Cairns in 2011: Marlin are the big winners

I FISHED the 1974/5/6 Cairns marlin seasons and returned this year to observe the changes that have taken place over the last 35 years. My return to Cairns highlighted the fact that the only thing that hasn’t changed is the water, it is still blue…

After my recent trip I thought I might reflect on some of the changes that have taken place in Cairns marlin fishing since the ’70s. Here goes:

Marlin boats – In the ’70s the average size boat was 35ft, in 2011 it’s 45ft.

Motherships – In the ’70s, 90 per cent of marlin boats used motherships, now all marlin charter boats have live-on-board facilities for anglers. Only a few very wealthy anglers prefer to use motherships today. The change to live-on-board marlin boats has made it more economical for anglers to charter, compared to three decades ago.

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The author hooked up to a Spanish mackerel recently off Cairns.

Electronics in the 70s were very basic, with sounders using paper, and HF radios were all the size of a small suitcase. In 2011, electronics on a modern marlin boat are compact and user friendly, making navigation safer. The innovation of towcam has – apart from giving crew the added advantage of knowing if it was a marlin or barracuda that stole a bait – provided all on board with an underwater view of how the bait is swimming. It is great entertainment for the anglers – (see towcam video at bottom).

Rods & reels – these are lighter and much more user friendly.

Terminal tackle has changed from the standard 1970s use of 15ft of 040 double wire trace joined to a single 14ft of 040 wire attached to a J hook, to modern wind-on leaders of 15ft connected to 14ft of 650lb mono nylon leader on skip baits, and 14ft of 040 single wire on the swim baits – all connected to a circle hook. Another notable change is from all Dacron mainline in the 70s to Dacron under a mono top shot now.

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A rigged scaly mackerel skip bait with 650lb mono trace and circle hook.

Skipper & crew – I was fortunate to spend five days on board Captain Billy Billson’s Viking II last week. I have known Billy for 35 years, from the days when I was Secretary Manager of the Broken Bay Game Fishing Club Ltd. and Hon. Secretary of NSWGFA, and Billy was a junior angler. Now he is recognised as the most experienced marlin boat skipper on the east coast of Australia, due to the number of tournaments and world records his boat has accounted for with him as Captain.

We released seven marlin in five days. One was 1000lb plus, another 900lb, and the other five were between 200lb and 350lb. I believe the state of the black marlin fishery in the Cairns area to be in as good or better condition now than it was in the ’70s.

These days, skippers and deckies have had to develop the additional skills of housemaids; ordering stores, food preparation, cook and barman. Viking II is run like a floating 5 star hotel and the angler’s needs are of first priority.

So who is the biggest winner out of all these changes? It really is a win, win, situation for angler, crew and marlin. In the ’70s it was common to release marlin that were not at all healthy with a J hook lodged in a location that caused bleeding, or with the marlin’s stomach hanging out of its mouth. Since the introduction of circle hooks and quick release techniques, marlin are released in healthy condition every time, so they are the biggest winners, due to the changes that have taken place in 35 years.

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