Neil Grieves familiar voice greeted me as I turned on the HF radio. The sail past for the 2006 NSW Interclub was about to commence. Always an amazing spectacle 220 boats from 15ft to 75ft and around 1000 anglers.
Like all tournaments that I enter, I wanted to win and had a game plan embedded in my brain to try and achieve this goal. My crew of Josh Sweeney, Dave Brown, Breeden Rolt, and wife Kim had the same ambition.
We were fortunate that at No 29 we got through the sail past early and wasted no time in going to the bait grounds and getting fresh bait. Fresh bonito was the target, there is nothing better for skip baits or dead or swimming baits, but they must be fresh. Also we would use slimy Mackerel that would be caught on bait jigs at the shelf. Trolling fresh dead baits to travel ground and find the bait schools that held fish, and if necessary sink live baits on bait schools. This was the simple but effective fishing strategy.
As always with my fishing a well tuned quality sounder would answer a lot of questions on the day as to my movements, and techniques, and without my 3 kilowatt Furuno Nav Net system I may as well have stayed at the dock. Not all fish will rise to a surface presentation especially if the surface is cluttered with boats.
I had spent the Two days prior the Tournament looking over the grounds, I knew what the current was doing and made a decision on were I was going to start. Unfortunately it was also going to be were many other competitors would be. Not my favorite scenario, but it was looking to good, and my results the afternoon before the tournament concreted my decision. The start of the drop into the small canyon on the northern side in 95 fathoms was our starting point. A few tight marks were put into my GPS.
The Flare from the water police vessel to start the tournament sent 200 odd boats racing to sea, we were still catching our bonito for the day which was a little more important than burning excessive fuel in a race to the grounds. We got mobile a little later and headed straight to my marks. To my surprise it was relatively traffic free, out went our bonito and I did some passes over my marks, a few stops were made to load up, with fresh mackerel on the jigs, and my bait needs for the day were for filled.
We worked my marks solid for most of the day, and with a little wondering to work with the tide changes managed to tag 7 fish for the day. We were one off the pace after the first day.
The second day found us on the grounds and loaded with bait at 07:00. Start fishing, came the call from the Radio base. We started straight off with sinking live baits. I prefer to use the current to sink my baits rather than weight, and after all the commotion from the day before, I had doubts as to the amount of fish I could raise with surface baits. I kept Viking 11 backing into a North West set, of cause the old phase “don’t leave fish to find fish” put me back on my original marks. The traffic was much heavier than the day before, and on a slow morning we only managed 1 tagged stripped marlin.
“You have to know when to hold them and know when to fold them” and after a couple of hours of close scrutiny of the Nav net Monitor, I moved on to hopefully greener pastures. I had some marks of some hard bottom further south, and with skip baits in tow, steered 210 degrees.
Just short of my marks some impressive bait appeared on the screen, looking very tight and broken, and than two distinctive Marlin marks. I tuned and saw Two Black Marlin all over my baits. We only caught one of those blacks, but it was the start of a good after noon flurry that put us in the lead after the second weekend. With 13 black and striped marlin tagged and release and my wife Kim catching 9 of these fish, we arrived at the Nelson Bay, weigh in feeling very happy with our results.
Unfortunately some of our glory was taken away, when the tournament committee in their wisdom decided to fine us 4000 points because some of Viking 11’s tag flags were made out of years past Toyota flags. With over 20 years of fishing tournaments on the east coast of Australia with Viking and Viking 11 and Toyota sponsoring many of these tournaments, my collection of Toyota flags was substantial. So in my stupidity I have recycled these past flags into tag flags. It has never been a problem with any other tournament committee, nor has it been scrutinized by past interclub tournament committee’s. The tournament committee called it misconduct. I guess I did not take into account, well what can I say???. Its not a Lexus Motorcar up for the winners just a piece of timber. Why should it worry me that they take points off for my misconduct. It’s all about who catches the most or the biggest, and we know who they are. It would be a very shallow win indeed for someone to win such a competition because the boat or boats who actually caught the most or biggest lost points due to such petty misdemeanors.
The second weekend while running to the shelf in the twilight of the morning, I noticed that my sounder was not reading as normal. I checked all setting but could not rectify the problem, My sounder is my eyes, and the worst was realized when on the shelf. I could barely mark the bottom let alone bait or fish. The day was one of the most frustrating I have ever spent, leading a tournament and than not knowing what was happening under the surface. It is not my nature to fish on top of others, and I went looking just fishing my event marks all to no avail. It made me realize how dependent I was on my sounder. The day was slow for others as well, though and we still managed to hold the lead by only 1 marlin. I was starting to think that the red flag issue was going to be the settler.
The last day I did not have a clue on were to go or what to do. Still had no sounder, ( a little salt water had caused the problem ) and looking for help from someone greater than me. We started in shore just off the light house, trolling a couple of live baits. I was still waiting for a sign from above. Neil Greeves read through the placing’s as they stood at the end of day three, and I learnt that my closest competition was a small boat called Reel Smoker. I have great admiration for the skippers and crews who fish in small boats, as it is were I started. Again not focused on anything in particular, I wondered were he was fishing, he had done very well one fish behind me in a small boat, my team members informed me on our club channel that he had caught 3 yesterday. Yes I thought he is fishing well. He found them yesterday when many boats did not.
My dreaming was interrupted by a call from one of my team members on our club channel. Hey Billy Reel Smoker is just outside me east of the Gibber trolling north. I was about to do something I personally have never done before and never dreamed of ever doing. I gave the order to pull in the gear and stoked up the MTU’s . My crew came to the bridge looking very inquisitive and I informed them what I was doing.
The little boat Reel Smoker that only has to catch one fish to beat us is heading up towards seal rocks, he caught 3 yesterday I cannot think of a better boat to use for my sounder eyes today, and possibly pick up some of his scraps. At the least he will be fishing as hard as he can to catch that one extra fish, and he has to be in the right area after his results the Day before.
It was not a very orthodox strategy and I am aware that the Reel Smoker boys are not that happy with me, but at no given time did I interfere with there movements.
History shows that the Reel Smoker nor the Viking 11 caught marlin on the last day of the 2006 interclub 13 fish remained the pace.
Of cause I must thank the help from someone greater than me.