Fabulous Fraser

Rick Huckstepp | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 4
Rainbow on the beach.
The Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo is one of Australia’s biggest and best fishing competitions.

No matter which way one turns these days, the creep of the Green Movement into recreational areas that have been enjoyed since our great grandparents were kids is glaringly noticeable. Especially when it comes to recreational angling. It helps not that governments of the day sell Australian fishos out for the sake of a preference vote once we’ve put them in office. This battle will be ongoing and one area of particular interest to those who seek to lock away parts of the Australian marine environment to recreational fishing is Fraser Island, off the Queensland coast. Given the history of fishing at Fraser Island and its popularity as an angling destination, any of us who cast a line from time to time should be concerned.

For 23 years, Toyota Australia has been running its Toyota Fraser Island Fishing Expo at Orchid Beach on the eastern side of the island. One of the premier events on the east coast, this year’s competition was run from May 20 to 26 and was attended by around 1500 anglers, some of whom this year fished from 283 boats. The balance armed themselves with surf rods and 4WDs and took to the beaches night and day in search of fish that could get them on the board on any particular day. A good many of the beach fishers are boat owners, but take this week off from the deepwater to kick back and enjoy the sun and sand and the other activities organised for participants.

For the geographically challenged, Fraser Island is a large sand mass on the seaward side of the Great Sandy Strait, to the west of which the bustling big country town of Hervey Bay is situated. No, it’s not just sand, but is, in fact, covered with trees and forest, permeated with springs and surrounded by pristine beaches.

Toyota, along with boat and outboard motor manufacturers, put up over $200,000 worth of prizes, many of which were up for grabs simply for entering the competition. Other prizes were spread over the 11 Catch and Weigh and five Catch and Release categories and then there were nightly raffles for anything from an esky to a small boat.

Nightly draws of competitors’ names were conducted to determine who would go into one final draw on the last night of the competition for the main prize of the event, a Toyota HiLux S/CC V6 Petrol Manual valued at $36,075. The twilight draws ensured a massive influx of people to the Orchid Beach Expo HQ beginning at around 5pm each evening. With camps spread far and wide along the island’s coast, large 4WD buses did the run before and after the festivities, ensuring party goers had only to concern themselves with making the most of the social activities on offer.

One has to be at this Expo to see how slick an operation it is. While you could be forgiven for conjuring images of hundreds of 4WDs wreaking havoc on the ecology, nothing could be further from the truth. The single two-wheel tracks through the bush are shared as traffic travels both ways, and there is a sense of patience and relaxation in the air. Road rage is left behind where the bitumen ended, on the mainland.

Speed limits and general road rules apply on the beach and are closely monitored by extra police brought in for the event, who man breathalysers and radar guns to monitor the 80km/h beach speed limit.

There is a set boundary for beach fishing and within those confines it’s amazing how clean the place is, with not a plastic bag or piece of rubbish to be seen. Beyond the fishing area though, the usual flotsam and jetsam can be found washed onto the beach from passing shipping.

CATCH AND RELEASE

Anglers are encouraged to catch and release, keeping their fish alive for a weigh-in at the facilities erected in the lee of Waddy Point. The tanks are graced daily by swallow tailed dart, tarwhine and some stud flathead, along with sand whiting, all of which are released at the end of the day.

Those who want to keep their catch can have it weighed on certified scales at the stage area twice a day and the larger of the species are kept on refrigerated ice in an enclosure designed for viewing by passing competitors. In keeping with Toyota’s staunch policy of not tipping the scales of ecology, a big fish mincing machine is set up to deal with fish scraps and the pulp is taken offshore and dumped.

Those fishing from boats launch and retrieve daily; an activity very much dictated by the tides. Boats are generally dropped off trailers into one of a couple of shallow gutters and driven out over a mild bar crossing. This is the world of extended drawbars, locked wheel hubs and snatch straps and the highlight of the daylight hours has to be sitting back watching the boats being retrieved. Broken straps, bent cars, boats falling off trailers and cars being drowned in the surf are all part of an afternoon on the beach.

Bar facilities and various acts on stage entertain the anglers and their families in the evenings, while some high-profile companies, such as Humminbird and Shimano, show their wares and run demonstrations on the perimeter of the venue.

SUPPORT ACTS

The Expo is not just about fishing. There are 4WD demonstrations and test driving of new Toyota vehicles daily on the beach and Yamaha was on hand to run tests on some of its motors, as well as PWC test rides. Coinciding with the State of Origin series on the mainland, the Blues versed the Maroons for the Orchid Beach match of the year, while Miss Orchid Beach was judged, viewed by all and sundry.

Shimano ran its annual casting competition and Ladies Day saw plenty of off-beat fashion on show on the island. Kids Day took the pressure off the mums for a while and to keep everyone in tune with the week’s activities, 4BC radio had its studio located right on the beach.

Results were what counted at the end of the week and in the ‘catch, weigh and release’ department, G Oglvie, of Dalby, Queensland, took out the bream section with a healthy specimen of 1.210kg, while K Chandler, of Scarness, Queensland, managed a tarwhine of 1.07kg. Of the many swallow tail dart weighed and released during the week, a 0.659 specimen caught by D Koplick, of Redland Bay, Queensland, was the largest and another Queenslander from Booral, I Garrett, released a flathead of 2.595kg. A monster sand whiting weighing 0.521kg was released by N Goodchild, of Pomona, earning that angler the prize for the category and completing a cleansweep for Queenslanders in the ‘catch, weigh and release’ section.

The fish in the ‘catch and weigh’ section dragged the scales down much further. A nice jewfish of 12.2kg for H Ford, of Tweed Heads South, took out first prize for that species, while a monster jobfish of 14.75kg for A Mlynarczyk, of Palmview, Queensland, took them to the top of the score board. An impressive red emperor, weighing 13.9kg, tipped the scales for R Revell of Kedron, Queensland, and a snapper nudging 9.9kg took out the honours for B Seng, of Rochedale, Queensland.

Wahoo and Spanish mackerel were lumped together in the one category and a wahoo weighing 22.1kg put P Mathews in the lead.

Literally hundreds of fish were released live during the week, indicative of the growing mindset amongst anglers who continue to strive to maintain the environments they enjoy.

With the culmination of the final night and with prizes having been awarded, the mass exodus began from the island as vehicles, some towing seven- to eight-metre boats, made their way through the sand back to the southern end of Fraser Island. A flotilla of barges then ferried them a short way to Inskip Point on the mainland.

Once the dust (sand?) had settled, organisers conducted their usual debrief, but it’s the EPA who are the most critical judges of the success of the Expo. EPA staff rigorously inspected all campsites on the beach for cleanliness and to ensure they were left in the same pristine condition as they were prior to the Expo. Having conducted my own inspection, I’m confident I can vouch for the 1500 fishers who attended and who left the island in better condition than they found it.

Fraser Island has hire cars, bus tours and motel accommodation at Eurong, which is a neat little community tucked in behind the sand dunes. Visitors can also hire houses at various sites around the island and flights in and out of Orchard Beach and Eurong are also available.

Given increasing pressure from environmental lobbyists, Fraser Island might not be as accessible to the public in the future as it has been – and especially so for recreational anglers. With that in mind, you really should put it on your hit-list of places to visit, fish, relax and enjoy.

For more information, cast your line to: www.fraserisland.toyota.com.au.


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