It all began on the evening of Wednesday 5th November the day following the Melbourne Cup at the Lure Restaurant on the boardwalk of the Port Douglas Reef Marina. Around 70 crew members and anglers from all over Australia and Papua New Guinea assembled to register their boats into the tournament. Everyone caught up for a few beers and canapes and listened to the formalities of the tournament. Then to finish off the evening there was a Calcutta Auction of the vessels. As it eventuated 12 boats entered the tournament and the prize pool of the auction came to $8750, of which 70% would go to the winning bidder, 20% to the runner-up and 10% to the club.
This year's tournament would see the following vessels compete for honours over the 4 day heavy tackle marlin tournament:
On Thursday 6th November at 8am the vessels assembled in the marina duck pond and was then lead out in Indian file down to the leads by last year's winning boat Above Grade. By this stage the GBR helicopter was hovering closely above taking video and camera images.
The day was simply glorious with the sun shining brightly and an ideal forecast of 10-15 knots ahead.Once a quarter of mile out from the leads all vessels lined up for the take off. On the signal all boats took off in formation and cruised together side by side at 15 knots for around 5 minutes. It is such a spectacular sight whilst on the boats itself but the birds eye view from the chopper above is something else. From my knowledge we are the only tournament to stage this type of starting formation and the images speak for themselves.
The boats cruised for a mile or so before the official boat radio released them to head off to their chosen fishing grounds. At this point all boats opened up the throttle and hit the blue highway in all different directions. The official starting time was 11am and they could fish between Ribbon Reef No. 5 in the north and down south to the Jenny Louise shoals.
At 10.30am a radio check was established with all vessels and boats were scattered all along the shelf from the Agincourt Reef down to the Jeeny Louise shoals awaiting for the starting call. At 11am the 'Start Fishing' announcement beamed over the radio waves and the tournament was underway. It was now a waiting game to see who was going to strike the first blow.
At precisely 1.01pm Skipper Steve Adamson aboard Dragon Lady radioed in a hookup at Linden Bank and made quick mention it was a big fish too. Knowing Steve very well, if he said it was big then they were hooked up to something pretty decent and the best of luck was relayed back.
At 1.21pm Skipper Daniel McCarthy of Moana who ventured east and was wide of Linden Bank radioed the next hookup. Only 10 minutes later he called back in to register a completed tag. The news came in as a bit of a surprise when he said it was a 700lb Blue Marlin, the first ever recorded in this tournament. That first catch of the tournament was a critical factor as now everyone had the task to overtake him to get into the lead. At 1.52pm Saltaire called in a hookup but moments later called it back as a lost fish. Quite often the first jumps of marlin can see the hooks set free and it is over before it has begun. In the meantime Dragon Lady were still battling away on their big fish.
The worst agonising of calls came through at 2.11pm when Dragon Lady recorded a lost fish. After 70 minutes of intense battle and with the fish only 20m from the back of the boat the hooks pulled free. Steve estimated her as a 950lb fish.
At 2.36pm Saltaire Skipper Damian Collete called back in and was hooked up once again on Linden Bank. 11 minutes later a successful tag was recorded with an 850lb Black Marlin. The ability of today's best skippers, crews and boats is incredible to complete quick tags on big fish when things go in their favour.
At 3.37pm C-Girl fishing on Opal Ridge called in a hookup but quickly lost this fish. Dragon Lady was in the right spot when it called in another hookup at 4.25pm but luck wasn't on their side today as this became a lost fish a couple of minutes later. At 4.45pm Kamikaze made its first appearance on the radio with a connected fish but was also recorded as a lost fish minutes later. Luck was with the fish at this point.At 5.04pm C-Girl was back on the radio with a fish but as the trend continued it was re-called as a lost fish only minute later.
Things got rather interesting when at 5.08pm Kyrenia being the official boat which I was onboard with Damon Gruzdev at the helm, called out to the fleet that we had a double hook up on the go.
Now a double hookup may sound good but in reality it is a nightmare to pull off successfully. The first angler buckled into the chair and proceeded to tackle the fish. As this was happening the starboard reel was engaged by a fish as well. In tournament rules the other angler had to get this reel out of the holder immediately and the fight this fish standing up without the rod hitting the combing board or touching the floor and being totally unassisted. Unless you are a very experienced angler this is almost an impossible task to control a 130lb outfit with a big fish on the other end. Consequently the rod hit the combing board several times and Damon ruled it immediately as a disqualified fish so the drag was eased off so he could concentrate on the first fish. This was going all fine 8 minutes later when the fish was just underneath the boat. Then the hooks pulled free of all things and it was gone ... or so we thought. Moments later this 450lb marlin came flying out of the water for one last spectacular jump right at the back of the boat hook free and then disappeared. When the remaining line was finally retrieved the hook came back empty and not sure what had happened there.
That was the last of the action for the day as the 5.30pm 'Cease Fishing' call was made soon after.
It was a day where the marlin had the better end of the stick.
All boats stayed out on the reef overnight, so the mornings are generally spent chilling out, snorkelling and catching some fresh baits on the light tackle gear.
By the start of the 11am call boats where now spread well apart. Gorilla was furthest north at Escape Reef having been at the Seamount the day prior and had put in some serious miles to this point. The most southern point was at Linden Bank where several boats began their daily quest.
