One night, while watching TV into the wee hours, an ad came on with details of a big fishing competition to be held in the Gosford area. It was called the "Gosford Fun-Fish" and had been organised by the Rotary and Lions Clubs of the area. There were over $30,000 worth of prizes on offer- which was a pretty amazing amount about 35 years ago. The fishing area was basically all of Brisbane Waters and you could fish from a boat or from the shore. The two biggest prizes were boats, a 16ft half cabin complete with trailer, motor and safety gear and a 14ft "car topper" with motor and a few accessories- great prizes- and there were plenty of really worthwhile items from white-goods to fishing tackle as smaller prizes.
Sounded great, and it was the first big fishing event outside of club fishing that we'd ever heard of and in easy reach of Sydney anglers. So four of us decided to enter and have a crack at winning a prize. As we were all young rock hoppers, fishing the shore was the plan, however none of us had fished anywhere in Brisbane Waters, so we had to have a look at the old Fishing News Map Book and work out a few different spots to try. For those who aren't familiar with the old map books, they pretty much just gave the very basics of both locations and available species in the area, but they were pretty well the only guides available.
We decided that to have a decent chance of a few fish, we'd need live bait and for estuary fishing, that meant either live worms, prawns or nippers- if we wanted to use live poddies or Herring we'd have to catch them on site. Around Sydney, prawns were out of season and you could buy worms fairly easily, but if you wanted nippers you had to pump them yourself and not having a boat, the only areas to pump nippers were miles away from the Ashfield Municipality where we all lived. Grays Point in Port Hacking was marginally closer than Pittwater for nipper collection, but the low tide was in the middle of the day on the Friday before the competition, so that meant someone having a day off to collect bait.
After a bit of discussion as to who was going to get the bait, Frank T, Ron C and I decided all three of us would go if Wayne would hit his boss up for some sponsorship for the comp. Wayne worked in a tackle shop and his boss agreed to paying our entry fees and also paid for a T-shirt each for us with the store details printed on.
The Friday came around quickly and we set off early for nipper pumping, arriving at Grays Point as the tide was running out. The area has reasonable numbers of nippers, but nowhere near as many as either Mainbar or Gunnamatta Bay closer to the entrance. For Mainbar though, you had to take the much longer drive through the Royal National Park and collecting any bait had been outlawed from Gunnamatta Bay, regardless that there are plenty of nippers there.
With three of us pumping, we got plenty of nippers- more than enough for the Fun-fish, which ran from midday on the Saturday until 4pm on the Sunday and with such a great lot of awesome bait, what do young fishermen do?- They take some nippers and go rock fishing of course! We decided that we had plenty of time to go to our regular haunt at Dover Heights on the Friday night, provided we left the rocks before light the next morning, so we could get a couple of hours sleep and swap our rock fishing tackle for the gear we planned to take to Gosford. Hectic schedule, but that's what we planned.
We waited until peak hour traffic had finished, picked Wayne up on our way to Dover Heights and climbed down the big cliff after dark, the prospect of using live nippers down there for the first time had us counting all the fish we were going to catch, long before we arrived.
It was early October and the westerly winds had been blowing most nights, leaving the sea really flat and perfect for fishing for the big Bream who feed along this section after dark. We were thinking Luderick and Black Drummer would also fill our bags, as they are prone to scoffing live nippers after dark. Typically of fishing, things don't always work out how you plan them and with the sea being virtually dead flat, very little fish activity happened. We did catch a few Bream and Tarwhine, but it was a really disappointing result after collecting such prime bait.
We ended up deciding to leave the cliffs and make a run for the only late night hamburger joint we knew would still be open- which was Nelson's back at Bondi Junction, that stayed open until 2am. We made Nelson's in time and had burgers and chips on the way home. At least we'd get a few decent hours of sleep before heading off to Gosford in the morning.
We set out for the sign-off and registration area around 10.30am Saturday and were registered and off looking for our first spot just after 1pm, which was the old Gosford Railway Bridge. After having a look there, we decided that it was far too crowded and we set off for the next spot we'd picked from the map book- Saratoga, which looked promising on the map, but on arrival, there were stacks of small sailing boats moving around and it wasn't appealing to fish in amongst them. Then we decided to go to Wagstaffe as we'd heard of good fish coming from there, and after getting lost driving around, finally made it out to the point and threw a line in, but it wasn't much of a spot for shore based fishing and we only caught a couple of undersized fish.
