Big fish country

Chris Beattie | VOLUME 22, ISSUE 1
Inflamed with rage, the big black headed for the surface.
Queensland’s Ribbon Reefs produce some of the biggest marlin on the planet. At least they were for us at the 20th annual Riviera Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic…

It exploded from the water with the force and fury of an enraged bull on steroids. Over 1000 pounds of angry muscle had, for probably the first time in its life, come across something that it couldn’t deal with simply by killing or eating it. It had sensed a wounded fish somewhere up ahead and, excited into a primordial feeding frenzy, had gone in for the kill. As it made its final lunge, clasping the fish in its powerful jaws, it turned to head for the depths. Then something happened. It felt resistance – a sensation this massive black marlin was entirely unaccustomed to. Next came a jerk as the hook imbedded itself in the fish’s bony jaw. Inflamed with rage, the big black headed for the surface, leaping clear in a spectacular display of unbridled power that signalled the beginning of that age-old fight between man and beast. The only trouble was that this particular scenario wasn’t taking place at the back of our boat. In fact, it wasn’t taking place at the back of our boat on a depressingly regular basis.

The annual Riviera Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic is one of Australia’s premier gamefishing tournaments. Held at Lizard Island north-east of Cairns, the 20th running of the event, from October 15 to 21, 2006, attracted a field of 140 anglers, from all corners of the globe and spread over 47 boats – an impressive number of which were, appropriately enough, Rivieras. And we were onboard one of the biggest and best. To be specific, myself, Club Marine CEO, Mark Bradley and publisher of Blue Water Boats and Sports fishing magazine, David Gardiner were guests of Riviera aboard the irgun gamefishing flagship, Fascination II.

Regular readers might recall a recent piece we did on Bob Jones, the skipper of Fascination II during a brief fishing excursion in the waters off the Gold Coast. While onboard, Bob invited us to fish with him at the Classic. Milli seconds later, I was checking airline and magazine schedules to ensure nothing stood in the way of our coming Lizard Island adventure.

We boarded Fascination II at the small north Queensland coastal hamlet of Cooktown and motored out to Lizard Island in time for the official tournament welcome at the famous Marlin Bar on the beach in Watson’s Bay. That first night ended with lots of good cheer and anticipation as the fleet bobbed gently in the bay, generating a dazzling floating light show that twinkled out in the early hours of the morning.

An impressive fleet sailpast heralded the start of the tournament the following morning and the boats were soon on their way to their chosen hunting grounds on the famous Ribbon Reefs to the east of Lizard Island.

We were full of anticipation at the adventure to come. We were going to spend the next week stalking the Big Kahuna; the grand daddy of all gamefish, the black marlin. What’s more, we were going to be fishing for them in the world’s premier black marlin fishery. Marlin of huge proportions prowl the Great Barrier Reef in north Queensland, most particularly in and around the Ribbon Reefs. Fish as big as ‘Granders’ – marlin of 1000 pounds or more – are a not unheard of occurrence in these waters and as far as we were concerned, were a realistic and entirely achievable outcome. After all, we would be aboard Fascination II with Bob Jones and his able crew of sibling deckies, Roddy and Craig Findlay and cook, Sonya George. Despite our comparative lack of hardcore gamefishing experience, all three of us were confident that the big fish stood little chance against such a potent team. Which just goes to show that expectations and outcomes can sometimes be separated by vast distances – especially in gamefishing circles.


Some seriously big fish were caught over the remaining seven days of competition. The winning team – measured by the total number of tags recorded – was, for the second year in a row, a crew from Victoria. Team captain, Kim McKendrick and team-mates James Cameron, James Morphy and Tom Cameron aboard Tenacious, a 56-foot Precision skippered by Chris “Sharky” Miles, took out the tournament with a total of eight tags.

In total, there were 258 strikes, 226 hook-ups and 113 black marlin tagged and released in good health over seven days of fishing. At least two fish were estimated to be in excess of 1100 pounds, with another 14 estimated to be between 900 and 1100 pounds.

But our team failed to make much of an impression in the overall scheme of things. Mark tagged a feisty 130kg black – his first marlin – while David had a brief skirmish with a 350kg fish that spat its hook five minutes into the contest. By comparison, my 75kg black seemed a mere minnow, yet it kept me busy for 35 minutes and its capture and tagging at least confirmed my ‘grand slam’ aboard Fascination II, having caught the trio of one striped, one blue and now a black marlin on the same boat. But that was about it for us – not much to show for a week of dragging baits around the Ribbon Reefs. The general consensus seemed to be that a 2-3-knot cool southerly current was the culprit, black marlin apparently requiring warmer waters to stir them into action.

Of course, such is the fickle nature of gamefishing – and any kind of fishing for that matter. Despite being privileged to be on such a boat and in an area where the biggest black marlin on the planet call home, glory wouldn’t be ours this time around. Yet, just being around Bob Jones, Fascination II and the crew at Lizard Island had been an experience none of us will forget in a hurry. This place is where legends have been made. Plenty of good fish were seen and tagged over the tournament, the overall result confirming that north Queensland remains the unchallenged mecca of big gamefishing.

Special thanks to Riviera, Bob Jones and his dedicated crew for their incredible hospitality. It was an education to see them in action and a privilege to be part of this legendary event.

For the statisticians, runner-up Champion Team consisted of Gold Coasters Danny Simons (captain), Lee Holtsbaum and Kevin Cook. They fished on Diamond Girl, a 48-foot Riviera skippered by Kim Anderson.

Champion Male Angler was Jim Warpole, from Port Douglas, with six tags, fishing on Allure skippered by Darren “Biggles” Haydon.

Runner-up Male Angler was Kevin Cook, with five tags, fishing on Diamond Girl with Captain Kim Anderson.

Champion Female Angler was Trudy Myburgh, from South Africa, with two tags, fishing on Marlin Blue with Captain Ken Bryant.

Runner-up Female Angler was Janelle Heany, from Mooloolaba, with one tag, fishing on Viking 56 with Captain Scott Heaney.

Champion Boat was Tenacious.

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