Looking back on a so-so season
  |  First Published: August 2015

It’s possible that we game fishermen have the most selective memories of the entire human race. We’re really only adept at remembering the good times, and wipe from the memory banks the endless days of trolling around for nothing more than sunburn and a weary body. If we had to recall all the dud fishing days as well, our heads would probably explode!

Those sufficiently committed to keeping a fishing diary can often tell a brutally different story as to how seasons unfold. Likewise game fishing clubs’ catch/tag records, which are often used by marine scientists to gain a snapshot of how things ‘uster be’. Some stretch back over 50 years, so they’re a very useful research tool when fluctuations in a particular species’ stock numbers are being investigated.

Consequently, the tag and release stats for the Solitary Islands Game Fishing Club for the 2014/15 season make interesting reading. All up, there were 13 black marlin, 13 striped marlin and a healthy 41 blue marlin tagged, along with 20 mahimahi, 5 yellowfin tuna, 5 yellowtail kingfish, and a mako and a hammerhead shark. Then there was sundry yellowfin, mahimahi, mackerel and the odd wahoo that didn’t make line class, but always taste pretty good.

Given the crazy late summer bite, I was surprised to see there were actually 3 less blues tagged this season compared to the last, fewer stripes, and half the number of blacks. All up, 7 fewer billfish for roughly the same number of boats — there’s that selective memory at work again.

The stripes were largely the product of an old school hot September/October bite in around the wave recorder buoy and the FAD. These were a mix of sizes ranging from 25-100kg plus, and the bigger ones certainly had a few anglers wishing they’d set out a 24kg outfit rather than a 15 because “they’re only stripes…”

As the water warmed the stripes moved on, with everyone hopeful that they’d be replaced by summer swarms of juvenile black marlin like the Gold Coast and ports further north were encountering. It wasn’t to be.

The poor black marlin tag numbers highlighted another dud season, with the fixed wings bypassing us yet again. One longliner I spoke to during summer said they were cutting a lot of blacks off well wide of the coast, but these were 80kg or more, so not the inshore run of juveniles everyone else in NSW seems to encounter. The latter, he thought, just jump in the current along the shelf and ride it past Coffs until it deviates or loses strength further down the coast.

And then we had the crazy blue bite of March and April. Where 1 blue marlin bite a day was once considered acceptable, multiples became the norm for a month or so. The rest of the summer was a flop though, with a screaming north-south current discouraging the big fish from loitering in Coffs’ waters for any length of time.

Some 20 mahimahi tags is half of last year’s numbers, but there were fewer FAD rats around this year and plenty of 8kg-plus fish, so many ended up on ice. The mahis always soften the blow of a billfish-less day and you don’t feel like it’s been a total waste of fuel.

As a consequence of all this tagging activity, the Solitary Islands Champion boat In-Hours for the season was Seaborn, while champion male and female anglers were Andrew Barter and Lynette Robb respectively. Champion Boat Out Of Hours was Better Than Vegas. The club is always looking for new members, and further details can be found on their website at www.solitaryislandsgamefishingclub.com

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