I had an invite September this year to fish a woman’s only competition at Corroboree Billabong in Darwin. The Tournament is adequately labelled SWB Challenge. “SWB” standing for Secret Women’s Business.
Having never been or fished Darwin before I thought this would be a great opportunity to have some fun fishing with a group of women and leave the men at home. A big thank you for the help from Jo Moyle-Reiter and Steve Starling for making their boat and car available for our team to use. That was half the battle in organising this trip.
The team consisted of good friend and keen fisherwoman Madelaine Tyler and ABT Barra Specialist Elaine Sanderson. Madelaine is just getting into soft plastics/lure fishing and doesn’t give up. Elaine is from Gladstone and is well known for her results and commitment to fish a full female team in the ABT Barra Tournament’s each year, ranked 22nd overall.
In the weeks leading up to the tournament we conversed with each other about what tackle we were all taking. It was important that we covered all facets, from surface lures through to soft plastics and hardbodies. It always seems that you take 100 lures and only use 3 or 4. I wasn’t any different in our experience up at the Billabong.
The tournament was held on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th September 2011. There were 29 teams, 3 being from interstate. Unfortunately for the interstate teams the briefing was held a week before the tournament. Not an ideal situation and one that was to hurt us in the long run.
We arrived at the Billabong on Thursday 8th September and had only a 3-hour window to look around and make up a plan. It was our luck that we did have Jo Moyle Reiter on our side. She was able to give us a tour around and point out possible fishing spot’s.
One Billabong in particular had all the right signs. Elaine and I agreed that this is where we would spend most of the day on Friday and if it didn’t pay off, we would then go searching. On pre-fish Elaine hooked an approx 90cm Barra and unfortunately by the time we got the net sorted it shook the lure out and swam away. Madelaine also scored a nice 40cm Tarpon. This Billabong had plenty of baitfish action, numerous weed beds, lily pads and drains. We had also found a few fish on the sounder. All these signs were enough to bring us back.
After registration and a light dinner we were keen to get back to our accommodation to start rigging for the conditions of the Billabong. We crimped barbs, rigged weedless soft plastics and surface lures. The aim of the tournament was to catch and release Barramundi, Saratoga and Tarpon. Only those fish over 40cm would count and they were scaled on points. Saratoga was worth half the points of Barramundi and Tarpon were worth quarter points.
Day One – The alarm went off at 4.30am. We had road works to contend with which was going to add a little extra time to travel to the boat ramp. We launched the boat and under the light of the rising sun we weaved ourselves through the lily pads and headed up to the Billabong. It was glassed out with no wind and made it perfect for exploring every inch of the water.
Team tactic was to fish a different lure each, to work out what the Barramundi or Saratoga were in the mood for. Elaine was armed with a Shimano Rack Raider bait cast rod, a curado e7 reel and a Rapala 10 hard body set up on 60lb leader and 50lb braid. I chose to use a Shimano Jewel 702 two piece spin rod, 3000F Saros with 8lb power pro and 40lb leader and started out with a Zman Pop FrogZ. Madelaine also fished with the same combo and line as me but rigged with a weedless 110mm slick rig.
We went to the back of the bay and worked up weed pockets between lily pads. First cast and Madelaine was hooked up. What a great start, it had weight and was giving her a fight. With the net waiting, up come a grey shaped fish, it was a big Catfish. Instant disappointment for Elaine and I, forgetting that this was Madelaine’s first ever catfish. She was stoked on the size of it.
I then proceeded to cast out the surface and landed in a clear pocket right under a tree. One pop with the frog and there was an instant explosion and hook up. Unfortunately I had knot failure and lost what I thought to be a good Saratoga.
As we were working up the weedy edges, we were watching bow waves disperse under lily pads. It wasn’t until the next day that we twigged, they were all the Saratoga sitting at the stems of the lilies that we were spooking out with the Minn kota. We should have realised this earlier. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Elaine was throwing her Rapala into clear patches of lilies and giving it a couple of rips and let it sit suspended in the water. It wasn’t long before she was hooked up, the fish smashing the lure on the pause. Elaine got our first scoring Barramundi into the boat. There were high fives all round. Elaine then proceeded to get our 2nd and 3rd Barramundi also. She was on fire!
