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How wetting a line changed a life

Posted: 9am 02 Aug 2022

No one taught Moreton Daily columnist Daryl McPhee how to fish, instead it was a natural interest that prompted him to first pick up a rod at 13 years of age.

It’s a skill he’s developed during his life, feeding him and his mother when they had nothing else to eat and leading to a career that’s changed his life.

Daryl, or Dr Dazza as he’s known by Moreton Daily readers, is now a marine biologist working as an associate professor of environmental science at Bond University and the bloke the media seeks out whenever there is a shark attack.

It’s a far cry from his life as a 13-year-old arriving in Brisbane from Sydney with his mum and the belongings they could carry. They had nowhere to go and few options.

“When I was about 12, my mother could no longer work in her clerical job due to alcoholism. She was then on unemployment benefits and would often spend all her unemployment benefit on alcohol. This meant she often did not pay the bills,” Daryl recalls.

The pair was eventually evicted and headed north to Brisbane.

“My mother had saved enough money to purchase train tickets for us. But she didn’t have a plan. There was no accommodation lined up. Once we arrived in Brisbane, I remember my mother using a public payphone to call different shelters to try to find us somewhere to stay,” he says.

|“We got lucky. There was a shelter in Indooroopilly that was able to accommodate us.”|

Daryl first started fishing when they lived in Sydney in 1984, catching enough to feed himself and his mother when there was nothing else eat.

But it was during their stay at the Indooroopilly crisis accommodation shelter that he jumped on a train and headed for Moreton Bay.

“I was besotted with it when I first saw it. I caught a train from Indooroopilly to Shorncliffe because that was the end of the line. I got out and walked up a hill and then down a hill and to the Shorncliffe Pier,” Daryl recalls.

“I wanted to go fishing somewhere and I had been told to catch the train until it ends.”

Natural love of fishing

No-one showed him what to do, Daryl just had an urge to give fishing a try.

“I just wanted to. I didn’t have a family figure showing me how to do it or introducing me to it. Through my own research, I know that’s how most people are introduced to it whether it’s a parent or grandparent. I just went by myself,” he explains.

“I got some tiny fish and I watched them in a bucket for hours on end.

“I was always even before then crawling around rock shelves finding crabs and stuff like that, there was always that intrinsic interest … I was drawn to it.”

It’s a pastime that’s become a passion which has had a profound impact on his life.

|“It gave me a positive outlet. It provided what we now call great wellbeing, gave me social identity and as time went on it obviously gave me a career as well, a varied career,” Daryl says.|

“As I learned over time, some marine biologists are like me – it started with fishing – but that’s not the case with everyone. A lot of marine biologists just don’t go fishing.”

Angler to shark expert

Daryl’s first formal job was with the Queensland Commercial Fishermen’s association as a project officer where he received media training and became adept at working with news organisations.

It set him up for an opportunity in 2014 to work on shark control with Fisheries Western Australia.

The department was looking for someone who didn’t have a preconceived idea of how to deal with an increasing number of shark bites and who could speak to the media, Minister and Premier about possible solutions.

So, what is it about these creatures that fascinates people?

Daryl says it’s a combination of factors – they’re big, they’ve got lots of teeth and there’s been 93 movies made about them, by his count.

“It’s that fascination and what it’s playing on … it’s playing on our innate sense of fear. There are four elements to fear – one is we fear what we don’t know, we fear what we can’t control, we fear what’s readily available, and we fear what our ancestors feared.

“For individuals it’s different, but (usually) spiders, snakes, sharks, bears, heights, enclosed spaces. We don’t fear smoking because that’s not what our ancestors feared.

“They’ve outlived the dinosaurs by several hundred millions of years.”

Ultimate survivor, predator

For Daryl the fascination is in “the nexus of human dimensions work and you’ve also got to understand the biology and ecology of the animal”.

“You’ve got to piece it together to find solutions. You can’t just keep knowing more and more about the animal, you’ve got to understand human behaviour and human responses too.”

|“We’ve got to take an element of individual responsibility when we go in the water. You don’t have to quantitatively know the risks, but you need to think if there’s just been a shark bite, and there’s a lot of baitfish around, don’t go in the water on that beach. That sounds obvious but people do.”|

Daryl says the missing piece in the puzzle is an Australian standard for effective personal shark deterrents, so consumers have confidence that what they’re buying works.

“When we get into a car and use a seatbelt, we don’t think about whether it works or how it works. We know it’s been tested and we know it’s met a standard and we use it. The challenge with personal shark deterrents, is that some do work (they’re not 100 per cent effective, but they do work) but they’re surrounded in the marketplace by a whole lot of things that don’t,” he explains.

Teaching his kids to fish

Daryl may not have had a family figure to teach him to fish, but he’s shared his passion with his children Max, 12 and Eva, 9.

“They were playing with fishing gear before they could walk – obviously with no hooks on them – but they were turning the handles on old reels and stuff like that and carrying around half-broken fishing rods,” he says.

They both love it and catch more than him on a regular basis.

“I outsource now,” he says laughing.

|“It’s something that everybody can do, so it’s not bound by income, mobility, social status – so it is an inclusive activity. It can be done safely with children three or four years of age for short periods of time. It has that ability to engage.”|

And there are plenty of fish, if you know what you’re doing and are persistent.

“It’s like golf, you shouldn’t expect to always succeed at golf just by going once or twice a year. You have to be devoting, time, thought and effort on a regular basis to succeed,” Daryl says.

“There’s no life hacks about it. The key tips are if you’re beginning, just stick to bait and foreshores are fine. Stick to live bait if you can. You might not always get good fish starting off but at least you’re in the ballpark for something.”

He’s a regular on the Redcliffe peninsula, at Sandgate and Shorncliffe and around Victoria Point, wetting a line in these parts of Moreton Bay three to four time a fortnight.



Read some of Dr Dazza's columns

Boating & Fishing   •   11-2-2022  •   Dr Dazza

Ask Dr Dazza - Flathead

FLATHEAD are always a popular target for recreational fishers. Flathead belong to the family Platycephalidae and there are approximately 80 species known worldwide and well over half of these are known from Australia.…

Boating & Fishing   •   25-2-2022  •   Dr Dazza

Ask Dr Dazza | Turtles

THERE are seven species of marine turtles in the world and six are known from Australian waters. Moreton Bay is a marine turtle hotspot with three species commonly using the Moreton Bay Region. …

Boating & Fishing   •   20-10-2021  •   Dr Dazza

Ask Dr Dazza | Dolphins

Dolphins (along with whales) belong to a group of animals called Cetaceans. They are descendants of hippopotamus-like animals. There are two species that are residents in the Moreton Bay Region – the Australian humpback dolphin and the bottlenose dolphin. …

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