At this time of year the promise of good fishing before the weather cools down typically draws a crowd to the south-coast waterways at the weekends.
This year was no exception and, like many others, I spent most of the weekends fishing. No surprises there.
What has surprised people is that I and 244 other anglers entered a competition that involved 18 hours of fishing over two days - but no one was allowed to keep a fish for dinner. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Let me explain.
The event was the 2014 Tuross Heads flathead and bream competition. It is a strictly catch-and-release competition and all fish must be caught using lures or artificial flies.
Competitors photograph their fish, along with a key tag showing their number, on a measuring mat. To minimise stress to the fish, only their length is recorded, hence the competition was divided into three categories; the longest flathead, the longest bream and the longest ‘'bag’' comprising two of each species.
On Friday night there were a few signs of nerves as people fussed over their boats, reels and lure collections. To add to the drama, a fierce thunderstorm rolled over Tuross at about 11pm and didn’t pass until 2am on Saturday. Tents and windows shook, the rain came in sideways and the lightning show was blinding.
Most anglers managed only three or four hours sleep before the competition started.
With the exception of Friday’s storm, the weather was great and there were some beautiful fish caught.
Paul Scott won the prize for longest flathead - 87 centimetres. Nine flathead over 70cms were caught reinforcing Tuross Lakes’ reputation for big flatties.
Jake Mikolic won the prize for longest bream beating many experienced anglers for the title - Jake is only 10! The biggest bag was won by Patrick Suthern with an impressive total of 183.5 centimetres for his four fish.
Perhaps it was the large influx of freshwater from the storms, or the lack of sleep, but whatever the excuse most people found the fish were not easy to come by. A modest 138 - or 56 per cent - of anglers recorded a legal-sized flathead and only 49 - 20 per cent - recorded a legal-sized bream.
I’m happy to admit I did my part to contribute to these statistics, catching a few flathead but not a single bream. My largest fish, of 58cm, raised me to the lofty heights of 22nd overall.
All of the flathead were caught on Rapala minnow lures that slowly sink – a great searching tool for the sandy bottom and any fish lying in wait.
Like 80 per cent of anglers, though, the bream were too timid or cunning for me. A series of half-hearted bites early in the morning and fish retreating to the snaggiest parts of the lake during the day made them tough to catch - stories I heard repeated each evening by other anglers.
For many participants, though, the fishing was secondary to the event itself. The mood throughout was festive and the competition friendly. There was a great presentation from NSW DPI Fisheries on the latest techniques and research for maximising fish survival - but more on that in a future column.
So the question remains; were we just crazy fisherman to brave the thunderstorms, relatively tough fishing and the heartache of returning all the fish we caught to the water?
Nope! It was a lot of fun and brilliantly organised by volunteers from the Tuross Heads Fishing Club and the Boat Shed. Any profits are richly deserved and will keep the town’s coffers ticking over between school holidays. The event is now an important fundraiser. See you there in 2015.