In only its second year of running, The Port Douglas Marlin Challenge heavy tackle tournament quickly gainied a reputation up and down the east coast of Australia as a top class competition with anglers travelling afar to compete as the US, Hong Kong, Bali, New Zealand, Sydney and Adelaide.
The 2011 tournament saw 14 ultimate fishing machines vying for honours over the 4 day competition in what proved to be a very tight and fiercely fought event. Follow the day by day diary which eventually saw a dark horse, a young local skipper take the competition by storm leading his team and boat to victory.
At a private luxury residence on the Wharf St. Hill of Port Douglas, 100 aspiring fishermen and women gathered on dusk to make acquaintances with each other and to familiarise themselves with the tournament rules. Amongst a delightful pool garden setting with a spectacular view stretching north along our magnificent coastline, it was a very relaxed evening spoiled with gourmet canape’s and a few refreshing beverages. There was also the Calcutta of the vessels, which tends to extract out the competitive nature of most, pooling together in excess of $10,000. Not surprisingly as they came 1st & 2nd respectively in 2010, according to the tally it was clear Spartacus was a red hot favourite with Gorilla not far behind.
All vessels gathered in the marina duck pond before filing out in single file behind last year’s winner Spartacus. Once again we had the brilliant services of Skysafari Helicopters with chief pilot Bradley King, cameraman David Vivian and photographer Perrin Clarke capturing this unique assembly of top line fishing vessels by air in this sleepy seaside village.
Once out of the harbour leads the vessels all lined up adjacent to each other and awaited for the official radio start call. With the green light given, and as a tournament tradition, all boats maintain a straight line cruising at 15 knots for 5 minutes so film crews can capture the moment in stunning detail. This year again, with a glorious morning on our side, this was an amazing spectacle. Once formalities were done the call came through, ‘Good luck guys, we’ll talk next just prior to start fishing at 11am’. With this, vessels picked up speed and took off across the ocean horizon in spectacular fashion. It was GAME ON.
With a 15 knot SE breeze, by the 11am Start Fishing radio call it was established where vessels were to start their campaign. Boats were as far spread by 30 miles from Linden Bank to as far north as the bottom of the Ribbon Reefs. Many of the skippers had the belief the bite was going occur further north as recent reports had indicated. The first hook-up radioed through was from Gorilla at 12.01pm near Ribbon Reef No.2 and they looked to continue their good form. However this was very quickly retracted as a lost fish. Just as this lost fish was recorded, Hellraiser beamed through a hook-up at 12.10pm. By the 1pm radio schedule vessels reported back in 5 strikes, 2 hook-ups and no set tags, however Hellraiser had obviously raised a big fish and was still battling away.
The next two hours went by uneventful with only one further strike recorded at 3pm, yet Hellraiser with Sue Ahler in the chair was still going toe to toe with a big girl of considerable size. After a dramatic 4 hour fight she lost this fish in the end - gut wrenching to say the least but a great effort. According to the crew this marlin could have been easily a whopping 1200-1300lb fish and was of extraordinary size. The next 2.5 hrs would see the action hot up considerably and the late afternoon is normally what many call the prime bite time or the ‘be-witching period’
At 3.38pm Simon Jenour aboard Joe Joe finally hooked properly up to a 450lb model at Escape Reef following a harrowing series of unsuccessful strikes and hook-ups. Luck had finally changed for the boat and he successfully set the tag 7 minutes later before releasing it. This effort would see him win the champion angler of the day as proceedings transpired. Having travelled all the way from Bali for the tournament two years running, it was his first ever marlin and a fitting result.
At 4.20pm situated at Ribbon Reef No.3 Gorilla secured another hook-up with veteran marlin angler Mark ‘Chucky’ McMillan on the reel (Chucky was a daily champion angler in 2010). In a short but intense battle they quickly claimed this fish 6 minutes later calling it a 300lb specimen before letting it free. Joe Joe had certainly found it’s own little patch of productive ground at Escape Reef and radioed through a hook-up at 4.42pm only to be retracted minutes later with a lost fish which threw its hooks in a brilliant aerial display.
At 4.52pm Kyrenia opened its account in glorious style hooking up to a monster fish at Linden Bank. Peter Michaltis was the angler and with superb technique by himself and the crew, they tagged this fish 6 minutes later. They called this fish as a 950lb model and this displays how far boats, tackle and angling techniques have come to be able to release such a big animal in such short time. Well done to Skipper Damon Gruszdev and the Kyrenia team.
