There are so many variables that have to come together to make a successful game fishing tournament. There’s the weather, the fishing of course, but good facilities and an attractive prize pool helps to entice competitors.
Fortunately, the Solitary Islands Game Fishing Club’s fifth Heavy Tackle Challenge ticked all the boxes and the event continues to go from strength to strength. While the weather made it tough for the entrants, a turnout of 31 boats and 122 anglers was an excellent result in an era of declining interest in organised game fishing competitions.
Due to Easter plonking itself down in March this year, the tournament was switched to early April. This had everyone pondering the quality of the fishing, despite it only being a week later than 2015’s standout event that resulted in 36 marlin tags from 21 boats.
They need not have worried. While catch numbers were down (largely due to the windy conditions), there proved to be an interesting mix of marlin out there, with more blacks than you’d expect given the time of year, a couple of stripes, and of course those bonus point blues.
This species-specific event awards extra points for blue marlin (correctly identifiable by clear digital photos presented to the tournament committee), plus there’s an achievable minimum weight for tasty other game fish that may not pass the ‘equal to line class or better’ test.
By the start of fishing on the Saturday, boats were spread out from The Hole in the north to Smoky Cape in the south, as a contingent of larger boats from the Port Macquarie GFC fished their way up to Coffs.
The first morning was somewhat slow, but then the hook-ups started to filter through, with marlin, wahoo and yellowfin tuna figuring in the stats. With a few boats on one marlin tag each, nobody established a clear lead, so the field was wide-open going into Day 2.
The most significant catch of the day, was the barbecue pontoon that had escaped from the Tweed River some time in the past and was found by the Mustang crew drifting about over the Continental Shelf!
After getting pounded from the north on Saturday, Sunday saw a southwesterly gradually build in strength to 20+ knots and swing more southerly, which made it hard going for the boats that chose to fish up the coast. The hot bite was only a dozen or so miles from the harbour entrance, just inside the South Canyons. That’s convenience for you right there…
Some boats found the marlin, while others in plain sight of them never had a bite. Wrong lures, wrong colours, wrong sizes, bananas on board, smelly crew — who knows? It’s just one of the puzzling frustrations of game fishing.
It’s been a standout year for wahoo on the Coffs coast, and visiting Queensland boat Coconut Kiwi snared three on Sunday, with other boats achieving singles or copping shredded lure skirts for their trouble.
The smallest boat in the fleet was Madzmia, a 445 Haines Hunter centre console, which won the bravery award with oak leaf clusters just for being out there, but some wahoo and a 46kg yellowfin tuna on 24 made it almost worthwhile!
The champion boat was ultimately an ex-Solitary Islands GFC boat – Secret Men’s Business, which now calls Port Macquarie home. They had the ball on a string both days, with a blue on Saturday, followed by another two blues and a black on the Sunday.
Local boat Foreign Exchange fished consistently all weekend to come in second with a black on Saturday, then a striped and a blue on Sunday. The recently refurbished On Business was third with a blue and a black under fairly difficult conditions to the north on Sunday.
A percentage of the Calcutta winnings and proceeds from the presentation night raffle was donated to the Solitary Islands Game Fishing Club’s chosen charity, which is the Leukaemia Foundation, and close to $1400 was raised for this extremely worthwhile organisation.
The 2017 event will be held 25-26 March, which returns the competition back to the club’s preferred weekend in the March timeslot.Reads: 363