia

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.