GAMEX Billfish Tournament - Exmouth March 2023

10 years is a long time to have a dream, a plan, an idea. That dream was to fish the Gamex Billfish comp in Exmouth, to fish it in the Justagirl boat.  Ren and I towing a boat over 8,000 Kms there and back, more like a nightmare really.

2022 was about change - crew, comps, dreams, and this opened the opportunity to change what we have been doing for several years.

Ren and I had a brainstorming session and hatched what some people would say was impossible. We saw the excitement and adventure as endless opportunities.

2023 was time for a change, a change from SA Tuna Fishing to exploring the best of Australian Fishing. Our first goal was to catch a Billfish so a plan was hatched to enter our first Marlin comp. Sounds nutty, but comps give new boats to the area the opportunity to be at sea in a new place with a safety blanket being other vessels around them

Ren lives on the Gold coast and as a member of the GCGFC, she knew the  light tackle masters Tournament was in Jan, it was decided that would be our first Marlin comp – we could see it clearly, tow the boat up from Adelaide - Skip could do this on her own, we can stay at Ren’s, fish 2 days and catch some Marlin, or at least our first. We had a full crew that had never caught a marlin, Ren, Bec, Tracy Bradbrook and myself, but had spent hours at the tackle shop, watching videos, talking to other and yes, we were ready.

The plan went well until it came time to catch a Marlin, it went terribly wrong from there. Day one was horrific the wind and swell had us hightailing it back to the safety of the seaway by 10 am, Sunday was calmer, we spent the whole day trolling with our awesomely rigged lures. Yep, we had it in the bag. We only had one problem – the Marlin were not where we were. We had a full crew that had never caught a marlin, Ren, Bec, Tracy Bradbrook and myself.

We left the Gold Coast comp intact, still the Marlin virgins we arrived as. We needed a rethink we didn’t even see a Marlin; this was going to be harder than first thought. The drive back to Adelaide was a long one.

The next plan was GAMEX Billfish comp 2023 in Exmouth. This meant we would be away for most of March, you guessed it we were again towing the boat. This time tough the trips was way more comfortable with Maughan Thiem Ford Cheltenham offering us a new Ford Ranger (Sporty) for the trip, a diesel which saved us a heap of fuel $$$$.

Ren flew down from the Goldy to share the 4-day drive with Skip. We had not even left SA when disaster struck, a rock went through the Boat window and smashed it to pieces. Two options were considered – ring home and run the risk of everyone saying you need to come back or forge ahead 😊. The rest of the trip went well except for navigating which saw us on a lot of one lane back roads, for hours.

After 4 days on the road we arrived in Exmouth, a balmy 47 degrees, we thought we had arrived in hell.

The crew for this trip was Ren, Bec from Mt Molloy FNQLD, Deb from Exmouth (our secret weapon) and me (skip). Bec also joined us on the Gold Coast for the light Tackle comp.

We had learnt from the Goldy that a fishing day prior to comp would be of benefit, with Bec not arriving until Thursday arvo there was just the 3 of us. Practice day was daunting as skipper, these waters were totally unfamiliar. There are canyons that drop off by 300 plus meters creating big swells, no tracks on the sounder and the worst boat ramp I have ever used. Add to that whale Sharks, turtles and a huge Ningaloo reef systems which breaks part way out to sea. We wanted an adventure, and it looks like we got a good one.

We now had a track in and out of the ramp and reef system, in true form we hadn’t seen a fish.

Friday night was welcome night at the fishing club, dinner, beers and a comedian. Ren became the crowd heckler to such an extent people thought she was part of the show. It was a pretty funny night.

Saturday night was Skippers briefing and the running of the Calcutta. We wanted to buy our boat in the first round at $150. If someone else over bids it goes to auction, the auctioneer then gets the chance to encourage the fleet to bid boats up and achieve more $$$.  The comedian from the previous night had worked Team Justagirl out and had the last laugh by bidding on us, which then pushed us to auction., yep he was the auctioneer and it cost us a lot more to buy our boat. it wasn’t very funny

Sunday was the first day of the competition. 51 boats in all, we had entered the Billfish section and at 7.3 meters we were fishing with the big boys. Tantabiddy boat ramp was at low tide on launch and retrieve all week.

