In 2004, the total count for barra tagged and released during the Rocky Barra Bounty was 200 for the two day event. As one of the organisers, I can tell you we were tickled pink, because that stood as the best total during the 11 years of the event. That was until the 2011 Bounty in September on the Fitzroy River.
The Fitzroy system must be the most monitored and studied inshore fishery in Queensland, thanks in no small part to the ongoing efforts of Bill Sawynok. Tagging records in the river go back decades. Statistics second to none from the Rocky Barra Bounty cover a 12 year period from 1999 and more recently a robust predictive stock modelling tool has been developed for the system. Put all this info and data together and there isn’t much we don’t know about barra stocks and how they function in this massive system.
So what happened in the 2011 Carlton MID Rocky Barra Bounty that has set the barra fishing fraternity in a spin?
Come with me on an amazing journey.
Fish stocks in the Fitzroy had all but collapsed by 2008, after a decade of drought and poor recruitment and prospects were very grim. Then it rained. Not the massive flooding rains we’ve experienced in the summer of 2010/11, but good solid wet seasons that resulted in moderate floods coming down the Fitzroy early in 2009 and 2010. That presented absolutely ideal conditions for barra recruitment into the key freshwater lagoons surrounding the lower 40km of the river.
Monitoring was showing little barra literally everywhere, the scale of which I hadn’t seen since the mid 1970s. Back to back wet seasons hasn’t been seen since the 1970s so no surprise many younger folks had never witnessed barra recruitment like this. The tagging boys went mad. But that’s a story for another day.
It really wasn’t too hard to predict that 2011 would be a good year for the Rocky Barra Bounty based on the previous years of solid recruitment. We were extremely confident that we would see a new record set for the total number of barra tagged and released during the event. Local catches in the month leading up to the September event also reinforced our optimism. Everybody seemed to be catching barra, and in numbers.
50 excited 2 person teams listened to the event briefing on the Wednesday evening at the Fitzroy River Motor Boat Club right on the riverbank in Rocky and headed home for a restless night’s sleep waiting for the inevitable alarm to get them up and going before daylight.
6am finally came around and 100 lures foamed the waters of the Fitzroy simultaneously.
Major sponsor Carlton MID, put up $5,000 for the first Bounty angler to catch a specially tagged “Richfish”. Unlike some other tagged fish comps, where the chance of anyone catching the tagged fish is next to zero, 10 tagged Richfish had been released into the river in the lead up to the 2011 event because Carlton wanted someone to take home the $5000 bounty.
The Rocky Barra Bounty requires competitors to phone in all captures soon after the fish is tagged, photographed and released. Bill Sawynok works the phone at headquarters and punches the data straight into the laptop so we have real time scores throughout the event.
We predicted the peak fishing time would kick in about 8am as the tide fell, so I didn’t rush up to Rocky on Day 1 from the coast where I live. My phone rang at about 6:30am and it was Bill on the other end.
“You’re not going to believe this, but the Richfish just went off,” Bill blurted out.
“You’re kidding,” was all I could say.
“No. Tim Mulhall got one and everything stacks up,” Bill excitedly confirmed, “And there’s already over 20 fish phoned in”.
I told Rocky on live commercial radio at 7am about the amazing recapture and things just got crazier from there.
By the time I got to headquarters at about 8am, Bill was happily frazzled and constantly answering the phone, one in each hand. He already had multiple pages of phoned in fish. That madhouse didn’t let up for the next 19 hours of competition – the phones never stopped ringing and getting the data into the computer was becoming a real issue.
Each tag sheet has space for 14 fish to be recorded. We counted the sheets covering the table at about smoko and did the maths, then redid it because we didn’t believe the answer – 250 fish! Get out of town! We’d already smashed the previous best two day total catch for a Barra Bounty after just 4 hours.
Sometime after lunch I did another sheet count and the maths and took a very deep breath.
“Bill, I think we’ve hit the 500 fish mark,” I dared to report.
In Bill’s usual conservative way, he replied, “It wouldn’t be that many,” and went back to answering the ever ringing phone. So I did a recount. I may not be a rocket scientist, but I got the same number again – 500+ some.
“It actually is,” I meekly repeated. At that point I think we all realized just what it was we were seeing materializing before our eyes.
When things finally settled down after the 6pm stumps call, we took a few deep breaths and shook our collective heads in utter amazement. The sheet count put us at around 650 for the day!
