|Great Barrier Reef Bounty|
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Great Barrier Reef Bounty
And with good reason – more black marlin in the 1,000-pound-plus class come to boat side off the Great Barrier Reef than anywhere else. From September to December each year, anglers arrive from all points of the globe to this Far North Queensland city, hoping to battle huge female marlin affectionately referred to as Granders or Julies.
It’s quite a big deal, and it costs big bucks. At the peak of the black marlin season, anglers willing to spend $2,500 and more a day arrive full of enthusiasm and with thick wallets, and few go home disappointed. The high rollers not only charter game boats, they also stay at sea on live-aboard mother ships, which can double the cost of the trip. Add in airfares, accommodations and spending time enjoying the special Australian ambiance, and we can be reaching amounts here that look like telephone numbers.
Despite all the dollars that many can afford, an average angler can get in on the action with a little know-how and perseverance. It’s quite possible to fish Cairns on a budget by sharing charters and staying in budget accommodations. The costs to a half dozen anglers, for example, fishing for marlin for a week is about the same as staying at a lodge in the Northern Territory and pursuing barramundi in the interior. It’s not cheap, mind you, but it’s definitely manageable if you’re intent on living the dream of an Australian fishing adventure.
The marlin boom in Cairns began precisely on September 25, 1966. On a crew’s off day, fishing mate Richard C. Obach aboard the Sea Bay with Captain George Bransford reeled in a world record 1,064-pound marlin off Euston Reef. Word spread throughout the fishing world like ink dripped in water. Cairns, representing the jumping-off point to the Great Barrier Reef, soon found its docks swollen with anglers as eager as prospectors hot on a gold rush.
Today, black marlin fishing alone is a $10 million annual business, inevitably attracting well-known anglers such as Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, to name just a few.
I’m no less an addict, even if only casually watching the action at times. A few years ago I did a stint as an observer in a major Cairns tournament. These events attract big money and seriously dedicated competitors. Strict rules had to be followed, and thus the observers placed on each boat to ensure everyone abided by the same rules. Accordingly, things can get dicey. On one of the boats, an angler caught a big marlin, but under the tournament rules the leader line needed to kept so it could be examined by the tournament committee. An unknowing deckhand’s decision to toss the leader over the side on the way back to port cost that angler $32,000 in prize money. I sure wouldn’t have liked to be that deckie.