“We live in a speed-focused society, with pace comes pressure. Self-imposed pressure.”

 The truly incredible thing about going fishing on a boat is that you have no control over anything, once you get out there. Recently a group of men and myself went down to Portland, Victoria for the annual Southern Bluefin Tuna season. The same group of us having been doing the five-hour pilgrimage for 4 years now. As a keen young fisherman, I would always notice the monster tuna featured in the Herald Sun. All these monster fish were caught down in Portland, at some stage I promised myself that I would go down there and get myself a Barrel (100kg Bluefin Tuna). Initially, the trip was me and a good friend of mine, it was such a relaxing and bonding experience, others were soon eager to join in.

Heading away from Melbourne and into the country refreshes the mind. It is an overwhelming prospect looking out into the openness and tranquility of the journey, nothing but time and space. The mind wanders and you can feel yourself letting go of all the small challenges that were frustrating you. Vast open spaces clear thought in a way that only serves to determine the importance of having your own time. A time where you are free to unshackle your mind from the day to day grind. 

 The sea out the front of the Portland breakwater is a whole different proposition altogether. There is nothing pretty or glamorous about the weather down there, “it’s rough as guts.” There is an understanding with the ocean swell down in Portland, you are going to get a flogging either way.

“Nature will always prevail.”

On the way out this year, I looked out into to distance to see the sun starting to creep its way over the lip of the horizon and I wondered what this day held for us. The mind can play some tricks on you out in the middle of the dark abyss and it’s important to note that your levels of control will be tested regardless. She can be a cruel mistress the sea and such an opportunity to put yourself to the sword, so to speak.

I noticed the absence of sun, hidden behind the clouds creates a quiet mood on the boat. Heading out in dark rain clouds with a windy swell keeps everyone on edge. Men start to go within themselves, concentrating purely on survival. The thought of getting seasick and not being able to handle the environment, highlights a humans need to keep everything under control. 

Big rolling swells reveal a man’s inadequacies. As the boat gets pounded and thrown around by the unrelenting power of the sea, everyone on board begins to contemplate how many hours we have to spend out there. The mind is at play here, over in the distance the sun pokes through a little gap in the clouds and the emotions on the boat lift. We are now heading over towards the light and as a group, we begin to talk and laugh with each other. It’s tough work this fishing, with the stomach anxious and the mind racing with thoughts of negativity. How am I going to get through this?

Bang, bang, bang, FISH ON!!!! Three rods go off at once and we are seriously into the tuna. All the questions and control issues fly straight out the window, as we hook into the strength of the torpedo-shaped tuna. After much coordination and teamwork, all three fish are on the boat. There are high fives and celebrations.  Grown men are hugging and rejoicing, there is blood and Bluefin Tuna all over the deck. Happy days, the mind is distracted with the pleasure of the spoils. The adrenaline is pumping and all thought has evaporated. This is why we as men, make the expedition. A tank full of the fish. For a solid 10 minutes after the fish have been caught, all the boys are up and about and this is when I noticed how powerful the mind can be.

The relevance of survival and the ability to handle the conditions are a distant thought, the adrenaline has taken over the mind and rendered it useless. All thoughts are powerless, we as a collective group of males have taken our energy levels way above our control threshold. For the moment anyway.Not long after this, the wind picks up and the rain starts with vicious gusto. Dark clouds ahead and the mood becomes somber, we face grey rain clouds at every angle in the distance. The positive talk goes and now we must endure some more punishment. Nature will always prevail, everyone on the boat knows we are at the mercy of the sea and that’s what intensifies the situation.

If the group’s energy can rise and fall at the whim of the waves and wind, the mind and its repressing limitations are controlling all the play behind the scenes. One moment I was happily staring out into the horizon contemplating this amazing thought when our skipper asked if anyone fancied a coffee. Which in itself a lovely gesture, for cold and suffering men. The thought of coffee was enough for me to instantly turn green and begin to feel like I needed to throw up. It’s incredible how quickly these feelings came on.

