WE WERE out for a quick fish-finding mission the evening before the real fishing began. Everything looked fishy at our chosen destination and we were eager and hopeful. Four bodies piled out of the boat and within 10 minutes of casting to the outlying weed bed the first hit was registered. A few more came soon after, and then gold finally hit the bank thanks to Leanne.
So where were we? Lake Windamere, renowned for being the best golden perch lake in NSW. We were at the Lake Windamere Trifish Challenge with high hopes of catching our fair share of ‘Windy Gold’. All boded well for the weekend’s competition and our spirits were high.
The Windamere Trifish Challenge is the brainchild of bass angler Robert Longney, who saw the value in lifting the golden perch’s image. Robert thought it would be a good idea to challenge anglers in three different angling formats over the course of the competition to see how extensive their skills ranged, and to make the playing field even for all competitors. He wanted to offer all anglers the chance to put themselves on the winner’s podium, even if the big names turned up.
Anglers in the Tri Fish are restricted to one style of fishing per session, which is set prior to the event. By doing this all anglers have to show their skills in all styles during an allocated session time. This means those who are seasoned trollers may find the bank casting session difficult. A similar problem faces those anglers who are adept at casting from the boat but have no clue about trolling – hence the level playing field.
But from what we’ve experienced over the last three years it’s not so much the format that sorts the men from the boys (challenging though it is), it’s the fish. Those bloody Windamere golden perch are smarter than we realise!
We awoke to a very foggy yet pleasant morning. Boats were put in the water before 6am and all and sundry were ready to pit themselves against the fattest and most spectacular golden perch NSW has to offer. Our first destination for the cast and retrieve session was the bay we encountered the previous night. Fish were showing all over the sounder and we couldn’t help but think we were on to a winning spot. How wrong we were!
After two hours of casting from the boat we had nothing to show for our efforts – not even a bump. How could these fish just turn off overnight? Our lures hadn’t changed, our presentations hadn’t changed, the weather was possibly better than the night before and we knew the fish were there, so what was going wrong?
Oh yeah, that’s right – we were fishing in a competition. And for some unknown reason, over its entire three-year history, Lake Windamere Tri Fish has always been one of the hardest to fish competitions.
Most anglers would have probably given up at the stage we were at, either moving to another spot or calling the day a loss. But we were here to win, and persistence was the key. After a little more casting about and a little drift to the back of the bay, gold was finally in the boat. It was only a small fish by Windamere’s standards, at 424mm, but still – we were off the mark.
Thinking that we’d finally found where the fish were holding up (the sounder agreed), we continued to cast around for a few more minutes. Everything went dead quiet again, however, so we made the call to change locations. Enter Challenge Number One. Where were we to fish next?
Half the challenge of a fishing competition is knowing where to fish and when. This is why most competitive anglers spend days at the chosen location before a tournament, locating the fish. The only problem with Windamere goldens is that they know when something’s up.
A quick punching run down the lake saw us enter a deep-set bay that looked the part. Steep rocky banks with large timber only a reasonable cast out – a honey hole to a seasoned native angler.
Sure enough, we were in the right spot. Ten minutes of casting resulted in what was called for another smallish fish, but once it surfaced all our jaws hit boat’s floor. We’d scored what is commonly known as a Windamere pig!
A quick motor around to the front of the bay saw us at a marshal boat and the fish came out at a whopping 591mm, a good fish in anyone’s books. Suddenly things were looking up. We had an hour to go in the session and the boat had two fish already. We should have just gone in for an early lunch as our boat didn’t register any more fish that session.
The afternoon trolling session showed much the same result as the last hour of session one. We pulled lures around numerous sections of the dam for the grand result of five hits and countless snags. No fish landed. For some reason those goldens were more elusive than ever. Some teams managed one fish but for the most anglers the going was tough. One good fish of 580mm was registered for that session, proving good fish were still about, if somewhat hard to catch.
We found the lack of electric trolling motor our biggest downfall. Don’t get me wrong – I do own one, it’s just sitting at the bottom of the dam right now (a painful memory I‘d rather not think about).
The day was completed with the dash for cash happening during the last hour of light, and everyone was still hopeful of finding a good fish.
A good fish was found, too, with the winning golden measuring a whopping 610mm and estimated at 18lb. Certainly a fish worth going oooh and ahhh about, I assure you. Most anglers who were already standing on the bank were all goggle-eyed and wishing it was them holding that fish. We were the happiest of all, as it was my team-mate Arthur who snared that winning fish and the $300 that went with it.
So by the end of day one things were looking up for Team Custo (don’t ask). One angler was still in the hunt for a Top 10 placing and success had already come in the dash. And the style of fishing that was coming up in the next session – bank casting – was the one we felt we were best at.
Another foggy start greeted us at 6am but spirits were high. The leaders were only a few fish ahead of the rest of the field and it was still anyone’s competition. The previous night’s team consultation concluded with another visit to the first morning’s bay. Maybe the fish wanted the lures coming into the weed beds and not away from them. We figured anything was worth a try.
Thirty minutes in and we thought we’d come to the right decision as I pinned a small fish of 425mm. This lifted my hopes as I knew I was well within a chance of a Top 10 finish.
We cast all morning with great intent after that first fish, but came up with nothing more. Windamere’s goldens really were playing us for suckers this year. We moved a few times to see whether we could find more fish but, try as we might, we couldn’t.
With about 90 minutes to go and all seeming to be dead and buried, a good sized fish hammered my lure just out of sight. It proceeded to give me the best tussle I’d had all weekend – so good that it won its freedom before I could land and measure it, but not before showing me its size and fooling me into thinking I had it all but beaten.
A last ditch move back to the scene of the morning’s action and my lure was hit again but for no hook-up. Talk about the ones that got away! Had those fish been landed and registered on the score sheet I was within a realistic chance of taking the title, and Team Custo would have placed well in the team’s event, too. But it wasn’t to be.
I can’t really complain though as the fish I caught earlier in the morning put me in third place, my best result to date. And seeing as Arthur won in the dash and got the overall Biggest Fish trophy, Team Custo had nothing to complain about.
So will we be back next year? You bet.
This is just one personal account of what can happen in a fishing competition. While it’s true that not too many fish were caught over the weekend, it’s exactly this sort of challenge that is so appealing to tournament anglers. Pitting yourself and your skills against the fish makes you think harder and smarter about where you’ll fish and what presentations you’ll use. The greatest benefit of all this evident on future fishing trips, where you’ll find that your skills at locating and connecting to fish have improved.
The other great misconception out there is the belief that unless you’re a ‘legend’ fisherman or know the right people you can’t enter comps at all. You need to be invited to these things, some people think, and even if you did get invited you wouldn’t win anyway because everyone else is better than you.
Not so. If you look hard enough there are numerous competitions out there for all the family to participate in. They really are a fun experiences, and more often than not you’ll find that most anglers participating are willing to part with some of their secrets, which is of great benefit to you. Sure – you may not win the first time, or the second or even the third, but as each year passes you’ll learn more about the area you’re fishing, you’ll rub shoulders with more and more knowledgeable anglers and soon enough you’ll find yourself in the winner’s circle. – Stephan PordageReads: 1893