Needing to find somewhere more comfortable to pull up for the night (and with less mosquitoes!), we decided we should also be on the other side of the waterway, just to be out of the westerly winds, meaning yet more driving and no fishing. Without a local street directory, we ended up taking ages to get back to Gosford. We spotted the local Macca's and after getting something to eat, decided on heading to Woy Woy where the map book suggested Flathead and Whiting were found around the back of the shops near the saltwater baths. Not a real exciting spot but at least there was some protection from the wind.
We fished there for a couple of hours, catching a few small Whiting and Flathead- legal sized, but certainly nothing to win a prize with. As it was nearing low tide in the middle of the night, we decided that another move was in order. After talking with a few friendly locals that walked past, we decided their advice of "try Ettalong Beach- they get plenty of good Flathead along there" was the way to go. So off to Ettalong we went.
After arriving at Ettalong, we found some parkland next to the water that looked like a spot we could stay for the night, so we pulled up there and fished for a couple of hours. We landed a few more Whiting and Flathead, and this time the Whiting were good size. By the time we'd all landed a few fish, it was really late and also pretty cold, fatigue had started to set in and the Friday night trip down the cliffs began taking it's toll on us.
We'd only gone up in Ron's car, which was a small Datsun 180B -not very roomy for 4 guys to crash in, even for a few hours. We also didn't even consider taking anything to sleep in, nor any food, rather relying on take away shops for our meals. When you're young, you quite often make spur of the moment decisions that probably should have been thought out a bit better, we'd organised the bait gathering well enough, but the rest of the trip was pretty ordinary in terms of planning and organisation. Nevertheless, we were up there giving it a go.
The night was cold and pretty uncomfortable, with all of us barely sleeping. All fishermen know the value of fishing the pre-dawn time, as that time of morning sees most species looking for a quick feed in the time before sunrise, but as we were cold and tired, nobody was keen enough to get out of the car. The sun was well up before anyone got a line in the water, before thoughts again turned to food. Not being familiar with the area at all, we decided to send two of the guys off in search of somewhere to buy something to eat, while the remaining two fished on.
A couple of hours after leaving, the two on the food search were back, saying the only shops they'd found were closed and we'd have to head back to Gosford to find food. With garages and convenience stores like they are these days, it was hard to believe it was so difficult to find somewhere selling hot food, but when you aren't a local, that's it. We also considered scrapping the idea of going to the weigh-in, but agreed that we had a few fish and there were heaps of prizes, including plenty of "secret weight" prizes, so we may as well stay.
One thing with fish to be weighed-in was that you had to find a 'marshal' before attending the weighing area. They were situated in about 6 or 7 different locations around the area and were supposed to 'sight' fish, to try and keep everything above board and prevent any cheating. Any fish caught during the night were expected to be kept 'fresh' and whole, but the marshal idea seemed to have plenty of flaws if anyone intended on cheating.
Before we packed up, another two fishermen walked past us and stopped for a chat. They weren't fishing the comp, but suggested we were about to leave at a time when there were usually a few fish around in our spot. They also gave us some Pilchards they had left over, so we changed over rigs to ganged hooks and set our rods up along the bank. Within half an hour we managed a few more Flathead before it went quiet again and hunger got the better of us. The fishermen who'd given us the Pilchards had also given us directions to the only shop selling hot food in the area and we decided to head there, but Wayne T said he'd stay and keep an eye on the gear and continue fishing while the other three of us went to the shop. Two should have stayed, but we were all famished and left Wayne lying on the grass bank next to where the rods were set up.
Arriving at the shop, there was quite a few people waiting for their orders to be cooked, so we were gone for about 45 minutes. When we got back to the fishing spot, Wayne was nowhere to be seen. All our gear was still there, but with the amount of people around, we were probably lucky nobody took anything. There was also another older fisherman sitting on a chair about 30 meters away and he called us over and asked if we were looking for the fisherman who'd been there. He said he'd netted a big Flathead for him and a couple of people had come and called him away.
