What I consider to be among the world’s largest and most remote fishing competitions has been run again for the 22nd time. I’m talking about the Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo of course.
This unique event has attracted a full compliment of 1500 competitors to this World Heritage listed island off the Queensland coast.
The state government is to be congratulated on its decision to extend the permit to hold this event, as the current permit ran out this year and there were strong rumours that the 22nd Expo would be the last.
Being a World Heritage area complicates the approval process no end, as there are those who believe that events like this shouldn’t be allowed in such places. But fortunately good sense prevailed and the extremists lost the argument, at least for the present.
I’ve now been to three consecutive Fraser Expos and it has become clear to me that the organizers are almost paranoid about looking after the island’s environment during the event, despite the huge influx of visitors. And it must be said that the overwhelming majority of competitors share this respect for the wilderness they enjoy during the competition, and afterwards they often leave the place in better condition than they found it.
Apart from the obvious remoteness of the location and the logistical challenges of just getting there, this event is different from most fishing competitions because of its community atmosphere. This is a result of almost every competitor having to camp out for the week under canvas and come together every night at headquarters for random prize draws and entertainment.
It’s just like a country show when everyone arrives each evening with their folding chairs and stakes out their little piece on the grass in front of the stage behind Orchid Beach. The crowd arranges itself in orderly rows, without any angst and unaided by ushers, and settles in for the evening’s proceedings. In my three years on-site, I haven’t seen a single fight or serious disagreement amongst the punters, despite the culture that almost mandates the consumption of copious quantities of liquid lubrication during the night.
4WD buses do shuttle runs back and forward between headquarters and the camp grounds, ferrying the well-hydrated troops back to their tents so they aren’t tempted to drive – just one more responsible effort by the organizers to minimize any risks to the island and to the punters themselves in this case.
Another special aspect of this competition is the live FM radio station dedicated solely to the Expo and broadcasting daily throughout the event from right on the beach at Waddy Point. FishFM provides competitors with music, interviews, reminders of daily events and general lunacy on the part of its DJs. Then there’s the daily television highlights produced on-site and projected every night on two huge outdoor screens, like you’d see at sporting venues, where mishaps, characters and information is delivered to the assembled crowd.
It’s all of these things that create the unique format and feeling that is the Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo.
Fundamental to the fun and festival of the Expo however, is the fishing. Because of the isolation of the northern end of Fraser Island, where the event is centred, the fishing pressure for the balance of the year is still relatively low. That results in an event that offers quality fishing for those who are serious about that pursuit.
Much has been written about the offshore fishing and the island is also legendary for its tailor fishing. The beaches and headlands hold whiting, dart, bream and tarwhine for land-based anglers, and the estuaries and western side attract the dedicated flathead anglers like a magnet.
Although the weather wasn’t terribly kind to the offshore brigade for the balance of the event this year, with the wind seldom dropping below 15 knots, the die-hards still put to sea and were rewarded with some of the biggest red emperor you’d find anywhere. Every ay reds of better than 9kg were weighed in, with many well over 10kg. The largest for the comp went an incredible 16.4kg, landed by Andrew Withers from Lowood in Queensland.
Green jobfish around 10kg were also a regular feature of the daily weigh-ins, as were red-throat emperor around 3-4kg and venus tuskfish in the 2-4kg size range. Snapper were pretty scarce this year, but one unlucky angler brought in the front end of a knobby that weighed 6kg (the rest was consumed by a hungry shark). The frustration for this poor competitor was that the ultimate largest snapper for the entire comp only weighed 6kg – and that was the whole fish.
Early in the comp some quality Spanish mackerel were boated around the 20kg mark, but the rough conditions mitigated against pelagic fishing for many. The biggest wahoo for the comp was a 22.1kg specimen caught by Queensland angler Bruno Zigliotto from Sunshine Beach. That’s not to be sneezed at, I know, but the winner in this category in previous years has been around the 25kg mark.