As a hardbody was producing, we all changed over to various hardbodies. I then joined Elaine in hooking and bringing in small Barramundi. They weren’t huge, ranging in size 40cm to 55cm. They were healthy fish and were a great fight. Madelaine was keen to catch her first, after seeing Elaine and I catching a few each in the morning. We positioned ourselves up a drain with active baitfish and coached Madelaine about the rip and pause technique the fish wanted. She popped a cast up the back of the drain and by the 2nd pause she had a tussle on her hands. The lily pad stems were thick and are lined with thorns; the last thing you wanted was a fish to wrap you up in them. Madelaine had to steer the fish clear and keep pressure on through it’s jumps using barbless hooks – this was so important. Right next to the boat, the fish had wrapped himself under a lily. It was a little chaotic at this point, being Madelaine’s first Barra and we didn’t want to lose it on her. Elaine held us in position and I dived the net under the lily when the fish came around. It was in the boat safely and measuring 64cm it was our biggest Barra for day one and Madelaine’s first ever barra. Our spirits were high.
As the afternoon went on we kept working all aspects of the Billabong. We moved to the shady side and fished the bank edge lined with Kenta palms. A perfect cast to the edge of the bank and then ripping and pausing the lure out past a line of lilies saw the rod load up and the fish come to the surface for a magnificent jump and then trying to pull me back into the lilies. The fight was on! Elaine with the net ready, in came our second Saratoga for the tournament measuring 66cm and also being my personal best.
Day one ended with our team catching 7 scoring Barramundi and 4 Saratoga. When handing in our score sheet the officials asked to check our lures. Without hesitation we passed them over the lures we had rigged and they checked that they were barbless.
The definition of a Barbless Hook is “Barbless hooks are hooks that do not have a barb or have had the barbed pinched or removed. A barb on the hook is a reversed point just below the tip of the hook, used to prevent the fish from freeing itself from the hook.”
The officials suggested that they could see daylight through the barbs. That is, where the point had been pinched a semicircle had formed. It is within this semicircle they could see daylight. Apparently, this was not acceptable and was discussed at the briefing. We explained that we were not at the briefing nor was it written in the tournament rules.
We appreciate that rules are rules and that everyone is under the same banner. After all the money you spend to get there, the accommodation, the tournament entry we certainly wouldn’t want to cheat the tournament or ourselves. Whilst we appreciate the ruling, it would have been nice to have some sort of briefing explaining this technicality. The top ten teams were read out for Day One and when our name was not read we figured they had disqualified us. We are still not sure by how much we were penalsied, because our points don’t add up and to this day, we still have not been told about the disqualification. We are still waiting for this to be clarified by the committee.
This made us furious and even more determined to kick some butt on Day 2. So we went back to the accommodation changing hooks and making sure they complied with the rule.
Day Two – saw a change in conditions, the wind was blustering and it remained overcast for most of the day. We started at the back of the Billabong again and it wasn’t long before Elaine started the score sheet with a 41cm Barramundi. We got several under 40cm. The fish we were catching on Day 2 were definitely smaller. The wind was making it impossible to work the edges slowly, so it was a joint decision to find a location and put the anchor down. The location we chose was outside a drain. This particular drain had a lot of baitfish action, but also in casting distance was a weed bed in the middle of the main system and some palm fringed edges.
We could fish 3 different areas from the one position, perfect! Given they were smaller fish and we had already missed some hits, I decided to try a smaller profile. I opted for the 65mm Squidgy Slick Rig in Rainbow Trout Colour. I cast out towards the middle weed bed and got a hit first cast. Threw it out again in the same spot and I was hooked up to a 57cm Barramundi, no more than five minutes later I hooked up and landed a 51cm Barramundi. I told the girls what I had changed to so Madelaine changed to a 65mm slick rig also in Silver Fox Colour. Elaine went down to an 85mm just to test these Barramundi out.
The 65mm was a clear winner and soon all three of us were braining the fish, not having to wait more than 10 minutes for a hit or a fish. It was an insane session, not all were scorers but it was such awesome fun. We had a school of baitfish amongst the weed, a cormorant that was picking out little catfish and scaring the baitfish and the Barramundi on tap.
We finished in a contentious 4th place, but in our hearts know we could have had it in the bag. The tournament certainly had its hiccoughs, and it was very hard to take a step backwards, when Elaine and myself are so used to fishing professionally run tournaments such as the ABT, BETS & Squidgy Series.
Still in its infancy, this tournament has a lot of potential, but still has a long way to go if they want to grow into the premier Women’s Tournament in Australia. Being an out of state team, and given the number of problems we were faced with, we have made some recommendations for improvement to the Committee. I only hope they take them on board.
The fishing was certainly hot and I would certainly return to fish the Billabong again, and in particular I absolutely loved the Saratoga fishing.
Vicki Lear is a self confessed fish-a-holic and works as a real estate agent to support her habit. Far from being a “one trick pony” she excels at many diverse styles of fishing from land based game fishing to offshore gamefishing. As well, she kicks most guys butts at Bream and Bass fishing