Exploring the waterways with Jono Bleakley
7th April 2021 Jack O'Rourke
Deckee brand ambassador Jonathon Bleakley was born and raised on the shores of Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, and spends his time exploring what the local waterways have to offer. Whether it's soaking a bait on the beach for a tailor, spinning the rivers and lake for flathead, or casting topwater lures for bass in the freshwater, he is always trying out new systems.
Between fishing and co-hosting a weekly podcast, Jono creates short films teaching, motivating and inspiring the younger generation to get out on the water and give it ago.
Deckee talks with Jono about his passion for the Lake’s beautiful eco-system, how he uses the Deckee app to find new fishing spots, and his tips for staying safe out on the water.
What was your first experience out boating?
It all started on Lake Macquarie. I live on the north end of the lake, and at an early age my dad gave me a bit of freedom to get out on the boat. At the time, you had to do a certain amount of hours to get your licence. Dad and I spent hours out on the lake before I took my test doing as much fishing as possible, chasing around tailor schools on the lake.
It was great as a young kid to go out with your old man, navigating around the water following schools and casting metal lures at them.
What is the best part of being out on the water?
A perfect day for me would be light nor’easter, with a change of tide at first light, a change of tide at midday, and a change of tide right before dark. The enjoyment of being out on the water is the contrast it offers.
When you are out there in perfect conditions it acts as a bit of an escape and you can just soak in what the eco-system is doing.
Then when you hook a fish the moment changes; it becomes the thrill of the chaos and excitement and your adrenaline spikes. It is very satisfying when you land that fish, and you can take a cool photo, then release it back.
What attracted you to the Deckee app? What features can boaters most utilise?
I stumbled upon Deckee via Instagram, and I jumped on the app to check out the maps and the different icons they use to show different systems. The thing I like most to do as a fisherman is exploring new areas. I’m based in Lake Macquarie, but down the road you have Brisbane Waters and the Hawkesbury, up the coast there is Forster and the Bellingen River, so there's plenty of systems for me to explore.
The feature I like most about Deckee is it shows you where all the boat ramps are with convenient icons. It also shows where the wharves are, and where the moorings are. If you come to an area you have never fished before, you can look it up before you get there and get a good understanding of where you're going to launch and fish. The other feature is the Story Marker feature. If I'm on Lake Macquarie I can drop my Story Marker exactly where I am and I can write a bit of an update on what's going on in that area of the lake. As Deckee grows, I think that will be a very good tool.
With the Trips feature, a fishing club or community heading out on the water can keep everyone updated with what they are doing, and share it with their friends. That's a cool way to connect users.
What fishing gear do you most like to use?
All the gear I use, I trust. I'm lucky to have a few sponsors on board, but you will find I was using their gear long before that. I’m estuary-based so I'm looking at 1-3, 2-4, 5-9 kilo rod rating is probably the highest I will go, and they are all Abu Garcia and Penn rods. Those rods are renowned for being the toughest in the game. I must admit, when it comes to fishing I am not precious with my gear, I like to use my rods to their utmost ability, then when it dies I get a new one, and Penn is ideal for that.
In terms of lures and soft plastics, I wouldn't say I limit myself to being a lure or bait fisherman. I like to experiment with both, because in my mind, that's what fishing is all about. When it comes to lure fishing I'm always Gulp! and Powerbait. For bait fishing I'm always using Owner hooks, they have never let me down.
What is the number one safety tip all boaters should remember?
My number one safety tip is: do everything in numbers. Don't start fishing by yourself until you have enough confidence by going with other experienced people. Fishing is one of those activities that is most enjoyable when you get out on the water with family and friends. Find someone who has the experience and learn from them, then you can go out by yourself.
What should experienced boaters do to ensure that they are not complacent?
One thing that always annoys me when I’m out on the water concerns the correct care of anchors. When I’m on someone else's boat and see that their anchor rope has been tied off to a point previously and they have just pulled that anchor back into the well without untying it, that's a red flag for me.
The reason that's not safe is, not only is it an inconvenience, but if you originally anchor in 8 metres of water and pull it in and just chuck it in the well, and you find yourself in 15-metres of water on an outgoing tide and your motor breaks and you need to throw your anchor in to stop you from going out to sea, you are going to waste valuable minutes untying and reconfiguring the anchor before it gets a hold. That could mean the difference between pulling up against a rockwall and being safe or being out to sea and capsizing.
What's your tip when going through your safety checklist before heading out on the water?
When I go out on the water, the first thing is the little basics most people overlook. I make sure I have plenty of water on board, and things like a flashlight, whistle and flares. Those are legal requirements so they are important to have.
The other thing is a backup phone charger. It is so important these days. It might seem trivial but you would be surprised how much a phone can get you out of trouble; you can let people know where you are, access the weather and safety notices on the Deckee app, and dial emergency services if you're really in trouble. I've seen so many people go out on the water with less than 15 percent charge, and people who undervalue their phone’s capabilities are taking an unnecessary risk.
Is there a water activity you would like to try or do more of?
Amongst traditional fishermen, there is a stigma around jet skis that they are pests on the water. I see the value of jet skis, and there are advantages to fishing off a jet ski in terms of speed, accessibility and getting them on and off the water. I would really like to start fishing off a jet ski on the lake. The lake is the largest saltwater tidal estuary in the southern hemisphere. It's huge! It takes around an hour to get from one end to the other in a boat. If I was on a jet ski I could cover some serious ground, and I could uncover a fair few more spots.
When it comes to boating, which do you enjoy more: the journey or the destination?
Definitely the journey. Whether you are exploring your own system or visiting a new one, I guarantee you will find or learn something new. That's what I enjoy most about fishing.
I know that every time I go out I may fail and something will challenge what I thought I knew, or I will go out and do something really well that I didn't know was going to work. It’s the journey of continually learning. When I’m out on the boat I don't really mind where I end up, or how many fish I have caught, it's all about what I learnt to get that fish.
Any insider tips for navigating around Lake Macquarie’s vast waterways?
You can split Lake Macquarie into two distinct zones, in my eyes. You have the front end of the estuary, which has crystal clear water, sandbanks, weed patches and drop-offs. It's quite scenic but also presents some hazards. The sandbanks in that area are subject to shift, with tides and floods coming and going. If you're up near Swansea or Marks Point, keep an eye on your cardinal markers and steer clear sandbanks and shallow water.
When you're at the back end of the estuary you don't have many physical obstacles to deal with because it's so open and it's like 9-metres deep throughout the whole lake, but you do have yellow and black shallow water markers which you need to identify. They sit off every point on the lake. If you're driving around a point and are not aware of the makers, you run the risk of running into rocks and ruining your prop, or worse flinging someone overboard.