The fishing was tough but the camaraderie was strong – that pretty well sums up the 11th annual Secret Women’s Business Barra Challenge held last Friday and Saturday at Corroboree Billabong. This is the second time that I’ve had the pleasure of being on the water and covering the NT’s premier female fishing tournament. Women-only fishing competitions are a real part of the Top End fishing scene nowadays, but I suppose what sets the SWB apart is that the female competitors fend for themselves totally without any male assistance. From what I witnessed last weekend, they do it well indeed. This year, there were 119 competitors fishing in 36 teams. All up, they caught 83 point-scoring fish, comprised of 16 barramundi and 67 saratoga. Saratoga are worth half the points of barramundi but, as happened for the last two years, the ’togas were instrumental in the final wash-up. This year’s winning team was Barra’Prentice comprised of Jo Starling, Vicki Lear and Bec Roberts. It was the only all-interstate team, and they won in style. Team captain, former Darwinian, Jo Starling, told me that they pre-fished for two days and only found small barra. “We started the comp looking for fish and realised we had to target ‘toga,” Jo said. “We began way up the other end but the action was not frequent enough; we only found fish too small to score. “On the way back on Thursday, I detoured into Rock Hole to show Vicki – frankly, it looked more comfortable for us. “We started there at the 6.00am lines-in next morning, casting in the dark. “At first light, the other side looked better and that’s where we went, catching our first fish just after 7.00am. “I remembered catching heaps there on Squidgy Ridgebacks rigged weedless from before I left the NT, so we just fished them and their paddle-tail cousins, the Squidgy Mongrels in 90mm,” Jo explained. The team landed 12 fish the first day of competition, including 10 scoring saratoga and a 49cm barra which also scored points. “Barra’Prentice is a concept Vicki Lear and I hatched as part of our commitment to get more women into the sport,” Jo told me. “We kept our eye out for women who are new to fishing but keen to learn and even more important: keen to do it themselves. “Our apprentice choices had to be from the NSW south coast so Vicki and I can work with them. “We teach them casting, knots, finesse techniques, boat launching, and we look at videos of when we were up there fishing Corroboree – fishing lilies etc. “Bec, our apprentice this year, was amazed at how many women are passionate about the sport up here – she found her niche. “Bec caught fish both days and netted most of the others,” Jo said proudly. “We were leading after day one, and we were totally gobsmacked as it was really tough fishing for us. “The challenge was managing the vessel in the wind and tackling the lily banks – we cast ahead of the boat with the wind behind us so we didn’t spook fish. “We were surface fishing the entire time; the ‘togas were all sitting up near the surface. The trio caught eight more saratoga on the second day. “We caught all our fish early then it stopped, most likely because we fished the same spot two days in a row. “We think the ‘togas were spawning as we caught a milting fish. “They were aggregating and we reckoned we would have worked out another similar spot given another day. “Next year, we’ll bring a team of four as Bec must be back to help us defend our title, and we’ll still need another apprentice. “We don’t want to lose our momentum as this is the fourth year we’ve done this,” Jo explained. Jo was also Champion Angler. Palmerston Game Fishing Club’s SWB co-co-ordinator, Chrissie Hurren, told me that they always hope that lots of big fish get caught. “It was disappointing that there were not more fish, but we were really pleased that everyone enjoyed themselves. “Corroboree is notoriously fickle for fish,” she said. Natalie Harrison caught the biggest barra at 82cm. “Finding out that Nat caught that 82cm barra was a highlight for me… I was very excited when I heard that,” Chrissie said. “The Corroboree Park Tavern venue was wonderful as always, the food was great and the staff worked so hard to make sure everything went smoothly. Runner-up Champion Team was the winning team for the last two years: Skirts Ditchin’ Work comprised of Melita McKinnon, Helen Stuart and Emily Melville. Runner-up Champion Angler was Natalie Harrison. ……………………………………. Don’t forget the 10th annual Darwin Billfish Tournament is scheduled for 29-31 October. Tournament co-ordinator, Peter Dienhoff, said: “With outstanding catches of sailfish and marlin right on our door step at Dundee Beach this year, many anglers have had the opportunity to hone their skills. “The billfish still seem to be offshore from Dundee Beach and, with the unprecedented nutrient-rich, blue water pushing closer to our coastline this year, this unforeseen fishery remains present. “These deep blue waters, rich with bait, are generally encountered further out around the 60 NM mark at Flat Top Bank. “Why this occurrence has happened this year is a hot topic amongst fishos. “Nonetheless, it has produced cricket score numbers of billfish, with most anglers adopting circle hooks, which is very encouraging for the promotion of tag and quick release of billfish. “I favour the Mustard light gauge Demon circle hooks in 4/0-6/0 size as they seem to do the trick with our size billfish; being so light gauge, they have great penetration and are easy to release with minimal stress to the fish,” Peter told me. “With the grounds off Dundee Beach fishing remarkably well, it sets up a scenario which could be an interesting challenge for skippers: choosing which grounds to fish will decide their success or demise. “Last year’s tournament was won at Mesquite Shoal off the western coast of Melville Island, and 17 of the 21 teams competing fished there and the Bathurst Trench over the three day period. “Fantastic news this this week is that Barge Express is able to provide fuel deliveries late on Sunday 29 October around the Point Hurd area, and then on Monday around the Apsley Straight area. “Ken Conlan and Ben Floyd from Barge Express are looking forward to working with the tournament, and we will also be able to have ice etc kept in a chiller on deck, so the world has just opened up,” Peter explained. The host Darwin Game Fishing Club will be holding a bait-rigging demonstration and information night on Tuesday 10 October at Fishing and Outdoor World and the general public is invited. Further details and entry forms can be downloaded on the DGFC website or contact Debbie Halprin on 0412 848 267 for further information. PHOTOS: Vicki Lear (left), Jo Starling and Bec Roberts of Team Barra’Prentice – pictured with Champion Angler Jo’s saratoga – won Champion Team at this year’s SWB Barra Challenge.
Dirty Oars team members, Mel Bowen (left), Mel Krollig and Johanna Clark in between fish captures at the SWB Barra Challenge on Corroboree Billabong.
Young Nate Saunders has become a chip off the old block after catching several billfish off
Dundee this year fishing with his Dad, three times Darwin Billfish Tournament winner, Douglas Saunders… including this one estimated at 22kg.