Justin Duggan goes undercover to investigate the weed epidemic that is rocking the fishing world
I usually meet The Captain at a local bar to collect my editorial assignment. But this time was different. We met in a dark alley and he was wearing a fake beard over his real beard. He stroked it nervously while giving me a look like he’d never see me again. My job was to investigate a clandestine group that had sprung up across various parts of eastern Australia, one that had, in fact, established itself in my very own ’hood on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
MEETING AN ADDICT
The day starts early with a drive south on the main road, which snakes parallel to the countless beaches and rocky headlands north of Sydney. Most of the city is still asleep, save for the odd garbage truck or enthusiastic jogger. I’m making my way to a secret location to meet one of the key figures in this underground society, Colin, ‘Col’, an unashamed weed addict. Col has pulled up in a beachside car park on a dimly lit stretch by the deserted beach. I can hear the waves crashing and my heart quickens a little. From around the back of a white van appears a tall, lanky, bearded bloke, arms outstretched, big grin from ear to ear. I can tell he’s high.
“G’day mate, the tide’s right and the
sun’s rising, let’s get going,” he says with an exuberance and enthusiasm most often to be found with an artificial high. Col is already kitted out – 6-weight fly rod, wading boots with spiked soles, steamer suit and creel bag (within which I assumed was a large amount of weed for the next hit or 10).
Col is like many weed addicts who have moved on from the old days of gaining a natural high with freshly picked weed, a quill float and a 13-foot Snyder Glas rod. Now, a more powerful high has hit the streets and it’s taking no prisoners. This is a synthetic weed with a deadly power over fish and anglers alike – the highs are off the charts.
“At first I thought I could just dabble in it,” says Col, as we march along the cold wet sand towards the hunting ground. “I really thought it would be an occasional-use thing and I’d return to natural weed, but it was too strong, too addictive. Now I’m completely dependent, but I’m not ashamed of it. I’m actually proud.”
TALKING TO THE EXPERTS
Addicts often start by getting their highs secretly and regularly under the cover of darkness. But these new users are still happy to discuss their habits openly, with an enthusiasm that explains the spread of this addiction.
“We’re seeing more and more addicts fall for synthetic weed,” says Joe, a local tackle shop owner (whose name has been changed to protect his identity).
“You’ve got old blokes like Crusty Tom who were picking natural weed for decades, using their Alveys and homemade floats and getting
a good natural high off the rocks. Now these young bearded hipsters have come along with their synthetic weed, flies and fly rods – and they’re talking these old-timers into replacing their natural weed with the synthetic stuff. And the silly old buggers are actually doing it! These poor blokes don’t even have to re-bait at all, their catch rates are going up, too. They’re getting so high, I can’t see them ever coming down!”
The reason Joe hides his identity is because he’s started feeding the addicts to stop his old- timer customers falling for impure weed.
“It may seem weird, but I care about these guys, so I’ve started dealing to help my customers out” says Joe, who sells a hit for between $4 and $6.95.
“The backyard dealers are my worry. Their stuff is often blended, not as clean, and their hooks can also be suspect. I only use chemically sharpened #8 and #6 Gamakatsu Panfish hooks, they’re extra-green and you can get several highs per hook. I can’t afford to watch loyal customers buy elsewhere. At least I know this way their highs are clean.”
MY FIRST TRY
Back at the secret location, Col has already assembled a four-piece fly rod, threading
his floating line and 3kg leader through the runners. The first shards of light from the sunrise illuminate the rock on which he’s laid out his tackle. I smell the ocean spray as he slides a small waterproof box out of his creel bag. There they are, in all their glory, a perfectly arranged selection of “green dream”, dozens
of them. The first thing I notice is the slight shimmer of the weed material, the sunlight giving it a glossy sheen.
Col lays light and dark shades of green out row after row. Some have lead wire wrapped beneath the material, some are unweighted. Sizes #6 and #8 dominate, with seal’s fur, tapestry wool and ice dubbing making up the collection. Deftly, Col selects two flies, weighted and unweighted. He quickly ties them in a tandem rig to his leader. The sinking fly is darker, sitting three feet below the floater. From a shallow rocky shelf surrounded by surging white water, Col masterfully casts the flies into the turbulence. He strips the line quickly to keep in touch with his weed flies. It seems mere seconds before Col lifts the rod with a “Yip!” and a “Yeehah!” It buckles and I can see the pulse of tail sweeps transfer through the tip. Col is hooked and high!
In that moment I get it. I see the high written all over Col’s face and lose my own senses. I must have a go! I’m not exactly certain of the numbers of fish we catch – suffice to say we release cricket scores and keep a few for the table. I am absolutely king of the fishing world for those few hours.
It’s only when a couple of luderick fishos wander over to investigate the bent rods that I see the full circle of addiction occur. Fascinated by what Col shows them in his secret box, these old guys soon ditch the weed they had carefully picked from local ledges, and tie on Col’s “magic green”. Off they go to the other side of the ledge and within minutes, their floats are down and their 12ft rods are groaning with the lunges of solid luderick. They are high!
Once more, Col has sown the seed of an addiction that is growing and spreading like a Cape York grass fire.
I could finish my story by saying I never used again and went back to a wholesome family
life – but I’d be lying. I am, in fact, now an unashamed addict, spreading the word to all and sundry. Artificial weed is “whack”, it’s “dope” and I’m even experimenting with a blend called Pineapple Express.
Rehab? No chance!