There was no doubt that this spectacle was the highlight of the tournament. The competing vessels Indian filed out of the Port Douglas harbour with the Skysafari helicopter operation hovering close overhead filming the event. As the vessels approached the leads the ocean was a glass out and the sun was shining brightly - it was an organiser’s, competitor’s and film maker’s dream! The start was going to be awesome.
On command the all the vessels lined up in a straight line awaiting the green light to fire off into the distance. The thumbs up was given by the Bradley King the chopper pilot, and in sync all the vessels pushed their throttles to the floor. Wow, what a sight to behold. The roar of the engines on these Formula One vessels was that a of surround system at full boar. As the boats surged forward the Skysafari chopper got in real tight filming all different angles and the atmosphere was nothing short of electrifying.
All vessels maintained high speed for several minutes before they spread eagled in all directions as they cruised out to the fishing grounds some two hours away. The sail-past and starting grid take off was described by main cameraman David Vivian and director of the up and coming tournament DVD as the best ever footage he has filmed and I can’t wait for the final product. It promises to be one of the region’s grandest ever recorded on film.
By 11am all the vessels had arrived on the shelf at various locations in readiness for the radio call to begin the tournament. Vessels were as far spread from Onyx Reef to the south, Spur Reef to the south, Jenny Loiuse Reef to the south, Linden Bank, Opal Ridge and as far as the Ribbon Reefs to the north. All the skippers had their different thoughts as to where the bite was going to occur and it was game on. The weather conditions were superb with a slight breeze barely reaching 10 knots and the anticipation was buzzing as the countdown radio start call was approaching.
Proceedings were quite in the first two hours as no strikes or hook-ups were recorded. This changed at 1.31pm when Gorilla radioed through the first hook-up of the competition and they were between Ribbon Reefs 2-3. Their decision to travel way north had paid handsomely. At 1.35pm the radio call back came in that they had tagged a 250lb stallion with Mark ‘Chucky’ MacMillan as the angler.
It must be pointed out at this stage that tagging the fish in the shortest amount of time is paramount in tournament conditions. The skippers push their vessels and anglers to their limits to acquire a quick tag. There is a lot of skill involved on the skipper’s behalf, the vessels need to be extremely manoeuvrable and the standard 130lb fishing gear has to be in pristine working order for this to happen, especially whilst under rapid fire with a rampaging marlin on the end of the line. The action is extreme and pure adrenalin pumping stuff.
At 1.53pm Calypso Mango called through the next hook-up at Spur Reef and this was soon followed by Spartacus at 2.05pm with another on Linden Bank. These two calls were soon retracted with returns of lost fish, but at least the action was slowly warming up. It wasn’t until an hour and a half later that Spartacus recorded the next official hook-up on Linden Bank. A few minutes later Calypso Mango echoed this call with another hook-up on Spur.
It was like these two vessels were going toe to toe at each other and they were in the right locations. Unfortunately for Spartacus they radioed in a lost fish shortly into the fight and an hour later Calypso Mango resurfaced with the unfortunate news of a lost fish which was of considerable size. The heartbreak of a lost big fish is part and parcel of marlin fishing.
The radio waves went quite from hereon as the prime bite time late in the afternoon went uneventful. Just prior to Stop Fishing at 6pm, Reel Impression called through a hook-up right on the final siren. As they had hooked up prior to 6pm this fish became eligible if they could tag it. Unfortunately they lost this fish a few minutes later.
So Day 1 went down as a quite one in game fishing terms. There were some hard luck stories by some of the boats and many of the vessels saw little or no action. The final statistics for the day saw 8 strikes, 6 hook-ups and 1 tagged marlin.
Gorilla took out Champion boat for Day 1 with Mark MacMillan as the Champion Angler. Each day champion angler was awarded a $1000 sapphire & trophy.
Most of the boats anchored behind the reefs overnight whilst a couple returned to base. I was stationed aboard Joe Joe for the night and our clients were treated to a cocktail party aboard the local luxurious white boat Bahama, owned by the Morris family which we anchored next to behind north Opal Reef.
It was a very special evening for all and it was time to reflect and come up with a strategy for the following day.
