Billson on Billfish
"Oh What a Feeling"
The mute on the HF radio broke its silence, and over the hum of the M.T.U diesels, I started hearing some measurements that immediately got my attention. I adjusted the volume on the Codan just in time to hear Sparrow (Capt. Craig Denham ) repeat the measurements to another Cairns Captain. 12ft 1, 7ft.2, 24 inch tail. My immediate words had my Mexican clients accompanying me on the Bridge a little confused "that's a Donkey". I excused myself and waited for an opportunity to brake in on the now busy 2638 frequency, other Captains were giving their congratulations, and double-checking the measurements. I depressed the mic, "Mauna Kai Viking"; "back Billy" came Sparrow's familiar voice. "That's a Donkey mate, good on ya". "Better lucky than good Billy", was the reply. With Sparrow and well-known angler Jason Cauglan, it was a case of both.
It was the 8th November a little over half way through the 2001 Cairns Giant Black Marlin Season, and what a season it was turning out to be. My regular clients from Mexico had just finished 8 days fishing standup 50lb and 80lb and were on the bridge enjoying a cold beer as we ran back to Cairns for the change over. They had experienced some great fishing like all the anglers fishing the Great Barrier Reef this year, caught a couple of nice ones, and now after becoming accustomed to my terminology will be looking for a Donkey next year. "What do you think it will weigh Bill?" Eduardo asked. I am guessing between 1350lb, and 1400Lb, it may even go over 1400lb depending on a few factors. Flash my crewmen, was already pushing the number cruncher, and confirmed my estimate. Two hours later the scales revealed 1389LB. A definite Donkey, and the icing on the cake of a remarkable season.
The clients that elected to start early were not disappointed with consistent bites on all grounds from Jenny Louise shoal out of Cairns, Linden Bank, the Ribbons and of course the grounds out off Lizard Island. Due to the disaster in the States on September 11th early cancellations were common, and some boats were a little late in starting. The resident Lizard Island boat Coocran was having a great run early, and reported releasing some quality fish up to 900lb. Its nice to be optimistic and after the great seasons that were experienced in other Pacific destinations, and the initial results of some boats able to get out early, all Cairns Captain's had fingers crossed for a big one. By the time most boats were working, things were looking great. Purple water, strong southerly set, plenty of bait and large numbers of small to medium size fish tailing down sea. The Giant's had to be here.
One sure way to raise a nice one is to bring out the light tackle, and that's just what happened to us in early October, when Matt Cust elected to fish 8kg for a crack at the world record. Every fish we raised was 900lb plus. We did manage to switch three very large fish and played with one for over 4 hours.
Finally the big fish jumped, I swear I heard it laughing, before a shake of that huge head, and it was all over.
Captain Brian Felton, was again proving that the drop off was not the only place to catch the big fish. The Kanahoee had a super day on the 15th October. 10 miles off Escape reef, they did battle with 3 real nice ones, managing to release two and breaking the string on another. One of my captain's back when I was a crewman, Brian, was kind enough to tune me up on the numbers. After a moonlight cruise, Viking was found working 10 miles east of South Escape the next day. At 3:00pm the Special Pakula sprocket, made by my good friend from Taylored Marine, Mario Zac, got nailed by a real nice one, and after 2.5 hours the big fish was released.
Over the last five seasons the Cairns' Giant Black Marlin Fishery has seen some changes. The charter fleet are now prepared to move away from the traditional grounds, when the current and water clarity are not favorable. The walls, bay's, points, and openings of that 160 mile stretch, on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, from Lizard Island to Cairns, that has produced such phenomenal fishing for over 30 years, has now been extended to include vast area's of the Coral Sea. Captains that are fortunate enough to have powerful sounders have found new under sea structure that is consistently producing quality fish. This structure which includes canyons, seamounts, and plateau's, can be found as close as 4 to 10 miles east of the reef, and in many cases is an extension of the surface shape of the reef itself. The recently named Flattery Plateau, which produced two of the largest fish weighed for the 2001 season, and was also a big fish hotspot in 2000, is the perfect example. Another example is the grounds wide of the famous middle Ribbon reefs, between no 3 and 7. East of these reefs, is prominent structure that ranges in depths from 1200 to 1900 meters. From one of these extensions at the bottom of no 5 Ribbon the first Grander for the 2001 season was caught. Capt. Ross Finlayson and the crew of Sea Baby IV boated a magnificent 1260LB Black Marlin on a Moldcraft lure, to set the big fish benchmark for the season. The other areas away from the reef, that are becoming very productive, are out in the wide ground between 15 and 50 miles off the reef.
