YOU GET less for murder as they say, so 21 years is a long time for a fishing competition – the Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo – to be running. From humble beginnings, this competition has grown into an event that, I believe, has no equal. There may be much larger fishing comps around, but what sets this event apart is the location and its structure.
The headquarters at Orchid Beach on the ocean side of the island towards its northern end, is smack-bang in the middle of one of the most pristine pieces of paradise you can imagine. Small wonder it is a world heritage declared area. There is a small permanent settlement there of about 30 houses, including some very opulent residences, a shop and servo (a large shed, really) and a ranger station – and that’s about it. The rest is just endless sparkling white sandy beaches, bush and a clear blue ocean. Heaps of people remark on how they immediately start to relax and de-stress once they start the picturesque drive north along Fraser Island’s eastern beach.
While you can fly directly into Orchid Beach in a light plane or chopper, it would be impractical to bring all your camping and fishing gear with you. Another option is to get there by sea from Hervey Bay, but that requires a long and risky trip around the Sandy Cape bar and again, the logistics of carrying all your gear and enough fuel in a small boat means that isn’t a serious option either.
So that only leaves your trusty 4WD – the standard transport for everyone competing in the Expo. But even that isn’t simple. You have to get to the island via one of three barges, then travel for up to 100km along the ocean beach, negotiating a series of soft sandblows along the way, and finally through a rough sandtrack around Indian Head and Waddy Point to the competition site at Orchid Beach.
Every year the Expo runs from Friday night to Friday night, so competitors need to come prepared for a fairly long stay. Just about everyone camps out, so carrying enough gear and supplies for a week or more sees your average 4WD loaded to the eyeballs.
This year there were a record 237 boats registered in the event, the majority of which were over 5m long, many with donks around the 200hp mark. Can you contemplate dragging such craft through miles of soft sand tracks, plus all your camping gear, fuel, food and the mandatory liquid refreshments? I couldn’t until I saw it with my own eyes, but they do it every year.
If you enjoy watching the antics at boat ramps on public holidays, you’d love being part of the spectator fleet that gathers at the big sandblow at Indian Head watching the boats try to come through. Not too many make it on the first attempt, and then it’s snatch straps to the rescue and 4WDs linked together like coal trains. The best I saw was five vehicles connected together with snatch straps, synchronised to drag a huge 7m aluminium boat through. Amazingly, they did it! Other drivers couldn’t get the timing right with only three vehicles hitched together. It’s great entertainment and the crowd cheers wildly every time someone makes it through.
When 2000 people gather in one location on Fraser it’s not good news for the world heritage environment, and the Expo has had its share of irresponsible competitors over the years. The organisers and Toyota have worked tirelessly to remedy this, and nowadays competitors are so aware of their impact on the environment that they adhere to the strict rules without a second thought. If a first-time competitor happened to do something they shouldn’t, either ignorantly or knowingly, another competitor would read them the riot act. This is because everyone wants the Expo to continue in years to come, and they know if the environment is damaged the future of the event would be in jeopardy.
The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, which looks after the area all year round, is always present at the Expo and works with the organisers to ensure the highest possible standards are met. The QPWS rangers during this year’s event said they considered it to be the best to date as far as environmental compliance was concerned.
By having the Fishing Expo on Fraser Island, the level of community respect for the World Heritage values has increased a hundredfold. I believe it’s far better to allow people into sensitive areas so they can appreciate them – under very strict guidelines of course – than to lock everyone out. That’s when the small number of criminal types go in and create havoc because there’s no-one else there to stop them.
The weather always determines how good the fishing is during the Expos. This year the great god of weather was fairly kind. The week preceding the competition was near perfect, and those competitors who set up camp early made the most of it.
The boaties found plenty of quality reef fish on the Gardner Banks, and most of the guys had enough to take home even before the competition started. That was just insurance in case the weather turned foul during the competition itself.
