The 28th Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic

Game boats sail past at Cooktown Game boats do the "sail past" in Cooktown. Game boats sail past at Cooktown
Lizard Island Classic opening ceremony The Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic starts with a bang. Lizard Island Classic opening ceremony
Beached Stabicraft 1650 Fisher Our Stabicraft 1650 Fisher giveaway boat awaits orders. Beached Stabicraft 1650 Fisher
Lizard Island Classic contenders Bulls at the gate – the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic contenders sitting shoulder to shoulder. Lizard Island Classic contenders
Cooktown Green and gold Cooktown – base of operations for the Lizard Island Black Marlin. Cooktown
Cooktown cow warning sign Beware of giant cows wearing top hats – nothing surprises me in the tropics anymore. Cooktown cow warning sign

After (attempted) fishing in the Atherton Tablelands with the giveaway boat, our crew visit the Great Barrier Reef for the 28th Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic.

Lizard Island could be heaven. On my last visit to this fishing utopia in 2010, I fondly remember a picturesque paradise with white sandy beaches right next to beautiful tropical rainforest. Although Lizard Island itself is a marine sanctuary, the nearby reef systems are renowned for their world-class game fishing. On this trip I caught everything from yellowfin tuna to giant trevally. But that’s not why gameboats come here every year: they’re after the ultimate prize that is a 1000lb marlin.

This brought them to the…



Gameboats at Cooktown

At the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic the organisers had a pretty big spanner to contend with, the after-effects of Cyclone Ita in April 2014. The eye of this behemoth weather system had passed right over Lizard Island and inflicted $40 million worth of damage to the Lizard Island Resort and grounds.

As a result, the 2014 Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic game fishing tournament was now being held out of Cooktown. I decided therefore to hook up the Stabicraft giveaway boat (see below) and drive north from Cairns to Cooktown in an attempt to check out the competition and maybe have a fish too. There were 23 game boats competing in the whopping seven-day fishing bonanza and I found a moment to chat with Bob Lowe, president and tournament director of the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic.

A veteran in his own right, Bob has been running the competition since day dot and has also caught five "granders" (a marlin of 1000lbs or more) in his time.

Bob tells me that since 2006, the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic has been tag-and-release only – in my opinion, something that all gamefishing tournaments should aspire to.

Over the seven-day tournament, a whopping 126 tags were distributed, only three of which were stuck into 1000lb-plus fish. The winning game boat was Top Shot, which caught 15 black marlin ranging from 50 to 999lbs. The fish they eventually decided to satellite-tag for the Great Marlin Race was a 250-pounder.



Game fishing for 1000lb black marlin is a such great sport, so it’s a crying shame that some anglers still support the outdated marlin capture category. Indeed, one fantastic element of this game fishing tournament is the Great Marlin Race. This involves each entrant receiving one satellite tag worth $5000 a pop. Once they catch a black marlin, a satellite tag is inserted into the fish’s shoulder and the tagged marlin race it out! The data is collated by the IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) and whoever’s tagged marlin has travelled the longest distance, wins.

This great initiative is not only fun for anglers, it also provides vital scientific statistics about the mysterious marlin. To give you some idea, the fish that won the 2013 Great Marlin Race last year (a 400lb specimen) travelled a massive 1244nm, all the way to the bottom of Victoria.



Fishing in Cooktwon

Cooktown as a destination has been done to death by every fishing, boating and travel publication going around, so I’ll spare you the extended history lesson on the area.

Located at the mouth of the Endeavour River, Cooktown is the most northerly town on the east coast of Australia. It was originally called Cook’s Town after Captain Cook who brought his battered ship here for repairs in 1770. The river also gets its name from Cook’s ship, the Endeavour – it’s a historically significant fishing town. If you ever go there, the two main haunts are the marina wharves and the local watering hole, the Top Pub.

Now it mightn’t be a Lizard Island but the fishing is still pretty special in Cooktown. With an array of fishable reefs lying right near its doorstep I had high hopes. The one thing I didn’t have high spirits for however, was the weather. With a bit of a blow forecast on day one, I opted to stay onshore at Cooktown to prep the gear and watch the early morning "sail past".

For those who don’t know, the sail past is essentially a parade of all the game boats in the tournament. In this public spectacle, they line up in single file and motor out of the harbour/river to the fishing grounds. It’s a wonderful sight to behold if you’re into game boat bling.

Lizard Island Classic Sail Past at Cooktown

On day two the weather was much the same, but I enthusiastically loaded up the gamefishing gear, as well as my semi-enthusiastic girlfriend, Millie, who’d flown up to visit me. The easterly wind meant it was going to be a rough ride to the reef, but once we got there, we’d be protected in the lee of the Outer Ribbon Reef.

Tearing out of the Endeavour River we were promptly greeted by a swell and chop that saturated us both within minutes. I looked at Millie and regretfully told her it was going to be a "fairly long ride" – code for a solid eight nautical miles of salty hell. Not really knowing what she was getting herself into she hesitantly agreed.

An hour-long, white-knuckle ride later, we arrived exhausted into flat water. Fish-filled flat water, we hoped. However with conditions as they were, I wasn’t really keen to subject Millie to more water torture by driving out to the Ribbon Reef where all the big gameboats were fishing.

Instead, we fished around the Vicki Harriott Reef area and caught a plethora of Spanish mackerel as bycatch on our Pakula skirted lures meant for the smaller black marlin. Either way we had some fish in the bag for dinner and Millie had caught her personal best fish.

Jump to to see which marlin travelled the farthest and to find out more about the Lizard Island Black Marlin Classic.

Bow Lowe interview

See the full version of this story in Trade-A-Boat #461, January / February 2015. Why not subscribe today?


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