Over the last few years, amazing as it may seem, the marlin charter boat captains and the tuna long line boat captains have formed a great working relationship in these grounds. Fortunately the taking of black marlin in this area known as Area E has been legislated against; Black Marlin are now an unwanted pest to the tuna fishermen. Lets hope in the future that other state bodies, as well as the Federal Government finally realise the value of Billfish to this country as a Sport fish.
The tuna long line fleet based in Cairns has been a great help to the Cairns marlin fleet over recent seasons, especially my friend Michael Captain of the long liner BALANCE. Michael has regularly informed us of areas where he is finding the giant blacks, and has led our boats to some great action. This year was no exception.
On the 16th October Michael called me up on our 2meg frequency, and suggested that I come and join him. The long line fleet was in a hot bite of big eye and yellowfin tuna and large numbers of Big Blacks were also feeding on the tuna. He passed on the numbers and I plotted them into the G.P.S. 40 miles east of St. Crispins reef. The radio chat started between our fleet. Boats that were in range were making arrangements to make the move out wide the next day. Motherships were put on stand by for fueling, and the boats doing extended live aboard charters did their sums on how far they could run on their fuel reserves. On the 17th October at 10:00am I arrived at the coordinates kindly given to me by Michael. Other boats had already arrived and we were not to be disappointed. I started marking vast schools of large tuna on the sounder, and before long had a double header of 100lb plus yellowfin tuna. I looked around and saw New Moon hooked up on a real nice black, then Iona started smoking around the ocean also in hot pursuit. We were wasting time with the tuna, and so utilised the full potential of the 130lb tackle to knock them over as quick as possible. I called Michael on the radio to see if he would like the tuna. The circumstances that followed were a total classic. Balance was close by and started heading straight for me, my crew put out a couple of baits, and I also started heading towards the long liner. Once close by, Michael set a buoy a drift to attach the tuna to. I stopped the boat to pick up the buoy, and attach the tuna. BALANCE was also stationary waiting for the pick up. The baits that were previously put out had sunk while I was stationary and the long liner was now right above my sinking baits. Looking back at Michael, I spotted a very large marlin right under his bow doing some strange things. The realization on what was happening hit me in a flash, I hit the power, the drop back took up, and that large black came climbing out of the water, nearly landing on the bow of BALANCE. His crew who were on the bow at the time went ducking for cover, Michael sounding a little excited with the big long liner now in full reverse, jumped on radio. " Don't worry about the tuna for now Bill, looks like you have your hands full ". It never ceases to amaze what you experience in this job.
That day proved to be one of the best days fishing, that the boats who made the move, had experienced in a decade. I joined Capt. Laurie Wright on Iona in Hot pursuit of a real nice one. Capt. Bobby Jones on Iceman also hooked up on a big one, and then Kanahoee joined the group fighting big fish. Capt. Kim Anderson on New Moon made quick work of his fish; put the baits back out and immediately hooked up again. Kim was having a birthday to remember. Well-known International Captain Peter B Wright on Top Shot was also getting in on the action. Laurie and myself had on a couple of tough customers and 2.5 hours later we were still going. 75lbs of drag and the experience of regular client Brent Moorehouse was having no effect on my fish, and looking at Laurie he was in the same boat. Unfortunately another pest to the Long Liners, the Pilot Whales tuned up, and bought to an end our enjoyment, but it was not long before we were back with the action again. What a phenomenal day's fishing that day was. All boats in that area experiencing multiple action with large fish, with some boats catching 4 for the day. The following day the action slowed, although some quality fish were still released.
The new out wide fishery off Cairns, as well as the existing fishery is again proving that no place on this earth can compete to this destination for the size and number of quality fish. A great season at another top destination is like a good day here. I am often amazed at how little publicity the Cairns area receives. I guess some people are just trying to keep it a secret. Well the cat's out of the bag again. Not only can you catch Giant Black Marlin out of Cairns but the 2001 season produced some large Blues, and not to mention the fun you can have with large yellow fin tuna and big eye tuna while searching for the big blacks out wide.
The Internationally renowned Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic, was run over 7days, 21st to 27th October. No other tournament on the calendar can boast the results of this tournament since its inauguration, and the 2001 classic was no exception. New president Bob Lowe did an outstanding job in the organization and running of the Classic, and with the help of major sponsors the Cauglan family and Firth Insurance put together a tournament to remember. As always the tournament promotes Tag and release and it has become a Captain's etiquette not to keep a fish under 1000LB. The amazing highlight of the 2001 classic was the weighing of 3 fish over the magical 1000lb. Assagai with Capt. Luke Fallon thought he had the big fish award in the bag, with seasoned angler Hugh Wiley's 1170lber.
