2009 Giant Black Marlin Season Recap by Kelly Dalling Fallon
2009 has been the season of contradictions. While the fishing has been better than the last two years, many of the fleet have spent more time in Port than ever with bookings down. And while potential clients may have been hesitant to part with some of their hard-earned cash in the wake of the financial crisis, some of the opulence of the 1980’s has resurfaced.
Capt. Dean Beech on Castille III spent a large part of his season once again based out of the Lizard Island Lodge with one of his international guests staying in-house for 14 days straight and both both Viking II and KEKOA had guest arrive at the reef courtesy of seaplane, a luxury and virtually a thing of the past.
The financial crisis affected the fleet in other ways too. In 2009 it is a smaller professional marlin fleet than previous years as some boats decided to forgo Cairns. But oppositely, there are four brand new boats launched in 2009 making up the numbers for their maiden seasons.
Askari, the 55ft Assegai launched in July 2009 has had a dream ‘shakedown’ season and performed amazingly well according to owner Shane Sipthorp. A prime example for Shane being running at an easy 25 knots to Cairns in torrid conditions after the Lizard Island tournament while guests slept downstairs. Back on the boat again in early November, Shane was at hand for its second grander of the season when Captain Corey Hard steered angler Stephen Liddall to a fish estimated at 1100lbs at Number 4 Ribbon Reef (Shane himself released their first grander during the Lizard Island comp.)
Owner/operator Russell Caphorn tells me that Kaizen, the first Kaizen 52, aside from the usual teething problems, has not missed a beat. On their first Cairns season Russel has mainly been fishing friends including fellow sunshine coasters and anglers David Trask and Nathan Douglas who were on board for his best day during the Lizard Island competition – four black marlin at 900, 900 and 600lb for David and one at 400lb for Nathan off Jewel Reef.
The Lizard Island tournament also saw the maiden grander for Captain Ashley Wallis on Kalira with owner Geoff Lindrea in the chair. Ashley tells me that before bringing the 50ft Maritimo, the first built to survey and launched in early 2009, to Cairns, they put the boat through its paces at Bermagui which helped familiarize the crew with the boat, a huge benefit for living aboard in Cairns.
Cool Runnings, a 41ft “Express” from Dick Ward’s Cairns Boatbuilders with Captain Troy Dallman at the helm is another new addition to the fleet and I hear that both the boat and the fishing are exceeding their expectations. The highlight of the first season being an 1100lb black marlin at Linden Bank for their lady angler from the US.
2009 has certainly been the year for big fish, but significantly, to my knowledge at the time of writing in mid-November, none have been weighed. Contrary to years gone by, in 2009 you are almost as likely to catch a big fish (say 700lb plus) as you are a small one while in past years you could go 10 small ones for every ‘big’ fish. This was particularly true during the Lizard Island Tournament which moved this year from early to late October and benefited from some of the best fishing all year.
Returning in 2009 to fish the tournament and to try again after spending 71/2 hours (unsuccessfully) fighting a monster marlin in 2008, angler Jason Hassett decided it was all out war. He brought along his good friend John Wildburger for support to fish with Captain Luke Fallon on KEKOA again, and it seems they got their just rewards. In four straight days they let go 4 fish over 800lbs including two over a grand – one of those being a huge 1200lbs.
Another who celebrated a long sought after big fish milestone during the tournament was angler Bill Borkan fishing on board Kanahoee with Captain Dave Pemberton. Bill has been fishing the reef since 1990 chasing a ‘grander’ and it came with just 30 minutes to go before cease fishing on the final day. Captain Dave tells me Bill had the footage on Youtube within minutes of arriving back at Lizard Island at the end of the day, and if you’ve seen the footage (search YouTube user Bbbillfish to watch), you’ll understand just why Bill was so excited.
On board MV Joe Joe with Captain Barry Cross, friends Brock and Clayton Allan, Paul Brown, Aaron Murphy and Grant Millar gathered for what has become their annual fishing trip. The usual trip is barra fishing or the like but this year they took a step outside of their comfort zone to fish the Lizard Island competition. Not only did they all see their first marlin but all left the island with at least one under their belt and Clayton, the only in the group without a 1m+ barra to his name, released an 1100lb-er on the first day of the competition. Paul Brown followed up with another also at 1100lb on Day 3.
While the grander action seemed almost non-stop for owner/Captain Adam Jordan on Iona 2 at his now regular haunt the ‘Bus Stop’ at Linden Bank where he released four granders in a week, Captain Trent Vischer on the original Iona tells me he is used to even more grander action in years gone by. Trent says this year definitely signals an almost return to the glory of years gone by, but he is used to big fish in bigger numbers. Not that he hasn’t had his share of the action in 2009 after missing 2008 due to illness. Fellow local Newcastle lads, keen fisherman who have fished with Trent for over 5 years had another great trip. They released 14 in 6 days the biggest to 850lbs.
Captain Peter B. Wright on Sea Baby IV is another who hails the return of good fishing but says its not quite there yet. Peter told me its been a funny season for his team, patchy but with periods of good fishing with good quality fish. Likewise, Captain Kim Andersen on New Moon commented that the big fish this season is just the stimulus the fleet needed. Kim has only been fishing a few days this year but has been part of the hot bite once again just yesterday releasing one at 900lbs for Townsville angler Jason Carter.
