Dan Hawkins is the Executive Chef of Mitchelton, Nagambie Brewery and The Prince Hotel. When he’s not in the kitchen throwing together some of the best food in the business, Dan says, you can find him on the water or in the bush. It’s the pursuit of food through adventure that gets him going. We’re talking hunting, bow hunting, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, spearfishing and foraging for wild foods.
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOU, YOUR CARRER AND GETTING OUTDOORS HUNTING AND FISHING
I am a professional chef by trade. I have been working in commercial kitchens since I was a teenager. I came to Victoria from New Zealand 14 years ago and never left. My most recent appointment was the Executive Chef role of Mitchelton Winery, Nagambie Brewery and The Prince Hotel, St. Kilda.
As a chef I am very passionate about food! In particular, where it comes from. Hunting, foraging, and fishing for my own food was always going to be a natural progression. It is this pursuit of food through adventure that keeps me outdoors wanting to learn more. Hunting, bow hunting, saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, spearfishing, foraging for wild foods there isn’t much I don’t get stuck into these days.
I would be considered first generation living an outdoors lifestyle. Hunting and fishing isn’t a family tradition passed on from father to son, until now! I am a father of two, family time is camping and fishing and always trying to better each other and catch the bigger fish! When I am not in the kitchen you can find me on the water or in the bush, im always looking for that next adventure.
MY DEFINING FISHING MOMENT IS
Ironically, my defining fishing moment doesn’t involve catching a fish! About 5 years ago, I was fishing a well-known land based snapper hot spot in Corio Bay. I had one rod, knew one knot and only knew how to tie one fishing rig. I was very keen but very green. All of a sudden my rod just buckled, It bent over and I thought it was going to snap into a million pieces. I had no idea about drag, that thing just took off and ended up spooling me for all but about three rounds left on the reel. 150 m of line stripped, I couldn’t stop it running! I felt gutted, I felt like I had just lost the fish of a lifetime and I was never gonna let that happen again.
If I wanted to catch the big fish I had to school up and get serious. I took my gear serious, took my reading and fishing knowledge serious and I started to fish every spare moment often fishing after work until 4 am after working a 14 hour shift in the kitchen. I was literally HOOKED!
I KNOW I’M ONTO A GOOD FISH WHEN
There are a few good tell-tale signs of what kind of weight is on the end of the hook. The initial bite and how aggressive the take is or how big the buckle in the rod is. For me, it’s the drag. When it starts slipping on your standard setting, you know it is a fish holding some serious weight and power.
THE THREE BITS OF GEAR I COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT ARE
Fishing has that aura of superstition about it. “I can’t fish without my lucky hat” or “I need my particular lure” or the old classic no bananas on the boat!!!!!!
I don’t have any superstitions like this or gear I can’t live without. Rod in hand, hook on the end, I am comfortable.
I do make sure I am equipped for they type of fishing I am doing. This means I have a kit for each adventure. I won’t take my trout kit chasing Cod and I won’t take my salt kit out chasing trout. Each kit will have different bits, but all equally important to that type of fishing.
If you are just starting out in freshwater fishing here are three bits of kit to get you started. I was starting out in the freshwater game 2 years ago, using 8ft snapper rods and large 6000 reels. I was struggling to get bites. They were cumbersome difficult to be accurate with my cast. I had to change the gear quickly.
My starting out kit would include;
A decent rod and reel, something between 5’10 and 6’2. Not too big to be challenging, not so small you are fishing with a kids rod. The length is very important, especially when casting from the bank when you can hit tree branches overhead or from a boat fishing from a shared space.
A pair of polarized sunnies. Polarized sunglasses help with the glare off the water and allow you to see structure under the surface much better than the naked eye. If you can see the structure better, you can better position your cast and you will have a better chance of hooking up.
A decent backpack to carry your kit. If you are walking the bank flicking and moving, you may be doing this for hours at a time. You want to be able to carry all your gear, a water bottle, some snacks and whatever other essentials you may need comfortably. If you are having a challenging time, losing lures, not getting hook ups, you’ve been at it a while and its not working out, you don’t want to call it quits early because you are uncomfortable and have a sore back from lugging your gear around as well.