It was Kyrenia on Opal Ridge to call in the first hookup right on midday. This 350lb fish came flying out of the water and on the third jump threw the hooks well clear and was gone. Gorilla was next to establish radio contact from Escape Reef at 12.49pm and within a couple of minutes had set the tag into a 100lb model. The radio went quiet for a couple of hours and it was Wild Turkey that rekindled the action at 3.28pm. In very short time they also set the tag into anther small stallion of 100lb fishing at Opal Ridge.
Once this had been announced Rat Bag was immediately on the airwave with a hookup and by this stage were way north on Ribbon Reef No.3. 20 minutes later they relayed the message of a successful outcome with the marlin estimated at 800lb.
At 5.06pm there were two simultaneous call ins by Wild Turkey and Moana. This was a direct battle for the lead as they were one tag apiece. The well oiled team of Moana got their tag set at 5.08pm on a 300lb fish and controlled poll position. Unfortunately for the Wild Turkey team they lost their fish at 5.12pm. That was the last official correspondence during fishing times. Kamikaze however let the official boat know that they kept fishing for a bit and did catch themselves a 150lb model on dusk.
Day 2 results
Just like on the first day of the tournament Dragon Lady was first to ignite the airwaves at 12.35pm and were located at St. Crispin's Reef. At 1.08pm they recorded their first tag to a nice fish of 750lb.30 seconds later Wild Turkey announced they were hooked up and confirmed a tag at 1.11pm to another small stallion of 110lb. Now this put Wild Turkey into outright second place and the angler was Doug Cope who recorded his second fish and put him in the lead for the champion angler.
At 2.00pm Rat Bag established contact to say they had successfully put the tag into a 800lb marlin fishing up at Ribbon Reef No.3. This would now see three boats on two tags each making things rather interesting. At 2.45pm Above Grade made their first official hookup for the tournament and went onto successfully record this fish at 2.45pm with a 400lb specimen at the Opal Ridge.
All ears were glued to the radio when Moana beamed through a hookup at 2.43pm. A successful tag would take them into a commanding position. Unluckily for them they called a lost fish a few minutes later. With the action slowly warming up the 'Bewitching' period of the last couple of hours was looking promising. However this did not eventuate and it was Hellraiser that was the only boat to see any action and they pulled off a very nice fish of 850lb up near St. Crispin's Reef with female Sue Ahlers in the chair.
The final day of the tournament was again blessed with idyllic conditions with the potential for the wind to get up to 20 knots later in the day, which it momentarily did before dropping back out to 10 knots.
The final day would also see the fishing stop at 4.30pm.3 minutes into the start and Above Grade called in a hookup from Opal Ridge. They must have literally dropped their baits right on top of its head. 5 minutes later and it was all smiles with a 120lb marlin caught by Lisa Goodwin which saw her going into equal place for the champion angler and the vessel itself into a 4 way tie for champion boat.
Not long following this Kamikaze fishing at St. Crispin's had a couple of close calls to hooking a fish at 11.30am to then finally complete the bite and remain attached to a 700lb specimen. Luck and crew ability had this fish tagged only 4 minutes later.
Now the tournament positions were on tender hooks and when Wild Turkey radioed in a hookup at 1.39pm the whole fleet sat up and listened intently. At 1.44pm they called in a successful tag to a billfish. Then there was a slight pause before skipper Dan Pagano announced it was a bloody sailfish .... Woahhh!
As this is a strictly marlin tournament only, the sailfish doesn't count as a point which it can in other tournaments. I'm sure there was a mixture of emotions amongst the other vessels at this stage. As things transpired this was to be the last fish to be caught for the tournament. Saltaire lost a fish at 2.32pm and Kamikaze lost consecutive fish between 3.45pm and 3.55pm. For the likes of Saltaire, Kamikaze and Kyrenia if they had converted their fish they could have easily taken out the tournament.
At 4.30pm the 'Cease Fishing' call was made and because it was such a close result no provisional results were immediately announced. All boats had to have their tag cards into the Lure Restaurant by 7pm so the committee could finalise the results.
By 7pm all crews, anglers and additional guests had assembled for the 4 course presentation dinner. Entertainment was provided by Drew Weylan on acoustics. Now the committee had to sit down and thoroughly examine all tag cards and correspond these with the official running sheet recorded at sea. After checking and double checking the presentations moved forward with the following results.
Champion Angler - Lionel Astwood aboard Moana
Champion Angler - Nobby Szafranek aboard Gorilla
Champion Angler - Louie Smith aboard Dragon Lady
Champion Angler - Lisa Goodwin aboard Above Grade
Lisa Goodwin aboard Above Grade
Daniel McCarthy aboard Moana
Doug Cope aboard Wild Turkey and winner of the perpetual Leon Thomas Trophy
1st - Moana
2nd - Wild Turkey
3rd - Rat Bag
4th - Above Grade
5th - Saltaire
The Calcutta 1st Prize money went to the Moana team which purchased themselves and the same applied to the Wild Turkey team which came in second place.
In finishing the Port Douglas Fishing Club would like to acknowledge this year's wonderful sponsors which also included prize packages of $3500 - Bransford's Tackle, Nautical Marine Sales, Costa Sunglasses, Black Pete Fishing Tackle, Perrin Clarke Image Bank Australia, GBR Helicopters, Reef Marina, Tommy Bahama, On the Spot Signs and Lotsa Printing.