Deep breaths, the feelings I had of anxiety are slowly subsiding and I can feel the color of my face returning to normal. I still feel nauseous for a little while after this. Now the group of men on the boat are all silent and staring at the rain hitting the water, the swell is mashing the boat from side to side. We are all hanging onto to any rail available, the violence of the ocean is throwing us into each other and there is no reprieve.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. FISH ON!!! Every single rod on the boat goes off, its mayhem. We have driven over a big school of tuna and all the reels are screaming as these fish are desperate to get away from us. I grab the first rod I see, the skipper is yelling instructions and directing the situation like a conductor.

These tuna are amazing fighters, the second they feel any sort of pressure or resistance from the hook. They dive deep under the boat or try to cross over other lines. It’s quite a humbling fighting a Southern Bluefin tuna, they are a powerful beast. I drag the fish towards me with my shoulder muscles burning, my arms feel like jelly and my deep breathing went completely out the window. I was gassed, struggling for any breath at all.

My fish swims up to the boat and the deckie gaffs it right in the head. I look behind me to see other blokes leaning into their rods and fighting fish, already there is a couple of fish flipping around on the deck. I turn to go and sit down, the skipper screams at me to grab the other rod. Bang, I’m into another tuna. Completely exhausted from the first fish, I draw on all my energy to skull drag the next fish in. The deckie gaffs this one in the head as well and I just stand there, completely exhausted and totally energized at the same time.

I couldn’t move for about 20 seconds; feelings of high energy are running through my body. I enjoy this feeling. Unbridled enthusiasm, for that short period of time my mind is transported briefly into heaven. It’s the happiest and most fulfilling feeling. I’m humbled and thankful for the opportunity to be on the water with my mates, catching amazing fish.

Everyone on the boat goes wild, when the fight is over. It takes some serious communication and understanding to get 7 out of the 8 tuna we hooked up. In any fisherman’s language, that is good going. We turn the boat around and head towards land, the skipper and crew are bursting with pride and smiles. There hasn’t been a fish caught in four days up in Portland, we sorted that out. As a group, we braved the conditions, steamed the 2 hours all the way out to the continental shelf in extreme conditions and endured everything the ocean could throw at us. The sun started to come out and all the boys are pumped up, the cold beer back at the pub is calling. Everyone discusses the way we managed to work together, to get the job done. The teamwork and connection between us are all that matters. We all know that, but no one mentions it. It's a very special bond between us.

Never the less, we learned a lot about ourselves and our resolve as a group. We are all going with the flow of life at this point. Everyone is embracing the moment. It has been a wonderful experience and pleasure to share the same space with these men. Later that evening one of men relays the message of achievement over a beer, he explains to the group that he always feels like he has achieved something when he spends a day out on the water at Portland. What that something is, is hard to put into words. A day on the ocean, is the perfect example of the challenges males face in life. We all know it’s possible to enjoy ourselves, the rewards come due to our ability to endure and go the distance. Our capability is tested by some rough weather and the mind can play tricks on us. Even though we have done it all before, there are points when you start to question your ability.

This can be an extremely vulnerable position for men to find themselves in and an amazing opportunity to look inwardly to discover what you are made of internally. Why does facing the control emotion, reveal so much about our character? Why does the mind put so much emphasis on commanding a situation?

What I learned were lessons on flexibility and being able to adapt to the landscape. I surely would have been seasick, had I not stood up and taken a different approach to my thoughts. Deep breathing refreshed the hold my mind was having over my experience. We are capable of creating exactly what we put our minds too. Absorbing each moment of life as it comes, distracts the mind and allows us to enjoy life just as we are meant to.

For the 2019 Southern Bluefin Tuna Season bookings and inquiries. Email hello@hardcuddles.com Whether you are looking for an adventure as an individual or with a group of friends. We organise the transport, accomodation and the fishing experience for you.

Love and prosperity,

James “the hammer” Harding

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