Turned out that the other two were roving marshals and they needed to dye all the fish that we'd caught in order for them to be weighed in. After colouring all the fish with beetroot dye, they were back in our esky, but Wayne had wandered off somewhere further up the road. There was a really big crowd in the front yard of a house up the road, so I walked up to see what was going on and ask if anybody had seen our mate. Just as I approached the crowded yard a voice sang out from above me and it was Wayne. Someone from the party had seen the landing of his Flathead and they'd come and asked him if they could take some photo's of it back at the house. As the party was for a guys 70th birthday, it was a pretty big spread and they'd invited Wayne to stay for a beer and a feed, which he of course did because he hadn't eaten .
I still hadn't seen the Flathead, but told Wayne we had to get moving in order to get to the weigh-in and he'd have to come straight away. He never wore a watch and had no idea that time was running out to make it back to the park at Gosford, but downed his beer and disappeared into the house before emerging with a giant Flathead. It was half coated in bright beetroot dye and a real beauty.
We ran back to the car where Frank and Ron had packed up all the gear and were impatiently waiting. On seeing the Flathead, we decided it would do well for the comp and raced back to Gosford, just getting to the weigh-in area with about 5 minutes to spare.
The award ceremony for prize winners went on for a fair while and we picked up a prize for a secret weight Flathead of about a kilo, before the winning fish was announced as Wayne's. The big fish weighed just under 6.75kg- just under 15lb on the old scale and was almost double the size of the next largest fish weighed in- another Flatty of 3.4kg. The prize for biggest fish was a 14ft aluminium boat with a 9.9hp long-shaft motor, a fuel tank and life jackets plus about 6 Jarvis Walker rods complete with Ryobi reels. There was also the big prize of the half cabin and it was won by someone who hadn't even caught a fish, but put their ticket in the barrel.
Photographers from the local newspaper and a couple of magazines took shots of us holding up our fish, which was going to make our sponsor happy as our white T-shirts had the store name on the front in big letters. Australasian Post magazine did a feature story on the event and there was plenty of positive media coverage as well.
By the time all the formalities were over, we then had the problem of how we were going to get everything home. The "car topper" was far too large for the roof racks on the 180B, not to mention the motor and fuel tank. The fishing gear and trophy we managed to get in, but the big items had us wondering what to do. Thankfully, the organisers came to the rescue and offered to transport the boat, motor and accessories to us by truck within the following week, which was really nice of them.
We left the weigh-in and as we already knew where Macca's was, decided we'd better eat before driving back to Sydney. On arriving at the drive-through window with fishing rods all over the roof, before ordering, the girls behind the window gave us heaps for buying fillet of fish burgers, to which we replied we'd caught quite a few fish. They didn't believe us, so after ordering and moving to the 'waiting area' for our food, we got out of the car and grabbed a few fish to show off.
When the big Flatty was produced, the window girls informed the manager that we'd won the Fun-Fish and as he was a keen fisher, he came to have a look. Turned out to be a great move as he gave us the entire order for free!
Although really tired, we had a lot of laughs on the way back to Sydney and a good tale to tell about the big Flathead, which ended up in my fridge as Wayne's was too small. The boys came over during the week and we filleted the big fish plus a few smaller Flatties and cut them all into cocktail sized pieces, which my Mum deep-fried in egg and breadcrumbs. We had heard from plenty of mates that Flathead of that size weren't much good on the plate, but we all agreed it was absolutely beautiful to eat, accompanied by both pour-over plum sauce and sweet and sour.
The boat arrived at Frank T's place during the week, but when they delivered the motor, the box was badly broken at the bottom and a quick inspection revealed major damage to the motor leg. It had obviously been dropped from a height as the bottom of the leg looked like it been belted with a hard object. A phone call to the organisers had them ringing insurance companies and within about a fortnight another motor was organised for us as a replacement. It took another two months for the new motor to come to Sydney and we had to collect it from a boat dealer at Mona Vale- who was very unfriendly for reasons unknown to us.
Without a trailer, with the boat being so large, nobody could really use it as it was, besides, 4 was too many for a boat that size. We ended up taking a few months to sell it and it became a hire-boat on the Hawkesbury at Brooklyn. We only got $1200 for it, so $300 each for the four of us.
It was a very memorable trip and we were very lucky to end up with a good prize, considering we knew nothing about fishing in the area. Sleeping in the car and living on Macca's food was part of the experience. Just goes to show that anyone can do well in a fishing comp, as you just have to be in the right place at the right time to catch a big one.