The hunt was on. Word had spread that big bluefin tuna had been caught in the lead-up to the 24th Club Marine Australian Bluefin Tuna Championships, held at Pirates Bay near Eaglehawk Neck off the south-east corner of Tasmania over the April 21-22 weekend. I had attended last year’s tournament as a guest angler and was lucky enough to be invited back by Captain Steve Soul and the rest of the crew of the good ship Diversion, a sturdy 47ft Ranger normally berthed in Hobart.
All the signs were there that 2012 was going to be a big year for big fish and, indeed, this year’s tournament had attracted a record entry of 73 boats and around 250 anglers. It was a fairly big increase from the 54 boats that turned up for last year’s event and it required a major effort from the hosting Tuna Club of Tasmania to manage the extra traffic at the boat ramp throughout the tournament.
One of the highlights of this year’s event was the massed fleet send-off early on the first day, with all 73 boats lined up in Pirates Bay for the sail-past, prior to opening their throttles for the race to their respective hotspots down the coast.
Accompanying me this year was Club Marine’s Victorian and Tasmanian State Manager, Ross Lambrick.
Apart from the promise of great fishing – and the entertaining company of the Diversion crew – what drew me back to picturesque Pirates Bay, home port for the tournament and also the Tuna Club of Tasmania, was the area itself. It would
be hard to imagine a more dramatically scenic backdrop to any fishing comp. Towering basalt cliffs and majestic rock outcrops define the coast in this area of the Apple Isle, while the fact that the continental shelf is just a handful of kays offshore means that boats don’t have to roam too far to be in the thick of it, as far as big fish go.
On the run down from Hobart, we called in to a local supermarket and I joked that we should buy a few bunches of bananas to distribute around the rest of the fleet, in line with the ancient anglers’ superstition that having the curved fruit on board is a virtual guarantee of an empty kill tank for any boat. I needn’t have bothered, as it turned out.
There were various theories about why the big southern bluefin tuna normally prevalent in the area at this time of year failed to materialise (with one notable exception (see Fly in, fly out fishos, p147). One popular line was that having so many boats in a relatively small area might have scared off the bait fish, which in turn drove the tuna further out to sea. Another was that earlier reports of big fish had been premature and that the ones caught prior to the comp were just the advance guard to the big schools lurking just behind.
It didn’t help that the weather was not exactly conducive to bobbing around in the Southern Ocean watching trolled lures surf down rising 4m seas, driven by blustery Antarctic winds.
Cruelly, as we went to press, angling guru, Al McGlashan called to report he was in the midst of the biggest bluefin beat-up he’d experienced, just a few kays off the coast from Sydney. Must have been all those fish that had so successfully been playing hard to get during the tournament.
Whatever the real reason for the tuna no-show, I can only report that in the case of our team, we only raised a couple of smaller bluefin, along with a handful of smaller mac tuna. There were also one or two tantalising runs that ended in snapped lines, but other than that the big bluefin simply failed to rise to the occasion.
But we weren’t the only ones who failed to excite the spectators at the weigh station. Reports of good fish were relatively few and far between this year, with the winning bluefin being a 15kg example, boated by Luke Saunders aboard The Other Woman. And only six fish were actually deemed eligible for line class consideration, the rest being consigned back to the depths after being tagged.
For more results and tournament news, go to: www.tunacluboftasmania.org.au.
Next year’s tournament, run as the Tom Jenkins Memorial Championships, will be held from April 25 to 27.
Fly in, fly out fishos
There was one exceptional fish caught and weighed during the 24th Club Marine Australian Bluefin Tuna Championships, but it unfortunately failed to rate a mention in the final results. At least proving that big fish do actually occasionally visit the south-east corner of Tasmania, the Victorian crew of a Bar Crusher 610 Hardtop named The Office boated a healthy 82kg southern bluefin barely an hour after they slid their boat off the trailer on the Saturday morning of the tournament.
Boat owner Peter Cousins and mates Colin Keritz and Jeff Gittus decided to take Peter’s brand-new boat – coincidentally the actual Bar Crusher 610 tested in Club Marine’s April-May edition – to Tasmania in search of large tuna instead of targeting the increasingly popular annual tuna migration off Portland, on the southwest Victorian coast.
“We decided that instead of a seven-hour drive each way to Portland, plus having to go all that way offshore, it was easier to take the boat to Hobart and then we could just fly in from time to time, tow the boat down to Eaglehawk Neck and be in the water within an hour or so and catching fish a couple of hundred metres offshore,” explained Peter.
Unfortunately, due to their last-minute switch to Tassie, The Office crew was too late to enter the tournament. Nevertheless, while the rest of the fleet was wondering where all the big fish had gone, Colin Keritz was soon hooked up to his biggest-ever southern bluefin tuna, taking almost an hour to get it to the boat.
“We weren’t sure whether to take it in and get it weighed,” said Peter. “But the tournament guys were great about it, even though we weren’t entered and as it turned out it was the biggest fish weighed for the weekend.”
The Office has since ventured back out on a number of occasions, with its ‘fly-in, fly-out’ crew boasting more close encounters with big bluefin, although they have yet to equal their first-time effort.
“We’ve had five trips since the tournament and have hooked up to four really big fish – big or bigger than Colin’s fish – but we’ve been busted off each time,” said Peter.
As far as the tournament goes, Peter says the team is determined to plan ahead and make sure they’re entered for next year’s event, just in case … ¿