ImageThe Mann River starts life as a bubbling little stream high in the Gibraltar Ranges on the eastern fall of the big hill. It hurries down to join the Nymboida above Jackadgery and then the Clarence; not far above the gorge. It is a reasonably easy paddle with mostly grade one and two rapids and the odd gnarly portage.

The wildlife is plentiful along the banks and there Imageare always eagles soaring on the thermals above the valley. Cod and bass are your Imagecompanions in the water and when conditions are right will readily take an offering from the fisherman.

The rivers up this neck of the woods are also famous for the characters that live and move around them. One gentleman in particular is a larger than life figure, Dan Frogan.

ImageDan is a legendary back country woodsman and "perch" fisherman extraordinaire. I first met Dan by accident, one day on the river. I had been paddling all morning and the fishing had been slow. At the tail ofImage this particular pool I was lining up a path to shoot through the rapids. "Do you always charge through the perches' front door, without knocking?" came a voice from nowhere. To say I was startled would be an understatement!

Dan stood up from where he had been stationed between some large boulders at the head of the rapid. He blended in perfectly with the boulders and brush. "Slow down mate," he said, "pay more attention to the environment you are traveling through". I suppose the Hawaiian shirt and big yellow hat did make me stand out a bit.

"There are some good perch in that hole," he said, indicating the pool I was just about to launch the kayak into. He pulled a grasshopper off the back of my multi-coloured shirt and proceeded to attach it onto the hook at the end of his large cane fishing rod.

"Watch this," he said. Gently placing the grasshopper in the rapids, it was washed into the head of the pool. The creature came up spluttering and wings flapping, desperately trying to get to the bank of the pool. I'm sure it realized it was in deep trouble. There was a swirl and a splash of a tail and the grasshopper vanished from the surface.Image

ImageDan lent back gently on the cane pole and the bass suddenly realized something was not right. It turned and shot off down the pool and Dan was after it. The bass could not be pulled up the rapids so Dan was jumping from rock to rock to reach the edge of the pool where he had a better chance of landing this good fish.

The bass was heading for some mid stream boulders and Dan was Imagetrying to put the Imagebrakes on. He put the long cane pole to good use and finally a beautiful long lean wild river bass was lying at his feet.

"This one's for lunch," he said. "Care to join me?" I was about to say something, but decided to keep my mouth shut. "Sounds like a great idea," I said. "I'll boil the billy."

ImageWe sat around the campfire, having a cuppa, as the bass sat in the coals slowly cooking. We discussed the river and fishing and the environment in general. I finally got around to the subject of catch and release. "I only ever kill enough for a feed," he said. "The rest I always release."Image

He told me that not that long ago, when coming down the river, he would always find set lines. "I Imagealways cut them off," he said. Nowadays he finds very few. People, it seems are becoming more aware of the fish being a limited resource.

After lunch, (the bass was very tasty) we fished together for a couple of hours. "Lose that shirt," he said. "The perch will only laugh at you." He taught me about moving slowly and blending in with the background. "Try to stay low and not let your silhouette be seen above the horizon."Image

"Instead of blindly crashing into the pool in the kayak, why not get out at the top and walk around the side of the next pool? Then you can cast upstream from behind the perch in their blind spot."

Dan was a real bushman and knew all the tricks. It did not take me long to realize that I could learn a lot from him. "Stealth and camouflage are our best weapons," he said.

Image"Your turn," he said. Next pool I used the cover of trees and boulders to slowly work my way around behind the rapids at the top of the pool. I could see a large bass just to the side of the rapids in an eddy. I cast a shallow diver right into the turbulence at the head of the rapids. Two cranks of the handle and I saw the bass charge in and grab the Imagelure. I lent back on the rod and came up tight. This bass wasn't happy. He charged up and down the pool in a head shaking run. My drag was screaming and I was hollering.

Dan just sat on a nearly rock and laughed. Eventually the beautiful creature was lying at my feet and after some photos he was released to fight another day.

I still bump into Dan occasionally on the Mann River. Whenever we meet we always stop and have a cuppa.

Words and Photos by Graeme Bowes