Snapper’s back and they’re reeling them in

Snapper’s back and they’re reeling them in

That’s a big ‘un: Mario Ceniccola (left) and Matt Cini relish the bay’s piscine pleasures. Anglers think the fishery is healthier than ever.
Nanjing Night Net

WITH his fishing rod bending so sharply it resembles a giant fishing hook, Mario Ceniccola grips the handle tightly with one hand, winds up the reel with his other hand and gradually lowers the tip of the rod to the water.

Ten months ago the 62-year-old survived a heart attack; and this morning that organ is getting a workout as the enthusiastic fisherman tries to land his first fish for the day. Clearly it is a big one, undoubtedly a snapper – and certainly the other anglers on the boat wish it was on their line.

With a contest in its early stages and the fish still deep in Port Phillip Bay’s calm waters, Mr Ceniccola urges it to co-operate. ”Slowly come to papa, slowly come to papa,” he says, in a soothing but straining voice.

Mr Ceniccola knows it is best to be patient. After about five minutes his patience is rewarded: the snapper has been brought to within a few centimetres of the surface, its pink and silver colours glistening in the early morning light.

The boat’s skipper, Matt Cini, likes what he sees. ”This is a big fish, this is a very big fish, Mario,” he says, net in hand. He dips it in the water, collects the snapper and lifts it on board. Mr Cini, owner of Reel Time Fishing Charters, estimates it weighs about 6.5 or 7 kilograms. ”Look how fat he is, he’s like a footy,” he says excitedly.

”That’s a barrel, mate, that’s a photo fish – you don’t catch them every day,” he says.

Mr Cini is right, on both counts. The snapper weighs in at 6.5 kilograms, a hefty size a keen angler would not catch in Port Phillip Bay every day, though nowadays it seems anglers chasing snapper have a better chance than just a few years ago.

Fishermen say the bay’s snapper fishery is as healthy as they have ever seen. The unofficial starting date for the snapper season is October 1, but November, says Mr Cini, is the best month. It is also the month for fishing competitions, including the Tea Tree Snapper Fishing competition, held over the past two days.

Mr Cini, who runs charters from Carrum, says Mr Ceniccola’s fish is the biggest caught by one of his customers so far this season. And for Mr Ceniccola it is a personal best. ”I have never caught one that big either, three kilos is my biggest,” he says, after a few back slaps and the odd high-five.

It is a tick past 7am and the golden, pink and mauve colours that stretched over the bay at sunrise have been replaced by bright but gentle sunshine. A few kilometres away residents of Melbourne’s suburbs are into their morning routine: having breakfast, a shower, getting dressed, or travelling to work.

But on Port Phillip Bay it is another world. There are enough people on fishing boats to populate an entire suburb. Mr Cini estimates that more than 300 boats launched at Carrum this morning, and the procession of vehicles towing trailers to the ramps at 4.50am vindicate his estimate.

The snapper fishery has improved markedly over the past two decades, Mr Cini says. In the mid-1990s, when he was learning how to fish with his uncle, snapper fishing trips were not very productive. ”I used to work all weekend to catch two fish, to catch two snapper. And the fishery has just become so healthy now,” he says.

He attributes the improvement to two main things: the cessation of scallop dredging in 1997 and efforts to protect the Yarra and bay from pollution. ”The [snapper] schools that we find now can be up to a couple of hundred metres long and 10 or 20 metres wide. And anywhere from two metres to six metres high, of just solid fish,” he says.

Veteran bay angler Ian Jones, from Beaumaris, says the bay’s snapper fishery is in better health today than he has seen. ”I think that the snapper fishery now is world class, it will continue to be world class and it’s absolutely outstanding compared with what it used to be. It’s much easier to catch fish – I don’t think it’s all [because of] technology – I think it’s a lot to do with the way the fisheries are managed,” he says.

Back on the boat, Mr Ceniccola has hooked another good fish. ”Holy Moses, Abraham, give me a hand,” he says, reeling steadily. It sounds like a plea for help, but it’s clear he’s enjoying himself.

”This leaves sex for dead,” he adds.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.