As soon as this battle was done and dusted, Joe Joe was on again at 4.59pm. With angler Richard Jenkins determined to open his tournament account he was bewildered when his approx. 400lb fish managed to throw the hooks during a string of dynamic jumps. Joe Joe could have been a bolt away leader by now if they had managed to convert most of their encounters - but that’s fishing as they say. Their heartbreaking ratio read 4/3/1. With the cease fishing call fast approaching at 5.30pm, at Linden Bank Kyrenia radioed in again at 5.20pm and threatened to take the tournament lead. They unfortunately lost what they described as a ‘big slob’ of a fish a couple of minutes later. Literally seconds before the cease fishing call, Gorilla beamed through a hook-up on Ribbon Reef No. 3 but also lost this fish very quickly.
So Day 1 went down as a mixed result, only a handful of boats saw any serious action, a lot of fish were un-converted, but there were some monster fish raised.
16 Strikes, 7 Hook-ups, 3 Tagged fish.
Simon Jenour (Joe Joe)
Joe Joe 1 Tag
With another day of 15 knot breezes, boats were still well spread apart from Ribbon Reef No. 3 right down along the shelf edge to Linden Bank. At 11am the Start Fishing call echoed through the airwaves. It was a quiet couple of hours before Hellraiser jolted proceedings on Escape Reef with a hook-up at 1.40pm.
Sue Ahlers was at it again and she was determined to seal the deal on this one. She did so accordingly 5 minutes later tagging and releasing a 200lb black marlin. Hellraiser was the only boat to see any decent action by the 3pm radio schedule.
Saturday was a Lay Day, allowing some vessels to head back to port for some R&R, whilst it gave other vessels time to enjoy other activities on the Great Barrier Reef and even time to come up with a new strategy.
Day 4 started with a Bang - literally!
The coast had been swamped into darkness with heavy storm clouds performing an impressive light and audio show. Despite the heavy rain at first, at least the winds hovered just over 10 knots. By 11am conditions were just overcast, nice and cool and we had boats still spread eagled across the map from Ribbon Reef No.3 extending further down south to Jenny Louise Reef.
Approaching the turn of the low tide right on midday the waters lit up momentarily. Mistress opened her account on Opal Ridge with a 300lb fish with Barry Alty reeling it in within 7 minutes of hooking up. 20 minutes later Spartacus at St. Crispin’s Reef and Amakura at Opal Ridge recorded hook-ups simultaneously and both gingerly radioed back through lost fish soon after. This was soon followed by Reel Impression at Jenny Louise having a quick shot at a fish as did Diversion at St. Crispin’s without luck. There were certainly some hard luck stories ringing through.
Once the turn of the incoming tide kicked into gear so did the marlin proper. Reel Impression with John Pescle on the reel had found the zone and hooked up at Euston Reef and quickly set the tag into a 150lb feisty fish which put on a dynamic display. As soon as the radio call came in as a tagged fish, Kyrenia still plugging away at Linden Bank, sent shivers down the competition field when they confirmed a hook-up at 1.27pm with George Agrou in the chair. 13 minutes later they claimed a 550lb black marlin pushing their position even further ahead of the pack with 3 tagged marlin confirmed.
Joe Joe tried to rally once again setting the hooks into a 300lb fish at 2.11pm but their misfortunes continued as this fish jumped free again 2 minutes later. Someone must have run over a Chinaman aboard this vessel. Amakura immediately set the ledger straight on Linden Bank hooking up at 2.14pm and setting the tag in at 2.30pm on a 300lb marlin with Janice Eggins from Newcastle as the angler. Proceedings went quiet for an hour or so before the ‘be-witching period’ fired up.
Joe Joe, Gorilla, In a Meeting and Diversion all had their chances but could not seal the deal. Barry Alty aboard Mistress stayed connected to a fish at 4.45pm on Opal Ridge and set the tag a few minutes later to a 200lb specimen. Diversion had another serious crack at 5.24pm but they went without luck. As in previous days, just before the shut off call Think Big registered successfully a hook-up by the narrowest of margins. They re-interated they might be connected for for quite some time as it was a monster fish. Unfortunately this fish proved too big and was recorded as a lost soon after. So the cooler conditions certainly saw the fish change up a gear on Day 3. Once again there were plenty of hard luck stories but one point was definitely established, everyone would be hunting down Kyrenia on the final day.
23 Strikes, 14 Hook-ups, 5 Tagged fish
Barry Alty (Mistress)
Kyrenia 3 tags
Kyrenia with 3 tags,Skippered by Damon Gruszdev; crewed by Brett Goetze & Brett Davies.
George Agrou with 2 tags (aboard Kyrenia)
MV Reel Impression
MV Joe Joe
MV Hell Raiser
Total Strikes: 40
Marlin Tags: 13
Simon Jenour - Joe Joe
Sue Ahler - Hellraiser
Barry Alty - Mistress
Graham Lance - Rat Bag