As we’d predicted the majority of the fish were between 400mm and 550mm, consistent with their age, but Shelly Newton had rung in a magnificent 1000mm fish mid morning from the Port Alma area at the mouth of the river, then followed it a bit later with another one of 900mm. That christened the new boat’s first excursion fair and square. That metre fish took out the biggest fish of the comp for Shelly and a special “metrey” T-shirt we’d been trying to give away for years.
Later that night, Bill emailed the unconfirmed results from Day 1 to me. The total barra for the day was 670. Local defending champions, The Boof Brothers team of Daniel Powell and Steve Lill, were leading comfortably with an incredible 63 fish. The next best two teams had 48 each on the board. That was a big margin to try to catch up on Day 2 which is normally a bit quieter than the first day. I was confident the boys would go back to back.
Day 2 started a bit slower with around 20 fish hitting the deck during the first hour. Maybe things will be a bit easier today we thought. By about 9am however, it was just like Day 1 all over again. The phones were ringing non-stop and you-know-what were trumps.
One of the TV stations covering the event for the evening news suggested to Bill that we could hit the 1000 fish mark.
“Don’t you dare say that,” Bill protested. “We can’t possibly get near that”.
I had media commitments and helping set up the room for the gala presentation night and dinner, so I didn’t spend as much time at headquarters on Day 2, but every time I dropped by, the grand total was heading steadily up and up towards that number that we couldn’t possibly contemplate.
On Day 2 fishing stops at 3pm at the latest. Teams were dropping in their tag sheets and logging off from about 2pm, but the phones were still going off right to the death. We seriously had no clear idea what teams were in front, just that the front runners from Day 1 were again catching big numbers and it was going to go to the wire.
Oh, did I mention that sometime after lunch Bill admitted that we were going past the magic 1000 fish mark?
I think we were in shock. The competitors were in shock as the news filtered around headquarters because the unimaginable had happened. But there wasn’t time for celebrations, because we all knew the daunting task ahead to get all the data into the computer and get a result we could be confident with before the presentations in just over two hours time.
Somehow all the data was entered and the formulas run. We normally keep the scoreboards up to date right through the two days, but this year we weren’t in the hunt. Bill handed me the results print out at 6:30pm at the Rocky Leagues Club with a huge sigh of relief. I’d already decided I wasn’t going to put the top three teams on the board, but keep everyone guessing until we announced them from the stage later in the night.
The atmosphere was primed, the competitors were in high spirits and the $40,000+ worth of prizes on the table set the scene for what would be one of the most hyped presentation dinners we’ve ever had.
We had some ripper “whoops” awards, including a competitor who I was interviewing for TV news, disappearing head first into the drink at my feet as the wind blew the boat he had one foot on, out from under him. Absolute Funniest Home Video stuff, even though we missed the actual moment of entry into the water on camera. I’m hoping to get a copy so we can put it on the Facebook site – Gold!
Lucky I didn’t put any money on the Boof Brothers, because Colin Brett and Joel Fox of the Lethal Ninjas team found a patch of fish that wouldn’t stop biting and took out the coveted title of 2011Carlton MID Rocky Barra Bounty Champion Team with an astounding total of 101 barra for the two days.
The Boof Brothers came in second with 93 fish and Rapala Street Team third with 83 fish. Joel Fox from Lethal Ninja (52 fish) edged out Steve Lill (47) for the Individual Champion title.
The final grand total of barra tagged for the event was a mind-blowing 1209 fish!
Remember the previous best back in 2004 was 200. For the full event results, go to www.rockybarrabounty.com.au.
We didn’t just break the record, we obliterated it and as far as we can determine, smashed the best comparable two day total for any barra comp, anywhere in Australia, including the Northern Territory by daylight.
Just dare to think what the 2012 Bounty could be as most of these fish reach legal size. But unlike the big rivers in the NT, the Fitzroy is heavily commercially netted, so we’ll just have to temper what could have been unfortunately. Smart state? Yeah right!
|Lethal Ninjas||Col Brett/Joel Fox||101||48.175|
|Boof Brothers||Steve Lill/Daniel Powell||93||46.535|
|Rapala Street Team||Craig Griffiths/Dan Roth||83||40.490|
|Joel Fox (Lethal Ninjas)||52||24.635|
|Steve Lill (Boof Brothers)||47||23.555|
|Col Brett (Lethal Ninjas)||49||23.540|