It is with much sadness that I report the passing of one of the Territory’s greatest barramundi anglers and one of my closest friends for more than 50 years: Kevin Eccles.
There’d hardly be an angler in Darwin who hasn’t heard of Kevin.
He used to haunt the tackle stores in Darwin and was always an incredibly sociable, gregarious person.
But it was a different story on the water where he stayed clear of other boats and often fished by himself.
Those who knew him well would attest to his amazing angling skills.
Kevin’s cricket-score sessions on the Adelaide River, the South Alligator River and Corroboree Billabong were legendary.
Once he landed 13 barra over a metre in one session, and lots more not much smaller, fishing solo on the Adelaide.
This was in the main Adelaide too, not far up from the mouth, and he told me that, every time a boat appeared in the distance, he motored over to the other side of the river and fished where there were no fish.
He loved telling me the story but he never told me where the spot was… he was a bugger like that.
His philosophy was simple: if you tell people where you catch them then, next time you go there, you won’t have it to yourself.
But that didn’t stop Kevin from talking about fishing with just about anyone who wanted to have a chat.
He just loved talking about fishing: about barra lures, about techniques, about tackle, about the seasons and about anything to do with barramundi.
I first met Kevin when I was 15 and fishing the rocks at Bondi for blackfish.
I remember jumping down to a low slippery ledge to land a fish, and slipping on my butt and sliding towards the water which was all white and swirling up and down along the rocks.
Suddenly a hand grabbed me by the back of my shirt and dragged me to my feet.
“Where do you think you’re going mate?” 17-year-old Kevin said.
For the next several years we fished together nearly every week, often travelling up the NSW coast on fishing holidays.
Mostly his older brother Wayne would fish with us.
After I travelled around Australia and lobbed in Darwin, both Kevin and Wayne would come up on fishing holidays.
But I never expected both of them to move here.
On one of Kev’s fishing holidays to Darwin, we were fishing off the sand at a remote river.
The barra were just about fighting over our surface lures.
That’s when Kev said he wanted to move to Darwin.
“I’m going to build my house right there,” he said as he pointed to the bush behind us.
Kevin made international news a few years ago when he survived a crocodile attack.
He and a mate were sleeping in a 4.3m tinny up a creek on the South Alligator River.
It was the middle of the night and hot, and Kevin woke up to down a soft drink while he sat on a pedestal seat near the side of the boat.
Suddenly, a croc lunged at him from the water, latched onto his shoulder, and tried to drag him over the low side of the boat to the water.
Kevin was half out of the boat, hanging onto the seat and with his knees dug into the side of the boat, when he reached around and dug a thumb into one of the crocodile’s eyes.
It worked and the estimated 2.5m croc let go.
Amazingly, his mate slept through the whole attack.
It seemed it was a case of mistaken identity, with the side of the boat and Kevin’s torso appearing as a silhouette.
To the croc, it might have looked like a wallaby at the water’s edge.
Kevin didn’t much like fishing competitions but one year he was talked into joining a team in the Barra Classic.
The team won, and he won Champion Angler.
A few years ago, Kevin and his wife Gayle tragically lost their only son, Scott, who was also a great angler.
Kevin Eccles made 70 and celebrated his 50th Anniversary with Gayle a few months before he died from the dreaded Big C.
Always a joker and up for a good laugh, there is no question that Kevin’s persona was very much larger than life.
As one of his good friends said to me: “What a great personality; the world needs more Kevins.”
To Gayle, to his daughters Karen and Samantha, and to the rest of his family, this column and me personally extend our deepest sympathies and most-sincere condolences.
Goodbye old mate. I’ll miss you.
Vale Kevin Eccles, a great Territory angler who caught many 100s of metre-plus barra over three decades.