The Iron Peg at Boulder beach is the only rock fishing location in Ballina Shire, apart from the river break walls, where an angler can fish beyond the break and therefore have deepwater access to pelagic fish.
Because it protrudes so far into the open ocean, during periods of heavy swell, especially when that swell is from an easterly direction, there is no escape if an angler is caught out there by an extra large wave.
Yesterday was such a day. Just after 10am, right on the high tide, local surfer Robert Marcon and I saw the angler heading out to the Peg. We both remarked on his recklessness. Heavy swells were breaking over the Peg. It was 100% unsafe to be out there.
It’s a matter of regret to me that I didn’t accost the man before he had made his way out there and make him aware of the danger he was placing both himself in and the people who would have to rescue him.
I had a short surf and went up to the headland to check on him. The surf had appeared to back down. This was only a temporary lull. When Robert Marcon and his son came in, the angler had disappeared. Robert assumed the fisherman had made his way to a different spot.
A local surfer in the water, Haydon Cavanagh, saw the angler was no longer standing at the Peg and called for another local surfer Paul Weston to come and help him.
They found the angler in a state of semi-consciousness and in a very bad way. He was fully clothed, laden down with heavy backpacks and tackle which made swimming and rescuing him extremely dangerous and arduous.
The men, with assistance from other local surfers, were able to get the man to shore on the treacherous rocky shoreline. Police and ambulance were by now present. The man could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene. Police had not released his name but rescuers described an Asian man in his 30s.
As a lifelong rockfisherman, I believe making lifejackets mandatory will only increase the lethal potential of the Peg. If you are washed in there the only real option is to swim away from the rocks, and a lifejacket will decrease the chances of that.
Hopefully Ballina Shire Council will read the Coroner’s report carefully before any kneejerk decisions are made which may affect fisher’s safety.
All sympathies to the anglers family. Let’s hope others will learn from his tragic mistake.
Photo: Debby Milgate