Day 1 was not at all pleasant with 17 knot winds on top of the big swells, we persevered and had a nice day out boating, once again we didn’t see a fish.

Day 2 was 20 knots, and we chose as did most of the fleet to have a lay day.

Day 3 was still sloppy, but we launched with anticipation, at the end of day 3 we believed that they were having a lend of us, we were in a nightmare and Marlin didn’t even exist. Deb was insistent that we would get one …… eventually.

Day 4 and we launched without excitement, we didn’t think we could handle another donut day, we weren’t alone, but it does slap a girl’s pride around, especially being the skipper and not delivering. 11.30 came.  we decided to have lunch, boredom had got the better of us. Its always worth a try, we all know having food brings on the fish.

Bec was first on strike and right after lunch a rod went off, it was screaming, we were screaming we had a hook up. The fished jumped, we screamed, and it jumped again OMG it was a Marlin, a real one – we now had all had a belief and it was instant.

Bec fought hard on a 15kg spin outfit, and after an hour she had the fish to the boat. Deb touched the leader the fish was now considered caught, however for comp points the fish must be tagged to count.  This fish was out of control and out of reach, we missed the first chance to tag it as it was under the boat,  it took off deep. Another half hour later and the 3rd time the fish had been close it went under the boat and out to the Port side, it them jumped across to the starboard taking the line across the motor ….. snap it as gone. There was silence, no one spoke, we all replayed it in our minds, hugged Bec and got the rods back in. We had a renewed confidence, we had hooked a fish, the cork had been popped.

We were setting up the spread when a reel went screaming off, holly Mosses we were on again, Deb was on strike, we were all watching out the back for the jumps… they didn’t happen, Deb called it for a Shark, sure enough an hour later a big bronze whaler came to the surface.

Every night after lines in is called you need to report your numbers, we had been 0.0.0 all week. Tonight, we called in 1.1.0 Marlin. We didn’t have any points, but we had raised and hooked a Marlin.

Day 5 started with calm seas, the swell had dropped, and Deb thought we should take advantage of it and head down south. The mood had changed, and the crew was full of anticipation. Ren was first on strike, she geared up and was waiting for her fish. On the change of tide around lunch time, a rod screamed off, Ren was hooked up. Again, the fish was jumping out the back and we were all screaming like a bunch of schoolgirls. 35 minutes later a beautiful 35kg Sailfish was boatside, Deb hit it with a tag, and it stuck.  We did it, we had some points on the board.  Deb removed the hook and Ren took hold of the bill for a photo shoot. We were in total awe of this fish, the colours up close, the sail expanded, it was mind blowing, we all held our breath as the boat moved forward pushing water through her gills. Ren let her go and she swan off as we all took a deep breath. After hi 5’s and squeals of delights it was time to reset and try and get another one, Deb was on strike. Deb had coached the Bec and Ren though their fish and now it was time for her to show us how it’s done.

Still in the skipper’s seat, I turned the boat around to head down the canyon we had caught the sail near, there were other boats hooked up, we could see their fish jumping, it was exciting, we were praying for a fish for our mentor.  Line peeled off and Deb was on. The master at work, she had that fish boat side in around 15 minutes, Ren slammed her first tag in and touched the leader. To be so close to this Marlin was breath taking, Deb had told us at the start of the week to enjoy these fish when we were hooked up, to watch them jump and take it all in, it is truly hard to explain how you feel.

An excited radio call ended the day, we were 1.1.1 on Marlin and 1.1.1 on Sails. The radio buzzed with yahoos and congratulations; we were on the board we had points at last. There were a lot of 0.0.0 called in that night, we had made the right decisions to go south.

Day 6 was a no brainer we were heading back down south. The sea was like a pond, the heat was unbearable. I was up first, and with great anticipation the call for lines in was made, 30 minutes later the rod slammed in the rod holder and a Marlin was jumping out the back, it was a good size fish.