The shore-based anglers also enjoyed the calm weather and reported good catches of quality whiting and dart in the lead-up to the comp.
However, the wind picked up a bit as the start of the event drew near, and boaties punched out into an uncomfortable 15 knots each morning for the first few days of the comp. Those who made the effort were rewarded with some excellent red emperor of around 10kg and top quality green jobfish of similar proportions. The pelagic fishers found lots of wahoo and there were plenty of stories of the monsters that couldn’t be stopped. One fish that didn’t get away pulled the lie detector down to 29.3kg, and it proved to be the biggest fish weighed during the comp. What a horse!
Beach and rock fishers did it a bit tough because of the wind, and catches were mediocre at best. Tailor and jew were conspicuous by their absence throughout the competition and the biggest bream pulled the scales down to just a few grams better than one kilo.
The flathead anglers over on the west coast fared better, with some nice lizards taking the baits. This year the competition organisers had made a significant change to the flathead category – all flathead had to be weighed in alive. If there were any mutterings about that from competitors, I didn’t hear them. Everyone seemed happy to catch and release their flatties after they’d been weighed. The biggest lizard was 699.99mm and was caught early in the event (remember the maximum legal size is now 700mm), so all interest after that centred on who could catch the biggest fish for each day – but that’s how it goes.
The Catch, Weigh and Release category again proved very successful, and is a feather in the cap of the competition organisers who pioneered this concept back in the mid 1990s. Qld Fishing Monthly scribe Gary Howard looked after the live weigh-ins and enthusiastically promoted the benefits of catch and release to the couple of busloads of kids who where there as part of Kid’s Day. This is further proof of the organisers’ commitment to education and to promoting responsible fishing practices.
One of the first topics that arises when fishers chat is, of course, the weather. I’d casually say something like, “I hope the weather stays good for the comp” when chatting to people around the start of the event. I expected a reply like, “Yeah, so do I” – but that wasn’t the standard response. Would you believe that the most common reply, both from competitors and organisers was, “Yeah, but we don’t want it too good.”
“Why do you say that?” I said, the first time I heard it.
“Because there’ll be too many fish caught.”
Wow! You’ve got to be impressed by that level of appreciation of the effect that concentrated fishing can have. My faith in the ethics of the average recreational fisher has been restored. The table on this page shows the heaviest fish of each eligible species and it’s a pretty impressive list, demonstrating how healthy the fishery is around Fraser Island.
The Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo is a unique event, thanks to the quality of the fishing coupled with the sheer beauty and isolation of this island. It’s little wonder that so many of the 1500 competitors come back year after year.
Backwards Draw top three prizes
1st Toyota Hilux Turbo Diesel 4x4 Trayback - Peter Archer of Tingalpa.
2nd Seajay 4.75m Haven, trailer, 60hp 4-stroke Mercury outboard - Badley Gray of Tewantin
3rd Toyota Echo - Kevin Cracknell of Blackwater
Heaviest Species - Catch and Weigh
Bream - Ian Somers (0.97kg)
Tarwhine - Shaun McGuire (1.0kg)
Whiting - Lou Brunott (0.567kg)
Swallowtail Dart - Jan Lindh (0.87kg)
Tailor - Michael Thompson (2.725kg)
Jew - Mark Darby (5.3kg)
Wahoo/Spanish Mackerel - Bruno Zigliotto (29.3kg)
Jobfish - Terry Gorringe (11.4kg)
Red Emperor - Adam Buchholz (13.55kg)
Snapper - John Gooding (7.5kg)
Sweetlip - Joel Hautala (4.29kg)
Venus Tuskfish - Wayne Dumschat (4.85kg)
Heaviest Species - Catch, Weigh and Release
Bream - Cameron Shield (1.02kg)
Tarwhine - Stewart Lambert (0.923kg)
Whiting - Stephen Gallott (0.49kg)
Swallowtail Dart - Peter Atherden (0.634kg)
Flathead - Ian Garrett (2.66kg)