It’s predawn and Les Gibson walks down to the creek and stops. He is on his way to push some boats out into deeper water as the tide is falling rapidly. Following Les are three journalists. He stops at the creek, turns to the group, and says: ‘I can smell a croc; there’s one up the creek somewhere.’
Wary, the journalists watch Les as he crosses the knee-deep creek and continues out across the sand flats to the boats. Shortly after, the water downstream stirs and about 3 m of saltwater crocodile heads out to sea. It’s an experience, not seeing the croc so much as being told there is a croc about when you can’t see it. Les said crocodiles sometimes went up the creek with the saltwater and left as the tide ebbed. ‘We don’t have a problem with them because we understand their habits and know what we can do and how to avoid them,’ Les said.
Unlike Martin Luther King Jr, Les didn’t have a dream, but he did have a vision. He wanted to start fishing charters in remote areas just north of Cooktown in North Queensland. When I was there, Les was well on the way to achieving that objective.
He wasn’t one of your $600-a-day suburban fishing guides who only know as much about the bush and rivers as they can see on a map. A member of the Guugu Yimidhirr tribe, Les lived at the Hope Vale Aboriginal Community. Short and wiry, he grew up in the bush and was keen to start up fishing charters that linked Aboriginal bushcraft with modern angling techniques.
To kick-start his business, Les has established a camp on the beach at Munbah, midway between Cape Bedford and Cape Flattery. The only way in was by travelling several kilometres along a beach at low tide.
The camp was what I call five-star bush accommodation: a corrugated iron building, floor, single beds, and a couple of outside toilets, inside cooking facilities and an outside barbecue area. The fishing included the beach and the McIvor River for barramundi and mangrove jack. The area has extensive sand flats with large nipper beds that attract golden trevally and perhaps even oyster crackers.
The beach, famous for its 37 different colours of sand, has gutters and sandbars, attractive to giant trevally, queenfish, giant and oxeye herring, sand whiting and the ever-present small sharks. You can drive the beach until you spot a school of fish, get out of the vehicle, and start fishing.
Les was running two aluminium boats of 4.2 and 5 m and we fished Conical Rock, a few kilometres offshore. Most of the fishing was bottom bouncing for the likes of coral trout and red throat, but there were giant trevally around the bommies as well as barracuda. Farther out were the Three Islands, where Les said big schools of pelagic fish such as mackerel and trevally run past.