Over $800,000 in prizes with $650,000 of that cash winnings
1,300 attended the Saturday evening prize-giving
Close to 85% tagged and released back to the ocean
The biggest fishing tournament in the Southern Hemisphere
The biggest prize pool of any fishing tournament in the Southern Hemisphere
All of this happened when the main highway from Auckland was broken and closed.
6 months before – maximum registered and no boat dropped out
The sun is not quite over the top of Shakespeare point. It is 6.30am on Thursday, 16 March and Mercury Bay looks idyllic; the sea and the sky one vista - majestic and calm in soft hues of grey and purple. There are quite a few boats out there, seemingly resting on the sea of morning calm. But look to the left and out from the estuary is a slow but almost constant quiet flow, of fishing boats, big and small, processing in line to join the others. It is not really a scene of rest. Rather, it is one of excited tension - waiting. Soon, there will be a gunshot and 264 boats will growl into action keen to be the first to their choice of fishing spots. They are all vying for a share of an $800,000 prize pool. This is the start of the 2023 Kubota Billfish Classic Tournament, the largest fishing tournament in the Southern Hemisphere and this one is the biggest yet.
The low growl of 264 motors swells and grows in volume across the harbour making waves as it comes to the Whitianga township. There are many gathered on the beach with their cameras. It is 7.30am and the community will gather again with even more excitement in two days when the fishing concludes at 4.00pm on Saturday, 18 March and the large flotilla returns to Whitianga wharf.
Ian Massicks of Kubota (vast range of durable and reliable agricultural equipment) represents the company at the Tournament and spoke to The Informer. “We are ecstatic about the way the event has been run. This is our fourth year as the naming rights sponsor. In our first year it was 90 boats, then it grew to 110, then 160, and this year, 264 boats. There were many who wished to enter, but for logistical reasons, we could not accept any more. A lot of our customers are very keen fishermen and women and this is a great event for Kubota to be partnered with. To have 1300 at the prize giving is fantastic, though it is not surprising with approximately 1,200 anglers.” Since 2020, the first year with Kubota having naming rights, Covid restrictions have limited the tournament and 2023 has been the first year the Kubota Billfish Classic was organised without these. The storms, cyclones and broken roads did create some uncertainty and extra caution and effort in getting some boats this far north, but recent weather has been great and anglers were longing for this opportunity.
“On the Saturday evening, $650,000 cash was given away and over $200,000 of prizes,”said Ian.
“All the prizes were very high quality – such as the fishing rods and lures and most prize items could be modestly valued at over $500.”
Ian spoke further about the nature of this tournament, “ It’s not only the angler, it’s the team in the boat. Everyone is very involved, launching the boat, navigating, and once a fish is hooked, there’s the videoing of the catch, holding the fish, tagging and releasing the fish. It’s important to release the fish as soon as possible, to save stress, a very high percentage are tag and release.”
Not everyone catches a fish. Ian reported that thought there were 264 boats and over 1,000 anglers, only about 60 fish were caught. Only about 30 teams were prize winners.
“This is my third time taking part in the Kubota classic and this year was the first time we actually caught a fish. It is pretty hard, “says Ian.
“We are very thankful for the way the community embraces us and welcomes us. A lot of credit goes to the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club – Alan Proctor (Manager), Gordon McIvor(President) and the staff make so much possible and things run smoothly, but Tom Maxwell is the champion here building this tournament to the success that it is. Tom is the Director of the tournament and it is clearly his vision and drive that has lead the team to making it such a success. Tom spends all day commentating the event, giving updates, bulletins. We are all there listening. It adds to the excitement.”
When asked what was his strategy,Tom says, “It is a million small things. My involvement began with getting Kubota as the naming sponsor and that is when I started to work with the Game Fishing Club to help organise the tournament. This has been a great success.” Tom was still at the Fishing Club premises late on Sunday and added these comments;
“I want to say thank you:-
• For the teams – each boat is a team, as Ian Massicks has already said. “There is no tournament without them and their goodwill.”
• To the sponsors – their generosity makes the tournament exciting and very attractive to enter. The prize money and prizes to be won speak for themselves.
• For the awesome volunteers for setting up, packing down, weighing, serving, cooking and cleaning. We could never calculate the immense value they bring to this tournament.
• To Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club – the staff and the team work so hard and efficiently to host this event.
• To the winners - and also a big congratulations!!”
Lexus Lady won the heaviest Billfish $200,000 prize money 205.1 kg - blue marlin.
Mataitai and Maximus won first equal overall for the whole tournament. Mataitai won $245,000 and Maximus $76,500. This is due to the amount of money each launch put into the pool.
“I am hopeful that the town starts to capitalise more on the opportunity that this event presents,”added Tom. “This year it has turned a few heads more so than it has in previous years. The size of it has accelerated that interest and there is more awareness.
An additional hope I have is that the local Council (TCDC) will become more accommodating of us in enabling the infrastructure necessary to activate for such a large event. I want to call out the Council and the Mayor for their engagement in what this can mean economically for our community.
The biggest compliment locally has been seeing bait and tackle stories doing huge trade, petrol stations not keeping up with the demand for fuel, pubs and restaurants packed, the queue for taxis being three hours. I want to see more of this.”
And for Mercury Bay Tom reported proudly that some of the top boats in the country who may not have even thought of ever coming to Whitianga have been in this 2023 Billfish Classic, and it is now on their fishing calendar for 2024.
Tom Maxwell is planning already, “Next year we can see even more boats and more benefits to the whole Mercury Bay Community.”