But the old saying "Its never over till the fat lady sings" ran true, when Capt. Tim Dean on Calypso, relayed to the radio ship some very impressive measurements of a fish he had just put on the deck. That night on the beach at lizard Island the needle on the scales got pulled down to 1280Lbs an outstanding fish for angler Adam Atkins. The third 1000lber for the tournament was taken by Allure and weighed 1058lbs. The major trophies for Tag and Release went down to the wire, Steve Viney fishing on my boat Viking 11 took out champion male angler and champion angler over all, and I fulfilled a personal ambition with Viking being champion boat for the 3rd time. All credit must be given to the crew of private boat Rebel. Capt. Matt Fallon, and owner/angler Bob Lowe, for not only managing the running of the tournament, and acknowledging all reports on the radio, as tournament radio ship. They also achieved a very close second place. The other very important award of Champion Lady Angler, was won by Denise Fox, fishing aboard Coocran with Capt. Martin Tisner.
By the time late November rolled around, all Captains, crews, and anglers knew that this was going to be a season to remember. The great fishing continued and everyone had a great story to tell. The one that impressed me the most came from Capt. Brad Craft on Sea Strike. Brad was fishing a paraplegic client who was restricted to a wheelchair; Wylie Harvey from Canada. He was fishing 50lb tackle. Brad employed his ingenuity to secure the chair, and utilised a diver's B.C.D vest at the back of the chair to assist Wylie's comfort to fight the fish. What Wylie lacked in his leg power he had in his arms and was doing a magnificent job catching some great fish. Towards the end of Wylie's trip he hooked a fish around 1000lb on the 50lb tackle. The fish did everything wrong and Wylie, Brad, and crew did everything right, and the big fish was tagged and released. Everyone on board was ecstatic. Certainly one of the outstanding captures for the season. Congratulations to Wylie Harvey and the crew of Sea Strike.
Captain Paul Wheelan was fishing, legend ultra light and light tackle angler, Mike Levett on his boat The Devils Pride . I have lost count how many days Mike has spent in pursuit of the 8kg 16lb black marlin record over the years as well as how many potential records he has lost. Mike's persistence and skills paid off in late November, when after 2.5 hours, with the combined effort of a top boat and crew, saw a potential new world record black marlin put on the deck. Later that night the digital readout on the scales revealed 631lb. A superb effort, and a pending World Record.
In compiling the information on the Cairns 2001 season, and contacting the Captains, I was amazed at how many boats reported having double headers. A double header in the Cairns Giant Black Marlin Fishery, normally consists of a large fish that is being accompanied by a smaller fish. When we talk large fish we are talking 800lb plus, and a small one may be around 200lb to 400lb. Both fish get hooked up simultaneously. Quite exciting when there is only one chair. It is worth mentioning that one boat had two double headers in a day.
The season was renowned for its big fish. One of the best big fish stories I received came from Capt. Brian Felton aboard Kanahoee . The day that Brian caught his 1256lber he hooked a fish that was so much larger than the fish that was weighed that it made it look small. Brian's words to me and I quote; "Bill we were out working the plateau when this incredible fish came up and ate the big bait. The hole it left in the ocean looked like a bomb had gone off behind the boat. It came out of the water and I swear that I could not believe a fish that big could exist. The adrenalin rush had me shaking. We were not attached that long and the bait came out. I worked the area for another hour when the small one jumped on. You know how it is Billy, getting to see that huge fish and then catching one that looked so small only an hour later and it weighed 1256lb. I would hate to say what that fish might have weighed, but it was the biggest I have seen in my time".
There were 8 fish over 1000lb, weighed for the 2001 season. But more importantly there were over 30 very large fish released. Cairns leads the world for the release of large marlin and is pioneering the use of circle hooks and sonic tags to assist in the preservation of the species.
Boat Angler Captain Weight
Maunu Kai Craig Cauglan Craig Denham 1389LB
Calypso Adam Atkins Tim Dean 1288LB
Sea Baby 1V Norm Ennis Ross Finlayson 1260LB
Kanahoee Jack Owens Brian Felton 1256LB
Assegai Hugh Wiley Luke Fallon 1170LB
Maun Kea Max Warrick Dean Beech 1070LB
Allure Parke Berolzheimer Darren Haydon 1058LB
Sea Strike Brad Craft 1025LB
Many boats averaged a fish a day and over, and the boats that fished a full season of around 75days had bites of 190 to 210 fish. Most of these fish were black Marlin although there were a number of Blue Marlin tagged, the largest being around 850LB.
As well as the above mentioned boats who all had great seasons, there were also outstanding achievements by:
Lucky Strike Capt. Ross Mccubbin
IceMan Capt Bob Jones
New Moon Capt. Kim Anderson
Iona Capt. Laurie Wright
Viking 11 Capt Bill Billson
Reel Chase Capt Jim Dalling