Heritage: Tales of fishing tragedy 

Fishing in the Illawarra was once stuff of legends, the region’s newspaper filled with stories about remarkable hauls when fish literally flew into the back of fishermen’s boats.

Such was the case in January 1864 when Wollongong Harbour presented "a most extraordinary scene of excitement", occasioned by the immense shoals of fish including mackerel, salmon, schnapper and other varieties that visited.

The Mercury said that for several hours the basin resembled a "boiling cauldron" and "the most impromptu and novel modes of catching the fish were used".

Read more tales from the Illawarra's history

"Spears, pitchforks and long poles of any description had only to be driven into the water and they were sure to bring out a fish weighing from five to eight or nine pounds. Baskets used for carrying coals were also dipped into the water and on being pulled up again were found half filled with fish," the Mercury said.

"It would be useless to estimate the number taken. They were carried away in three bushel bags, in carts, on horseback and on foot.

"About sundown the fish left the harbour and we fear it will be a long day before it is visited in such numbers again.’’

In February 1871, Mr Perkins, of the Five Islands, while fishing off Wollongong Harbour, captured an 11-foot long shark.

"After the monster had been seen about the boat for some time a powerful shark line upon which was a suitable hook with some bait was thrown out. The shark was immediately taken by it and, after some desperate struggling, was harpooned in the back."

 The jaws, which were "large enough for an ordinary-sized man to pass through, were cut out and taken on board the steamer Eagle to Sydney".

One of the first deaths from rock fishing in the region was recorded in January 1874 when Thomas Phillips, 42, a "highly respectable settler of many years standing", lost his life after fishing off Bombo Point.

Phillips, who was accompanied by his 14-year-old son, lost his balance and fell into the ocean after striking himself in the head swinging a leaden sinking weight.

"The boy made a hurried grasp at his father while in the act of falling, but only reached his hat."

The body was never found. 

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