Are fishing tournaments for you?

By: Steve Starling

Competition or tournament fishing certainly isn’t for everyone.

Are fishing tournaments for you?
A fat Australian bass capture at AFC Series 12.

In fact, it’s likely that significantly less than five per cent of the Australian angling population will ever enter an officially sanctioned event with set rules and a formulated structure for awarding prizes or trophies to the more successful competitors. Nonetheless competitive fishing definitely affects our day-to-day sport in ways that are both obvious and also much more subtle.

The design and evolution of fishing tackle, techniques, electronics and even boats are all directly influenced by tournament fishing. Cutting-edge competition provides a hothouse environment for accelerated developments in all these areas. Love or loathe them, there’s no denying tournaments shape our sport, with a trickledown affect akin to the one that sees technologies honed in motor racing eventually incorporated into our daily drive.


Sportfishing or just fishing?

Game and sports fishing have long been the province of the big, multi-day tournament or convention. Australia is home to some long-running and well-established game comps. GAMEX, staged each March in the waters off Exmouth, WA, is a fine example, with a history stretching back more than 30 years. Other ports, from Darwin and Cairns in the north to Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania’s SE, also host regular blue-water comps.

The big daddy of them all is the annual Port Stephens Interclub run over consecutive weekends at the end of February and beginning of March each year, with lots of midweek activities on offer as well. In a good year the Interclub attracts hundreds of competitors and thousands of spectators, the waters of Port Stephens playing host to some of the biggest and most impressive gameboats on the planet, as well as an extensive fleet of smaller vessels all the way down to modest trailerboats.

In addition to these major game comps we have the various "classics". One of the oldest and best-known is the Top End’s prestigious Barra Classic which has been staged every year since 1981 and has been joined in more recent times by the equally lively and well-patronised Barra Nationals.

The Gold Coast hosts the Flathead Classic, another keenly-contested event with 25 years of rich angling history. Lake Mulwala on the Murray River is home to the Cod Classic, while other inland waterways see the running of smaller open and invitational events like the Lake Windamere Golden Classic, the Snowy Mountains Trout Festival and the Freshwater Masters.

The tournament concept is constantly developing too. Near the end of the ’90s, some forward-thinking anglers and fishing administrators from SE QLD set wheels in motion that ultimately led to the establishment of the various ABT circuits of competitive fishing events.

Initially ABT stood for Australian Bass Tournaments, although over following years the ‘B’ in that acronym also came to represent bream and barra, with tournament series developing to target all these sportsfishing species, and other organisations creating similar circuits around the nation.

Since their inception, many thousands of anglers have competed, taking away millions of dollars’ worth of prizes and cash payouts.

Gamefishing boats
Tournament fishing plays a huge role in shaping the evolution of game and sports fishing boats, not to mention their various fixtures and fittings.


TV tournaments

As I write I’ve just returned from a very busy few days at Cania Gorge Dam, in south-central QLD. I was there to present and host this year’s final rounds of the Australian Fishing Championships (AFC). This is a made-for-TV series of bream, bass and barramundi tournaments that grew out of the ABT circuits, pitching invited top performers from those open events against each other with a TV camera on each boat capturing all the action.

Now in its 12th successful season the AFC has brought tournament fishing into the sporting mainstream, developing a strong following and a solid viewing audience in the process. AFC Season 12 goes to air nationally on the Nine Network this October.

It doesn’t end there either. As the ABT begat the AFC, so this made-for-TV concept has spawned the International Fishing Series (IFS) which sees gun tournament anglers from Asia, the Americas and Europe invited here to fish alongside top Aussies who’ve risen through the ranks of our local competition circuits.

This is also a two-way street, with young local angling hero Carl Jocumsen (an ABT, AFC and IFS alumni) now competing successfully on the big-money US bass circuit after having qualified for that country’s aptly-named Elite Series: a hundred or so of the world’s finest bass fishers who go head-to-head for hefty pay cheques and lucrative sponsorship deals. (Keep up with Carl at

Things have come a long way since the days when competitors in hotel fishing club comps weighed-in a bag of tailor or a couple of snapper in the hope of winning a bar voucher or a tacky plastic trophy (although, of course, these sociable homegrown events still have a place in the overall scheme of things).

As I said at the outset, competitive fishing is not for everyone but no-one can deny the impact it has had and continues to have on our sport. Next time you tie that newfangled lure to a fluorocarbon leader or slip a flash rod and reel in the rod locker of your tournament-inspired boat, spare a moment to consider the role competition plays in the ongoing evolution of the pastime we love. 

Bass boat at fishing tournament
The growing popularity of American-style bass boats on Australian waters is just one indicator of the influence of tournament fishing.


See the full version of this review in Trade-A-Boat #467, July 20105. Why not subscribe today?


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