The cat and mouse games started at 2.30am under the cover of darkness as Spartacus pulled anchor and went in search of greener pastures. All was revealed on day break as they radioed through they had travelled wide to the Seamount a further 70 miles from the edge of the shelf. This was a bold move which was sure to put a cat amongst the pigeons.
After morning snorkels and a hearty breakfast it was back out to the marlin grounds with a 10 - 15knot forecast. With a bit more chop on the water there was expectations of some more action. Locations were chosen to start the day with Joe Joe at The Bank, Spartacus wide at the Seamount, Gorilla was now situated way north on Ribbon Reef 5, Calypso Mango at Spur Reef, Kyrenia at St.Crispin’s Reef, Rat Bag on Opal Ridge, Dragon Lady at Linden Bank, Kamari down on Jenny Loiuse Reef and Reel Impression on Spur Reef.
At 11am the Start Fishing radio call kick started the day’s proceedings. By the 1pm radio schedule no reports had come through, not even a strike.
At 1.48pm Joe Joe had made its way down to Onyx Reef and completed a hook-up to a 150lb model. Minutes into the fight they had mowed down quickly on this frisky marlin and were ready to set the tag when the hooks pulled free - lost fish.
At 2.05pm there was noise from the Seamount as Spartacus recorded a hook-up only to radio back soon with a lost fish verdict. Reel Impression repeated the exercise at 2.15pm with another lost fish. Things were not quite going to plan for the vessels.
At last a confirmed tag was received by Spartacus at 3.39pm after a short fight on a 150lb marlin. Ralph Czabayski was the lucky angler and as proceedings transpired this was to be the only marlin tagged for the day. Rat Bag had a close encounter at 4pm but couldn’t complete the deal. 15 minutes after Stop Fishing at 6pm Kamari hooked up to a 750lb big girl and fought it for 20 minutes before setting the tag. Unfortunately for them it was outside of the regulated time and didn’t count for the tournament.
The Day 2 results saw 10 strikes, 4 hook-ups and 1 tagged marlin. Day 2 Champion Boat was Spartacus, Champion Angler Ralph Czabayski, however overall Gorilla was still leading the competition.
With a scheduled ‘lay day’ the following day, the majority of the vessels headed back to base for a day on the golf course whilst a few who had paying charter work stayed on the water with their catches having no bearing on results.
Golf Day - The 4 Ball Ambrose golf day played between some of the vessels at the Sea Temple golf course was won by the Joe Joe team. The irony here is that first prize for this event was a free trip aboard Joe Joe for the day. Owner Richard Jenkins had managed to save himself a few bucks!
It was back to the business of fishing and attempting to turn around the fortunes in favour of the anglers. The forecast was a pleasant 15 knots and all vessels took up their starting positions with Okiemoe joining the competition for the first time. Joe Joe put its faith in Linden Bank, Spartacus was now even wider at the Holmes Reef, Gorilla was now back at The Bank, Calypso Mango began at Opal Ridge, Kyrenia opted for St. Crispin’s Reef, Rat Bag was situated north of Opal Ridge along with Dragon Lady, Okiemoe began its campaign at Jenny Loiuse Reef, Kamari was still patrolling Spur Reef with Reel Impression concentrating at Onyx Reef.
With slightly cooler conditions on offer and heavy cloud looming ominously, conditions were comfortable with an associated 10 knot breeze. Fishing was to cease at 4.30pm on the final day. Final strategies were in place just prior to the 11am start with Joe Joe focussing on Linden Bank, Spartacus returning back to Linden Bank, Gorilla also putting faith in The Bank, Calypso Mango trusting Opal Ridge to fire up along with Kyrenia, Rat Bag was between The Bank and Opal, Okiemoe was further south near Spur, Kamari had opted for Linden Bank, as did Reel Impression.
Spartacus with 6 tags
Ralph Czabayski with 3 tags (aboard Spartacus)
Gorilla with 3 tags
David Sweet with 2 tags (aboard Spartacus)
MV Calypso Mango
MV Reel Impression
MV Rat Bag
Total Strikes: 49
Marlin Tags: 12
Kyrenia: 1 sailfish tagged
Reel Impression: 1 sailfish tagged
Calypso Mango: 1000lb black marlin with Matthew Dorrian as angler