This weekend's annual Interclub game-fishing tournament in Port Stephens is the biggest event of its kind in the southern hemisphere. More than 150 boats and 600 anglers – albeit well down on previous years – will put to sea in pursuit of marlin, sharks, tuna, mahi mahi and more.
Yet despite the inordinate investment in time and money, anglers release 97 per cent of all the fish fought to the boat and the tag-and-release trophies command real reverence these days.
In fact, such is the seismic shift in angler sentiment, that the game-fishing governing body, the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA), recently codified release guidelines for tournament fishers.
The IGFA has also created a new World Record category based on measured length – with photographic evidence – before release. The fish must be returned to the water alive and unharmed. Guidelines for best handling practices are at its website www.igfa.org.
Of course, the new All Tackle Length Records don't apply to fish like marlin, which would be difficult to picture alongside the official IGFA Measuring Device, but they do apply to a broad subset of sportfish from tuna to trevally, Australian bass to Pacific bonito.
As the length category is relatively new, there are oodles of opportunities to catch a world record fish and receive an official certificate and listing proving as much. Only trophy fish, at least 50 per cent of the species' maximum growth potential, will be accepted.
Meantime, the organising body behind the Interclub has made circle hooks, which catch in the fish's jaw rather than stomach, mandatory. These facilitate easier removal and survival rates.
All of this is good news for protagonists of sustainable game fishing, not to mention the future of tournaments such as the Interclub, where small black marlin have been scattered about the inshore grounds and bigger blues are patrolling The Shelf.
However, bad weather will be the enemy of fishers this weekend. Hefty swells will abate on Sunday, but they're still forecast to get up to 25 knots and three metres. And being onshore means there will be few places to hide.
Before the tempest, Sydney anglers were scoring marlin, mahi mahi and jumbo yellowfin tuna. But boat fishers have been fishing the reefs for snapper, jewfish, kingfish and teraglin. Flathead are on the gravel drifts.
The best bet is to fish the estuaries for flathead in the lee of a headland. Catch fresh squid from inside North Head, fish the lights under Captain Cook Bridge at night for jewfish, or try whiting on live worms at Maianbar in Port Hacking.