The Fraser Island Fishing Expo pioneered the catch and release category, which has since taken off and is now a feature of most reputable large fishing competitions. Eligible species in this growing category are whiting, bream, tarwhine, dart and flathead. This year bream were removed entirely as a Catch and Weigh species and are now eligible only in the Catch, Weigh and Release section. Organisers told me that they are likely to keep this trend going next year by restricting whiting to the Catch, Weigh and Release section too.
To reinforce this catch and release ethic, the prize money for species in this category is greater than for those in the Catch and Weigh category. With an incentive like this, the land-based trophy hunters are encouraged to catch and release rather than catch and kill, which has to be a good thing.
Obviously, not all fish caught are kept alive and weighed in. People still like to get a feed, so they probably keep only their best fish alive and fillet the others for the table. I don’t have a problem with that, as I like a feed of delicious whiting as much as anyone and don’t think twice about putting them in the bag.
In all, the result of the Catch, Weigh and Release category is a reduction of maybe 10-20% of what might otherwise be taken collectively during the competition. In the greater scheme of things, this is a significant total catch reduction, a positive step towards protecting the resource and something to be applauded.
It wouldn’t be a Toyota Fishing Expo without someone going home with a brand new 4WD, and this year the booty was won by Leigh Hannant from Hervey Bay, a mother of three and grandmother of two. Her prize was the recently released Hi-Lux 4.0-litre V6 packed with Toyota Genuine accessories and valued at more than $40,000, won by lucky draw on the final night of the competition.
The second prize of a new boat and Yamaha outboard and the third prize of a new small car, plus the nightly draws of eskies, small tinnies and other prizes, mean the modest entry fee is great value whether you catch a fish or not.
This year there was a record number of over 260 boats registered in the comp, with most being in the 6-8m size range. There were also over 400 Expo first-timers entering the competition. There were heaps of yellow NSW number plates on competitor’s cars running around, which goes to show that folks are quite prepared to travel long distances to be part of this great event.
The Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo is truly a unique fishing event and something you really have to experience to fully appreciate what it’s all about. I met quite a number of competitors who have hardly missed an Expo since it began 22 years ago, and as soon as they start talking about it you quickly pick up how special it is to them. The word ‘pilgrimage’ best describes the experience for these regulars, and if it ever ended they would be devastated.
“The fishing this year was wonderful and it’s gratifying to see so many people having a great time and leaving the island in even better condition than we found it,” Toyota Australia northern manager Chris Beuth announced at the final presentations.
This year’s Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo established a record for the number of fish caught in the popular Catch, Weigh and Release section. Official judge and QFM regular Gary Howard weighed and released 1132 examples of five species back into the ocean during the six days of competition on the northeastern tip of Fraser Island. This is almost twice as many as last year, when 572 fish were weighed and released.
Mr Howard said that the Catch and Release program not only preserved fish populations, but helped to educate anglers on how to handle live fish and keep them healthy.
Numbers were also well up in the Catch and Weigh section, up from 271 last year to 440 this year.
Over six days, 1500 competitors from most states and territories fished the waters around Orchid Beach and Waddy Point on the northeast tip of Fraser Island, the world’s biggest sand island.
Fraser Island is restricted to four-wheel-drive vehicles only and Toyotas again dominated the camping sites, accounting for 770 out of 1025 of competitor vehicles.
Competitors can hardly wait until next year when the event will be bigger than ever, and with a few subtle changes every year it’s sure to be a whole new ball game in 2006.
For more information on the Fraser Island Fishing Expo, log into www.toyota.com.au.
1) Beach fishing on Orchid Beach is popular at the Fraser Expo.
2) Glenn from the Tweed with a pair of quality tailor from the southern end of the island.
3) Oh what a feeling! Leigh Hannant from Hervey Bay was this year’s winner of the Expo’s grand prize – a Hi-Lux 4.0-litre V6.
4) Col Bell with a nice venus tuskfish from the gravel wide of Waddy Point.
5) A happy punter with a nice live flathead waiting to be weighed in the Catch, Weigh and Release section.
6) Competitors at the weigh-in. Weigh-master Gary Howard weighed and released 1132 examples of five species during the six days of competition.
7) Typical green jobfish presented at the daily weigh-ins.
8) One of the larger bream ready to be weighed at the live weigh-in tent.Reads: 1051