The definite ‘bell’ of the ball in 2009 is Captain Hayden Bell on Release who is happy to acknowledge that luck has been on his side. Hayden tells me that for him 2009 has been a great year, as good as any he’s seen on the reef. Without needing to fish wide in search of the big fish he’s had some amazing trips including 4 fish over 900lbs in the last few days as I write and his season highlight being 20 fish in a week’s fishing in late October!
Hayden takes over the mantle from Craig ‘Sparrow’ Denham who lead the way in 2008. This year, Sparrow has had had his share of problems with the engines on Square Bear being pulled apart, and pulled apart again and as a result he spent some time instead on one of the smallest boats in the fleet Wild Turkey. But once again he was straight into the action, on his first day out, hooking and fighting one estimated at 1200lbs at Linden Bank into dark before unfortunately the lines parted. When Sparrow wasn’t driving Wild Turkey, Captain Tye Fenn was and also getting into some good fish including two at 850 and 1100lb on a brilliant day at Linden Bank.
Other members of the Cairns based fleet including Captain Jared Weir on Shaka were finding good fish on the local grounds early in the season releasing one estimated at 950lbs in early October. Captain Darren “Biggles” Haydon enjoyed a rare day off at home in Cairns after a spectacular 6 day trip that ended with 12 releases including another one over the 1000lb mark. Captain Chris “Sharky” Miles moved his family to Cairns in 2009 and is making the most of it. Chris enjoyed a good season with a few days each of 4 and 3 fish, way better than last year and topped it off once again taking out the Lizard Island Tournament.
Captain Steve Philp on Kianja released some good fish including two 700lb-ers in a week in the Middle Ribbons while Captain Ross Finlayson on Top Shot ended a 5 day trip in 9 fish in total including a selection ‘fat rats’ and two nice fish around 8-850lbs.
A latecomer in 2009 was Captain Tom Francis and team on Ultimately Lady who spent until October on the hard at Rivergate Marina in Brisbane undergoing a refit. After travelling north via Mellish Reef (where they once again released some good sized blue marlin), the big blue boat went straight to Number 10 Ribbon where they enjoyed some good fishing with owner Fred during the rough weather. Captain Tom tells me they found the fish for Fred that they have been looking for but pulled the hooks just into the fight. Fred will be back again next year to try again.
Captain Bill Billson on Viking II once again reported some good fishing from the outset of the season including a day in October he released two fish he put over the mark. On that same day, Captain Dean Beech on Castille III released one that he put at 1100lbs, Captain Hayden Bell released another grander class and the team on Watchdog with Captain Brian Felton at the wheel released one for first time GBR angler Nigel put at 1050lbs.
While Brian finished the season early due to illness (although we hear he is all better now) Watchdog was not done catching fish. On another memorable trip they released four to 850lbs for the boys from Tasmania who lost part of their trip to bad weather spent sheltering behind the reef.
Just a few days earlier, another veteran Captain Jim Dalling on Reel Chase had released his first grander of the season for Towcam’s John Faulkner also at Linden Bank. Jim was delighted to see one of his old favourite routines of live baiting yellowfin tuna work so well on the big fish. The live bait was no sooner in the rigger than the 1000lb-er was in hot pursuit, nailing it after 4 unsuccessful swipes to a rapt audience on board Reel Ripe driving past just in time for the bite.
Captain Tim Ryan skippering Reel Ripe for his second season in 2009 tells me that on reflection his numbers weren’t as good as last year but the quality and size of the fish were much better. Tim’s own highlight in 2009 was catching a 1000lber for his good friend Stuart Tobin. As usual the team enjoyed some good times with good friends and clients who enjoyed everything the reef has to offer besides the marlin fishing.
Likewise for Captain Bob Jones back at the helm of Iceman in 2009. Bob told me that the fishing this year was a lot better than the last two years and thank christ for that! Bob says there have been plenty of big fish around and some of the guys have been doing really well and congratulations to them! Echoing that sentiment, Captain Tim Richardson on Tradition has seen a tonne of big fish but tells me the real highlight is having return clients back on the reef like Pete and Lydie and Ken and new clients like Dave “Doc” Conkle from Pensacola, Florida who went home with great memories of his 950lb-er released at Number 10.
Captain Daniel McCarthy on Moana II who had his day this year on Number 4 Ribbon with four fish to 1100lb and asks “Where else in the world of fishing can you realistically expect to catch a 1000lb marlin at all? With the return of good numbers of big fish again this year, this shows our Cairns Giant Black Marlin Fishery is in great shape.” And hopefully this will signal an increase in interest and bookings for next year. And from Captain Tim Dean on Calypso “A lot of big ones were around this year. We’ve seen them, caught them and let them go. Where were you all?” Be here next year!
Stop press: As I wind up this report the fleet has started to venture wide in search of the large marlin gathering on the tuna aggregations. Little Audrey with 21 year old Daniel Carlson at the wheel for his first Cairns season spent two days at the Sea Mount releasing an 850lb black upon arrival and had two up the next day. Daniel tells me they are straight out wide again the first chance they get. With the water temperatures and currents just right, there’s no reason why the good fishing shouldn’t continue into December.