Where the big fish fly

Rick Huckstepp | VOLUME 22, ISSUE 3
Tension mounts as a lively striped marlin nears the tag pole.
The 2007 Riviera NSW Interclub Tournament saw anglers descend en-masse upon Port Stephens, testing skills, rods and rigs to the limit.

The east coast of Australia plays host to a number of game fishing tournaments during the year, but by far the biggest in terms of attendance would have to be the New South Wales Game Fishing Association (NSWGFA) Interclub event, held around March each year out of Port Stephens at Nelson Bay.

A number of tournaments were held in the Nelson Bay area through the late ’40s and early ’50s, but 1963 saw the birth of the Interclub, which was a competition between all NSW fishing clubs.

The Nelson Bay area itself is steeped in fishing history and, in fact, it was home to an early commercial shark fishing industry, which thrived in the 1930s by supplying oil and meat to Sydney, found about three hours drive (these days) to the south.

It is also the place where the first tagged marlin was released in Australia by Dr Mark Lidwill, way back in 1913 – leading to Port Stephens’ claim to fame of being ‘the birth place of game fishing’. If only Dr Lidwill could see how game fishing has grown since those pioneering times…

In recognition of his avant garde sense of conservation, the weigh station gantry is named after him, which is interesting in as much as he was instrumental in releasing a fish alive and his memorial is one which hangs them dead!

MARINE MECCA

Nowadays Nelson Bay is a Mecca for tourists who want to watch whales, get sand between their toes on the foreshore or charter a boat for a day of offshore fishing. Throw in some parasailing and jetski hire, and you have a pretty busy weekend destination not too far from Australia’s largest capital city.

The commercial sector is now working offshore, based in the d’Albora Marina or one of the other spots that dot this huge estuary. As there is no longer a shark processing station spilling blood and entrails into the bay, bathers can feel a little more safe in the tranquil waters that line the shore – although they may have a change of heart when they learn a number of great whites are tagged just off the heads to the bay every year.

In fact, just prior to the tournament, in excess of 80 white sharks were tagged in two days, and relatively close to shore, too. But despite the wealth of marine life in the area, the insidious creep of marine park closures is stifling the many local commercial and recreational industries.

In 2007, there were 213 boats competing in the Interclub, most of them large non-trailerables, making it possibly one of the highest attendance game fishing tournaments in the world.

At this gathering of boating anglers, various clubs pit their piscatorial hunting skills against each other to vie for prestige and prizes from valued sponsors. This is done over two consecutive weekends, with other related functions taking place in the week between.

One of those events is ‘Ladies Day’, which this year saw 44 of the fleet put to sea with 98 female anglers on deck, some being first-timers and others seasoned anglers.

TOUGH ADVERSARIES

Due to their high point score, the target species throughout this tournament is usually marlin, and striped and black varieties are usually in attendance in varying degrees of abundance. Other fish rated as game fish by the IGFA also go into the count.

Out wide on the Continental Shelf, those looking for heavy tackle adversaries hunt the blue marlin and the odd short-billed spearfish that put in an appearance. While broadbill swordfish are no stranger to commercial catches, the daylight operations of the recreational fleet make them a rarity during the tournament.

The Interclub fleet can vary from 60ft gin palaces to trailerable workhorses made from fibreglass or alloy. Some players in the big boat market use this tournament as a showcase, and this year saw such American thoroughbreds as a 68ft Hatteras and Bertram 670 and 630 models.

The 2007 Interclub was sponsored by Riviera, and while its sponsorship banners were prominent, various sizes of many models, both new and old along Nelson Bay’s wharfs, were the iconic Aussie company’s real advertisements.

Another function early in the in-between week is the trade day, where sponsors display their wares under a marquee on the foreshore.

The Reef Science Tank was the place to see fishing technique demonstrations and this year saw a display trailer roll out with product from sponsors Shimano, Navico and BRP.

WEIGHING IT UP

While the overall trend in modern times is to preserve species with tag and release activity, anglers reserve the right to weigh fish for various reasons. In years gone by, this has caused angst amongst some in the Green movement, but in reality this very minor mortality rate amid a huge population of migratory fish is to the benefit of the species themselves as well as science.

Fish brought to the weigh station are poured over by scientists like Dr Julian Pepperell, who, along with many others over the past two decades, has collected tissue samples from the fish for investigation. These Interclub weigh-ins have led to some brilliant research over the years, helping scientists learn more about fish and their habits in a number of areas.

The 2007 NSWGFA Riviera Interclub was hailed as a resounding success by all who took part, with plenty of big catches and big smiles all round. With another Interclub behind us, Port Stephens will settle back into the hum of landbased tourism, while the odd game boat will continue to chase the huge schools of pelagic fish that migrate through the town’s local waters.

For those with even the slightest interest in the world of fishing and/or big boats, a visit to Port Stephens’ Interclub is a must. For more information on this fishing spectacular, visit: www.nswgfa.com.au.

RESULTS:

Category Name Boat Weight & Type

Heaviest shark Daniel Johnston Tycon 529kg tiger shark

Heaviest marlin Kris Macklin Ballyhoo 173kg blue marlin

Heaviest other gamefish Jordan Atkin Ratu 10.5kg yellowfin tuna

Most tagged marlin Jason Stephens Iona 5 marlin

Most tagged sharks Simon Benkovich Nakia 2 sharks

Most tagged marlin (ladies day) Candice Home Di-Da-Ki 2 marlin


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