We needed a fish on 24kg line class to go in the running for the North bank boat prize and we had just hooked that fish. I kept the line tight, this fish was very well behaved it came straight to the boat. The tag went in and we celebrated a 50 kg Marlin. We had our first points on the board, were in the draw and it wasn’t even 8 am.

With the first round of strikes now completed Bec was up, she didn’t have a tag yet but did have a capture, we had made a pact if we all caught a Marlin we were going to get a tattoo, 9 hours left and I thought it was a pretty safe bet not being a tatt fan, you know how it is? You get caught up in the moment lol.

The last few days we had hooked up with a fish around the 11.30 am bite time, we got it wrong, at 9 am Bec was hooked up. She managed to get this fish under control quick and before long she had an amazing fish at the side of the boat, Deb smacked it with a tag and it stuck, this fish was nice and gentle and made a fantastic model for a photo shoot. Bec’s first tagged fish ever and a Marlin to boot.

Ren was back on strike, we found ourselves driving around in circles with Marlin free jumping and us following. We ended up further south following the fish. Ren had not caught a Marlin and if she did, we were all off to the tattoo parlour.

The shotgun went off and Ren was on, it was another Sailfish jumping spectacularly, it dislodged the hooks and was gone.  Ren was to stay on strike, she still hadn’t caught a Marlin.

The day was disappearing on us and it was time to start trolling home, as we turned the outrigger got smashed and Ren was on. The fish jumped and headed deep, ren was on the fight of her life, this was a big fish, and it was being naughty. Ren got it to the side of the boat; the fish was under the boat and didn’t allow a tag opportunity for Deb. Off it went peeling of a couple of hundred meters of line in 3 seconds. Ren fought hard and got the fish back to the boat, it was jumping everywhere, a sight to see. It was changing direction and jumping high trying to dislodge the lure. Ren got it close enough for Deb to touch the leader but again not close enough for the tag shot. We circled around, backed up and this fish would not stop, it went under the boat and snap, gone.

As skipper I questioned myself  … could I have avoided that, did I cut it off, did I have the boat in the wrong place, was I to slow, I did the same after Bec’s fish was lost, was I solely responsible for the loss of those 2 Marlin? I’m sure I’m not the only skipper that has asked those questions to self and won’t be the last.

I thought Ren was going to cry. Deb called it for 80kg, Ren called it a real fish. It was that fish that sealed the tattoo deal.

We headed back home with Deb on strike, we raised and hooked up briefly, but no more points came on the boat. Our radio call was 3.3.2 Marlin and 1.1.0 Sails, our best day yet and was greeted by whoops and yeah girls. As Debs Insta name says we are now all hookedonmarlin.

 

It’s not 1 angler that catches fish like these, it’s a team effort. Deb Foster with her experience and willingness to share was inspiring. She taught us all so much and, in the process, popped 3 Marlin virgins in 2 days, something she’s proud to add to her resume.

It was a big day on the water, we were all exhausted, the adrenaline serge when these fish are hooked and boatside is completely over whelming, they look you in the eye, their colours shine in the sun. As they swim off you start to breathe as they kick off and go deep.

The next big event was presentation night and as Bec, Ren and I had tagged our first Billfish we were presented with a certificate that we will all display proudly. We didn’t win any prizes or the Northbank, but we came 11th in the Champion boat Tag and release over 7 meters and 11th Champion Boat T & R medium tackle 15-24kg. A great result considering we had 3 days of 0.0.0

We went for the fishing, but the adventure was way more – we fished Ningaloo, saw Whale Sharks, sea snakes, Manta Rays, Turtles, Eagles, emus, free jumping Marlin. Went night searching for hatching turtles. Snorkelling the Oyster Stacks and Turquoise beach – the fish life was better than the barrier reef

We visited gold mines and rivers with no water.  Saw the head of the bight and drove through over 8,000km of countryside. We made new friends and learnt new techniques, fished for Garfish as bait, saved a dog at sea and saw the most amazing Venus over the moon at night.

Where will our adventures take us next – nothing is impossible? Tassie? Gold Coast? East Coast?

 

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