Time to fish for a Toyota
  |  First Published: May 2007

I know it’s a classic phrase, but it only seems like yesterday that the big Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Competition was on. Then before you know it, it’s Easter time and then it’s Fraser time again at the end of May.

It’s amazing that so many locals head to the beach to fish this competition. If you’ve never fished it before then it’s hard to appreciate just how different it is from many other competitions.

I put it down to Fraser Island itself. The Island forces competitors to unwind and forget about life at home for a week or so and there are some great prizes to be won. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t like to leave with a brand new Toyota Hilux worth over $40,000? Even the second prize of a 470 Haines Hunter boat and 80hp Yamaha 4-stroke outboard would do.

The competition has also become a big social event and after 24 years there are lots of friends to meet up with along the way.

I’ve been involved in the comp for many years as everything from a competitor to chief judge and weigh master. While there are lots of ins and outs to this job the biggest part of the job is looking after the catch, weigh and release section of the event.

It’s been quiet a challenge along the way. Initially when we introduced this section we saw very few fish brought in for release – they were long slow days.

Both organisers and competitors had a lot to learn about fish keeping and handling skills as well as how to promote this section successfully.

To give you some idea of how the event has grown, last year we released 1000+ fish (bream, tarwhine, flathead and dart) back into the gutters.

This year whiting joins the ranks of catch and release only species. There are now five species that are release only, and the angler with the heaviest of each species walks away with $3,000. That’s not a bad incentive to look after the catch!

Catch and release is much more than just catching a fish and letting it go. It’s an education on how to correctly handle fish so that they will survive when released.

Every angler regularly catches small, undersize fish that have to be returned to the water. There isn’t much point letting that fish go after you’ve given it the death grip and ripped a hook out from deep in its stomach.

To successfully let a fish go it should be handled with wet hands or a wet towel. If the fish is hooked in the lip where the hook can be easily removed with out too much problem the fish stands a very good chance of swimming away. If the hook is lodged deep inside then the best bet is to leave the hook there and cut the line.

As part of the catch and release section, we have big holding tanks where the fish are held for the length of the day. Fresh seawater is continually pumped through so we have no problems with water quality and temperature.

In doing this and seeing the varying degrees of handling that the fish have before we let them go, you soon pick up what works and what doesn’t. Each and every fish enters my hands when they are initially weighed and when they are let go at the end of the day, so I also learn a lot about fish.

You’d be amazed at what shows through at the end of the day. On dart especially you can pick a fish that has had that death grip by an angler as the fish can end up with four finger marks on one side and a thumb print on the other, which isn’t good for the fish. Often gentle wet hands will see less struggle from the fish.

For those fishing the beach and travelling with holding tanks it is a bit more of a challenge as some of the tracks are pretty bumpy and it’s not easy to hold the water in the tanks.

What tends to work quite well, whatever sort of holding tank you have, is to place a large garbage bag on top of the water in the tank. This ends up with little air pockets in it so it will float on the top and only be partially submerged and acts like a baffle to reduce the splashing back and forth of the water.

An aerator used in conjunction with a small bilge pump to circulate the water is pretty well a must and always make sure that you change the water regularly and don’t let it sit out where it will go hot.

The other mistake we see is a small tank loaded with fish. This is a sure-fire recipe for disaster as the small tanks can’t handle the waste a lot of fish drop back into the water and the oxygen needed to keep them alive. Active fish like dart that are used to well oxygenated water won’t last too long in hot, still water.

It is a great to see anglers go to great lengths to devise holding tanks and pumping systems to ensure they have a chance at winning a few bucks but to also keep the fish alive.

Most are very keen and we get quite a crowd at the end of each day to watch the fish swim away.

It really is all about education. My son Riley caught a 78cm flathead at Fraser last year and he told me it was too big and had to go back. When I was his age you would have seen me riding through the middle of Sandgate with the tail of that flathead sticking out of a milk crate on the back of the bike with my head held high in the air.

It’s a great comp, so if you’ve never done it give it some thought – it’s on 19-25 May. – Gary Howard

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