MY LURE OF CHOICE IS
My favourites are forever changing. Between all the brands, styles, colours and upgrades it’s hard to have a fixed favourite or a go-to. I have recently moved on to Chatterbaits. It is the action in the water and the vibrations they give off that make them so appealing to me.
IF I’M TAKING A FRIEND WHO’S NEVER FISHING NAGAMBIE BEFORE, I TAKE THEM TOO
The strip known as Mitchelton. I have caught loads of fish on the run from the bridge boat ramp up to Majors creek. There are plenty of good holes holding fish, the water quality is very good and it runs deep up the guts. Even land based angling is quite accessible, you don’t have to fight a heap of blackberry to get down to the river banks and there is plenty of visible structure to cast at.
OFF THE WATER, THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN NAGAMBIE ARE
Grab a cold frothy and a pizza from Nagambie Brewery.
Walk the board walk around Lake Nagambie and keep an eye out for the local platypus
Visit Mitchelton Winery, head up the Ashton Tower and check out the Aboriginal art gallery in the cellar.
Check out the historical sites, the Black Caviar statue, browse the antique shops and grab an ice cream from Ma Forbes Café.
HUNTING, FISHING, FORAGING AND COOKING. WHAT’S YOUR BEST CAMP COOKED MEAL YOU’VE MADE?
After a long day in the bush or a full days fishing a vegemite and cheese sandwich can taste like a 5 star meal! Camp cooking for me is all about simplicity. When you cook for a living, day in and day out you are all about refinement and perfection on a plate. Put me in the bush with a cast iron dutch oven and a fire and my go to would be a keyhole roast. A true one pot wonder.
Some of the more memorable meals are the ones that bring the pursuit of your game to the dinner table. Be it wild venison, or goat meat, fish straight from the ocean or river or wild mushrooms in autumn. Once you start to forage and hunt your own food, you start to see food EVERYWHERE. When hunting in Autumn or Spring for wild deer I always check the creeks and streams for wild watercress when I am out – Venison and watercress is great together. Or if I am diving from the shore for reef fish in Port Phillip bay in summer I will always check the intertidal zone for wild sea asparagus (Samphire) and wild fennel that grows on the foreshore. A nice fresh piece of fish with a samphire and fennel salad and you didn’t need to go to the supermarket for nothing!
There is literally edible food everywhere when you start looking.
IF I COULD GO FISHING WITH ANYONE IN THE WORLD IT WOULD BE
Believe it or not it would actually be Paul Worsteling – A local Victorian fishing legend. I have been watching Paul, Cristy and Jet Reef catch fish on iFish since before I even owned a fishing rod. I reckon he would be a great yarn, a wealth of knowledge, a ripper bloke and someone I wouldn’t mind ending up in Wrong-Town with!
I was fortunate enough to meet Paul at Mitchelton while filming the GoFish Nagambie iFish TV special this year which was a highlight for me. It was a bit of a fanboy moment I must say!
I’M EXCITED FOR GOFISH NAGAMBIE BECAUSE
GoFish 2019 we had just recently opened the Nagambie Brewery and Distillery. I wasn’t able to compete or enjoy all the festival hub had to offer. This year will be different! I am going to get to do all of the things I wanted to do last year. I had mates messaging me, “its cod o’clock” now its “carp o’clock” and they were frothing to fish in those windows of opportunity to win big. I could feel their excitement, I am going to get to feel that same excitement at GoFish 2020
I am also looking forward to seeing the hunting and fishing community all come together in one place, share stories, catch up with old faces and meet some new ones and celebrate other people’s successes. Someone is going to win big! If it’s not me, then I will be high-5ing the winner for sure!
Seeing the small town of Nagambie come alive during this time is also a highlight, for a small town, this event really gets the town pumping along. The town is a hive of activity. It is so good to see the local economy have a boom through the GoFish event.