IF YOU haven't been part of a Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo, you can’t truly appreciate just what this thing is all about. I figured it was just a big fishing tournament in a remote location frequented by diehard participants. How wrong I was! Everything about the Expo is big – big numbers, big budget, big fish, big infrastructure and big on looking after the place.
I realised the size of the event when I walked into the headquarters a couple of days before the Expo started. The headquarters is a circle of canvas as extensive as a fair-sized rural show. The centre stage is like one used for rock concerts, complete with two huge video screens. On briefing night and final prize draw evening, it seated well over 2000 people.
This year was the 20th Annual Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo, and no expense was spared by Toyota in presenting an amazing spectacle. The entrant books were closed weeks before kick-off, with a full compliment of 1500 competitors. Interestingly, of that number, around 30% were first timers. I heard that some long term regulars who’d been slack in nominating were very disappointed to discover they’d missed a place.
The logistics of getting everything to Orchid Beach is mind boggling when you realise that absolutely everything has to be brought in by 4WD vehicles, across Great Sandy Strait by barge, then up the beach and through soft sandy tracks. Just consider the quantities of food they'd need for a week, not to mention the semi tailer loads of liquid refreshments demanded by the punters. Then there's the electricity to run everything!
But I think that's what makes the Expo the success it is. You're committed to a week under canvas if you're a competitor, no matter what weather Mother Nature decides to throw at you. And everyone gets together almost every night at headquarters because of the nightly prize draws. This creates a communal feeling you don't often find these days.
The dune areas at the northern and southern ends of Orchid Beach are transformed into tent cities during the Expo. Queensland Parks and Wildlife rangers estimated that there were over 600 camps set up in connection with this year's event.
Possibly the biggest challenge facing organisers is addressing the environmental issues associated with something this size in such a remote location. The impact of so many people in a relatively restricted area for a couple of weeks could easily create major environmental problems. Problems such as habitat degradation from overuse or abuse, rubbish and human waste disposal, impact on native wildlife and concentrated overfishing are right up there. However, a great deal of effort and education goes into minimising these impacts, and both the event organisers and Qld Parks and Wildlife deserve a big pat on the back for the way they meet these challenges.
I'm assured that if you go into the camp areas a couple of weeks after the event, it would be hard to tell what had been there a fortnight earlier. The participants themselves also deserve a big tick for the way they appreciate the sensitivities of the island and do the right thing. I guess they have an added incentive – they want to come back next year and do it all over again.
The Expo caters for two groups – land-based anglers and boaters. The boaters go to amazing lengths to drag dirty big rigs through the sand. I saw no less than five 4WDs hooked together with snatch straps dragging a 7m fibreglass boat through the sand blow behind Indian Head. I’ll never complain again about towing my little 5m V-Sea around!
The beach behind Waddy Point is a sight to behold around daylight each morning. Over 200 boats are launched straight into the gutter off the beach before they head over the horizon in search of that prize-winning fish. It must be the busiest ‘boat ramp’ in the country during the event.
This year the weather was near perfect in the lead-up to the start of the event, and held fairly kindly for the first three days of the comp. The boaties made the best of the conditions, and many came back with excellent catches of reefies and pelagics.
The quality of reef fish really surprised me for so far south. I saw some of the biggest coronation trout I've ever seen, and the green jobfish could easily have come from Wreck or Kato Reefs or places like that – try 10kg plus! The red emperor weighed in were equally world class, with the eventual winner pulling the lie detector down to a neat 15kg. The blokes who caught 14kg emperors felt a bit hard done by.
The catches of red sweetlip and venus tuskfish also caused me to exhale audibly. Fish between 3-4kg were not uncommon.
Then there were the surface fishers. Quality wahoo were the order of the day, and fish over 20kg came in regularly. The eventual winner in this hotly-contested category was James Hayes from Murwillumbah in NSW, with a lovely fish of 22.55kg. He pipped the second place-getter by a mere 350g, and he, in turn, edged out the next best fish by only 100g.
Land-based competitors fish in live weight and dead weight categories, but if a particular fish is weighed in the live weight section and is the largest of the species, it automatically takes out both categories. This is a smart move by the organisers to encourage more anglers to fish catch and release.
A gale force south-easterly hit the event on the evening of the third day. This grounded all the boaties for the duration, but fortunately the keen beach and estuary fishers could keep trying.
With the new maximum size of 70cm imposed on flathead, the trick was to try to catch a fish that was 69.9cm. That created some interest, I can tell you! In the end, the top three flathead weighed 2.46kg, 2.446kg and 2.348kg.
The catch and release idea certainly works – in every species category the live weighed fish took out both the live and dead categories. Watching the live fish swimming around in the tanks before they all get released draws quite a crowd, and is another aspect of the event that organisers should be congratulated on.
Catching the biggest fish in a species category is rewarded with $2000, however, the really big prizes of a Toyota Hilux, a Southwind boat with Yamaha outboard, and two other small four-cylinder vehicles are what most of the participants were looking forward to. These prizes are awarded by lucky draw, so you don't even have to catch a fish to go home very happy.
The drama is milked to the nth degree as 50 finalists are progressively reduced to just four on stage on the final night. Each one of these four knew they would be going home with a major prize, but just which prize wasn't clear until the very last minute. The couple who ultimately became the proud owners of the beautiful bronze-coloured duel cab Hilux figured being part of the 20th Annual Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo had been one of the best decisions they’d ever made.
This really is a great fishing event that Queenslanders should be very proud of.
CATCH WEIGH & RELEASE (LIVE FISH)
1stRussell Donpon 2.460
CATCH & WEIGH (INCLUDES LIVE FISH)
Junior Encouragement Award
John Davies Jnr
Ladies Perpetual Trophy
Meritorious Fishing Award