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History 1950’s to 1970’s

The 1950’s

The honour of hooking one of the very first big black marlin off Cairns goes to angler Eric Hebron fishing on board Vince Vlasoff’s Tropic Seas. While many small marlin had been landed by anglers on Tropic Seas already, this fish, estimated at 700lbs was fought on 80lb for 2.5 hours, unfortunately lost when the line came in contact with a stanchion on the boat.

During these early game fishing days in the 1950s, Norman Now, of game fishing fame from Brisbane, visited Cairns with a party to fish. Other parties from southern clubs followed. Unfortunately though lack of suitable boats and equipment interest waned.
Late 1960’s
Bob and Dolly Dyer were already on their way to Cairns and heard of the catch at Mourilyan Harbour. The began fishing and almost immediately had the new Australian Men’s and Women’s records on 130lb. Bob’s fish weighed 738.5lb on 29 September 1966 (very quickly broken by Basile Mitchell the next day, October 30, with a fish of 777lbs. Dolly’s fish was 655lbs on 1st October 1966.

By 1967, the Cairns Game Fishing Club was prepared and the proud owners of 2 new sets of scales. One for fish to 300lbs. The other for fish to 2 tonne!

The scales were none too soon by the time the 1967 season started, when on the 20th of September, Bill Stewart of Melbourne landed a fish weighing 1156lbs. This record easily broke Basil Mitchell’s record from the year before (on 130lb). Basil himself arrived in Cairns in time to see the fish weighed. But before he left, he had recovered his record with a 1208lbs black.

Cairns was already enjoying a big black marlin reputation. An article in the Courier Mail newspaper in October 1967 reported that “a fish of 250lbs at Cairns was only a tiddler”.

In 1968, Bill Dickens of Melbourne caught his first black marlin at 1157lbs. It was the heaviest fish of the year. More charter boats began operating including Sea Baby 1 and Sea Baby II, Alaskan, Marlan, Blue Ray II, Athena and Striker I.

1969 saw the beginning of the marlin tag and release program which was actively encouraged by the Cairns Game Fishing Club and also saw the arrival of a party from New Zealand in their own boat Lucky Strike skippered by “Snooks” Fuller. The NZ team took their fishing very seriously and had their big day on 31 October 1969 when Edward Seay set a new Australian and World Record on 50lbs with a massive fish of 1124lbs. This record still stands today (as at 2020!) and also has the significance of being the 10th grander black marlin caught off Cairns!
Mid-Late 1970’s
1973 was considered the best year year! There were two black marlin over 1400lbs weighed including the new Australian Record of 1442lbs caught by Mick Magrath from Cairns on Restless II. Garrick Agnew (Perth) also weighed a fish at 1417lbs. And Mead Johnston also broke the Australian 80lb record with a fish of 1218lbs weighed in at Cooktown.

The first Cairns Black Marlin Tournament was held in October 1973 and was won by the team consisting of Percy and Wilma Childs and John Mondura.

The heaviest fish of 1074 was weighed by Basil Mitchell at 1257lbs. 32 thousand-pounders were weighed at sea.

In 1975 a gantry was set up as a outweigh station of the Cairns Club at Lizard Island.

In 1977
Garrick Agnew again shared a highlight Georgette Douwma when they both caught fish weighing 1323 lbs on 130lb and 80lb tackle respectively.

In 1978
Another well known Cairns personality Graham Johnson secured himself the “Angler of the Year” award single handedly catching a 931lb black marlin in his boat Rat Catcher. Dave Curnock followed with Angler of the Year the following year with another big fish in small boat capture with a 1133b black in his 16ft Sea Mite.

Buster May (Morton May) set the new 80lb line class world record on 1 November 1979 with a 1,347lb fish. This record still stands today (2023)!

And after many years of planning the Cairns Game Fishing Club Clubhouse officially opened its doors on May 15, 1980.
Early 1960’s

The gamefishery of Cairns was revitalised following catches by George Bransford in his boat Sea Baby 1. George arrived in Cairns from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1963 and set about the task of proving that big black marlin existed in the waters off Cairns.

In early October 1965 David Hopton landed a fish of 210lbs on 50lb while Joyce Bransford weighed a fish going 251.5lbs. Both Fish were weighed on the Cairns Esplanade in front of the old Strand Hotel site.

Then in 1966, Prince Charles visited and fished on Sea Baby 1 with George Bransford with no great success.

But that all quickly changed when Richard Obach brought in the first thousand pound black marlin on September 25, 1966. Richard was mate on Sea Baby 1. Unfortunately the club had no facilities to weigh such a big fish and it was placed in the iceworks for the night. The next day the fish was transported by forklift to the Railway Goods Shed to be weighed. It went 1064lbs on 80lb line on a Penn Senator 10/0 reel. It became a new Australian and World Record which stood until 1970.
Early 1970’s
1970 saw more Australian and World Records tumble. Bill Wilkie set a new 80lb record for both with a 1077.5lb black marlin on the 22nd of October.

On the 29th of October Colleen Seay landed a new Australian record with a 818lb black on 130lb. It was a big day for Colleen. Just after the fish was boated she hooked up again, this time on 80lb, and after a grueling 7 hours brought a 1028.5lb black marlin, a new Australian and World Record boat side. Which was fortunate as Wilma Childs had already, on the same day, beaten Colleen’s 130lb record with a 911.5lb fish.

On October 31st, Sir William Stevenson of New Zealand broke the Australian Record with a 1231.5lb fish on 130lb line..

New charter boats included Kingfish, Avalon, Marlin 1000, Kestelle and Sea Baby I was renamed Olwen G and owned and skippered by Kevin Lamberton.

The only world record of 1971 was for Brisbane’s Pat Gay of a 816lb black marlin on 30lb line.

A major Australian record for 1971 was Bob Oliver’s 343lb black marlin caught on 20lb line class.

New charter boats on the scene were Rosemary, Restless II, Malahind, Pacific Islander and Tropic Seas.

Meanwhile, 1972 was described as the year of big fish!

The first marlin over 1300lbs was caught in 1972 which was 1343lbs for Ralph Gilster from the USA. Unfortunately though not a record as his tackle was not legal.

The new Australian Record was set at 1271lbs by Jo Jo Del Guerico.

Bob Dyer also had a great year with three blacks over 1000lbs and he broke William Wilke's 80lb record fish with a 1098lb black.

Sally Rice from Kona, Hawaii set the new Australian 130lb record at 1089 while Gloria Applegate from the US Virgin Islands set the 50lb record to 471 lbs.

1972 also saw a number of fish weighed at sea aboard motherships (21 ‘granders’ were weighed in Cairns with a further 10 weighed at sea).

New charter boats on the scene included Sea Strike, Kalimah, Kanohee, Avis, Adriactic III, Simone and Lady Margaret. While Garrick Agnew brought his own boat Pannawonica over to Cairns from Perth.

Visit our significant catches library which identifies many of the most significant (and often record) catches of the Cairns Giant Black Marlin fishery since the first 1000lb-er back in 1966.

Thank you to Mr. Graham Johnston and his Cairns Game Fishing Club collection at the Cock N Bull Tavern, Cairns – home of the Cairns Game Fishing Club – for much of this collection.