Catching a great white is hard work

MARTY SILK
Last updated 05:00 07/06/2014
Great white shark
CLINTON DUFFY/ DOC

TOP PREDATOR: I thought we'd just cast off and wait for a shark to bite, but that's wishful thinking.

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Catching a great white ain't easy.

I thought we'd just cast off and wait for a shark to bite, but that's wishful thinking.

I've come to Queensland's Moreton Island with Griffith University expert Jonathan Werry to catch the largest predatory fish in the world.

Before we set out we stock the boat - wading back and forth from the beach carrying heavy crates of supplies, anchors, floats and bait boxes as streams of fish blood roll down our thighs.

But eventually we're off and the boat crashes full speed through the swell.

We arrive at a fishing spot and spend half an hour tieing knots and gaffer-taping floats together in the rolling swell.

I grimace as I hook whole dead mullets onto the line, in one eye and out the other.

The thick stench coats my fingers and every time I wipe spray off my face I smell mullet blood again.

We drop the gear in the water and the boat crashes on to the next spot.

Lines are dropped in six different places.

Dr Jonathan Werry then takes us out to kill some time at Flinder's Reef, one of the many special hidden places he knows around here.

The reef's about 5km off the tip off of the island, a tiny, calm garden in the wild navy ocean.

The last thing between us and New Zealand for thousands of kilometres.

Werry moors the boat and we snorkel around ogling schools of multicoloured and iridescent fish darting around the outcrop.

I can't believe there's a place like this so close to Brisbane. I wonder how many more there are.

The boat rocks wildly as we speed back over stretches of ocean to check the lines.

We excitedly haul up the first one, but all the mullet have been bitten clean off.

Over the day more and more lines come up bare.

The big sharks aren't biting.

There's no way to stay dry, the boat always rocks and the sun beats down fiercely.

Hours stretch into days, the days become nights.

Night fishing spooks me. There's a bigger swell and dark, powerful waves shove the boat from every direction.

The lights of the land look distant and from time to time I anxiously scan the boat to remember where the lifejackets are kept.

But then, on the third day, there's finally something different.

We find a baited float sitting low and heavy in the swell.

"We've got a shark," Werry smiles.

The four of us pull the line in and the shark's grey mass wobbles up from the green depths.

Werry says it's a bull shark, not a great white, but I'm happy we've caught something.

But then the shark decides to dart under the boat and hell breaks loose on the boat.

Werry runs up and down the deck, tieing off ropes, unfurling tarpaulins, cutting ropes, handing them to us and driving the boat backwards and forwards.

After half an hour of crazy wrangling, the boat is calm again and we're guiding the shark into an underwater tarpaulin roped to the side.

It's great grey-white body sits placid and exhausted in harness. It's been struggling with the line for hours.

Werry tags and measures the female. She's 2.5 metres long and about 30 years old.

He tells me to hold on to her dorsal fin while another team member snaps a picture of me.

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Her skin is smooth and thick. Several lampreys suck on her belly and scores of tiny parasitic crustaceans scurry over her belly.

Black waves roll out of the darkness and crash over the boat.

Colour slowly returns to the shark's body and she starts to thrash about in the harness.

It's time to throw her back and we begin to unfurl the tarp.

The harness opens and she sinks lifelessly backwards into the water.

But with a final beat of her tail she glides off into the darkness.

It took three long, tough days to catch anything, but fishing always requires patience.

Sometimes the catch is well worth the wait.      

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Five-day expeditions are offered in both southeast Queensland for A$3000 (NZ$3234.73) and the Great Barrier Reef departing from Cairns for A$8900 (NZ$9596.37).

Travel to departure points is not included in the price.

The fee may seem high, but it covers the cost of shark tags, fuel, bait, maintenance, all fees, mothership hire, research equipment and lab analyses.

STAYING THERE: The southern expedition explores many hidden rivers, bays and islands of southeast Queensland and includes all equipment, meals, and either cabin or camping accommodation.

Great Barrier Reef tour guests stay in their own luxury cabin on the mothership Aroona, with all meals cooked by a chef and all equipment supplied.

PLAYING THERE: The expeditions are not all hard work, there's plenty of down time to snorkel, go fishing, swim, play beach games and relax.

For more information about shark tagging expeditions visit oc-research.com.

The writer travelled as a guest of Ocean and Coast Research.

- AAP

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