2017 OET Bill- and Gamefish Tournament

(Published in the January 2018 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)

By Erwin Bursik

FORTY years! Yes, indeed, the OET has been holding its November competition for the gamefish anglers of the Mpumalanga Deep Sea Angling Association (formerly the Oos/Eastern Transvaal Ski-Boat Association) since way back in 1977. Under the then chairmanship of Jimmy de Pradines and Secretary Cliff Reid, this competition was founded for two reasons. The first was to galvanise the member clubs of this provincial region, and the second was to prove to all that Sodwana Bay had — in addition to the prolific gamefish of the area — a hitherto untapped billfish fishery.
For this reason the competition has historically focussed on both the gamefish as well as billfish — a determination that stands to this day. Where light tackle and heavy tackle used to differentiate between the two structures of the competition, the two are now melded by having an open line class up to 80 lb class tackle, but the rules stipulate the weight of the gamefish is added to the basic points allocated to the released billfish.
The 2017 point scoring rules proved essential in determining the final outcome of this year’s OET because it was the gamefish points scored that made it such a thrilling chase to the final finish line. Have a look at the scores of the top ten teams and you’ll appreciate the tension as Hot Line skipped by Sean Van Veijeren and Zean-Mari with Captain Japie Kleinhans at the helm fought their way to the finish line. With final scores of 424.2 and 421.9 points respectively, it couldn’t get much closer!
During the opening function of the 2017 OET Jimmy De Pradines, Cliff Reid and Pieter Hendrick were guests of honour. Their presence and the lovely 40th anniversary booklet emphasised the distinction of the event that was to begin a week of serious angling in the pristine waters off Sodwana Bay.
The OET Committee under the Chairmanship of Nico Zaaiyman and Competition Convenor Stephen Kleynhans did a sterling job. The massive marquee in the grounds of Sodwana Bay Lodge buzzed with the extra special atmosphere all week long, and the sophisticated layout and decoration was, in my opinion, the best it has ever been. The two massive 150hp Mercury 4-stroke motors which were the top prize, took pride of place next to the podium and invited all the teams present to strive to be “The Team” which would uplift them at the final prize giving.
Garth McGee of McGee Ford Motors, Lydenburg, sponsored a cash prize of R50 000 which would be awarded to the team in second position overall. This generous prize, together with a Garmin Marine EchoMap 725 and other worthwhile prizes made coming second very desirable.
The OET committee’s support of its large band of loyal sponsors and the way they were honoured throughout the event underscored both the sponsors’ and organisers’ intention to make sure the 40th Anniversary tournament was the most prestigious event in its history at Sodwana Bay.
And what a competition it turned out to be! Shortly after launching on day one Mrs Seevarkie reported a hook-up on a marlin by Henry Martin. It was released at 6.20am and set the pace for the action, with 23 billfish released on day one.
That first day proved to be one of the most exciting — and frustrating — days I have ever experienced off Sodwana Bay. Most of the fleet — including my team on B’s Nest — were attacked by striped marlin that appeared to have lock jaw. They slashed at the lures with their bills, but very few were hooked. We got one stripey out of six strikes which is a terrible ratio. However, during weigh-in that afternoon many of the skippers reluctantly admitted raising up to seven stripies with either one or zero catches to their credit.
To a large extent the stripey attack continued throughout the four fishable days, but thankfully the hook-up ratio improved and striped marlin accounted for 27 of the 71 total billfish releases.
They say “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”; perhaps the same is true of fishing. Even though the striped marlin gave us all a severe ego bashing and made us question our knowledge and skill at hunting marlin, it was wonderful to see these “jousters” of the marlin species back in our waters and in apparently big numbers.
Blue marlin, the stock in trade of Sodwana’s lure pullers were also present and accounted for 25 successful releases during the 2017 OET. Fast, hard strikes and vigorous fights provided some entertaining experiences for those able to stay attached to these magnificent billfish.
There were a few teams that were eventually beaten by some very big marlin with Sky Bird possibly going the longest distance — four hours — on the last day only to have the hook pull fairly close to the boat. This long fight effectively cost them a higher place on the leader board and they ended in ninth position overall whereas they were second going into the last day. All the same, the memory of that mighty encounter will remain clearly etched in the minds of Captain Dave Knudsen, his son, son-in-law and two grandsons.
These days the gamefish aspect of the OET has largely become a bycatch issue compared to the years gone by when it was a separately fished section of the competition. However, what has come to the fore is the improved quality rather than quantity of the gamefish presented to the weighmasters. This year a number of good size dorado — the biggest one of 17kg — and some good wahoo came to the table, but it was Rhuan Barnard, fishing on Mad Marly, who brought the most meritorious gamefish of the week to the scales. His 35.4kg yellowfin tuna won him the very substantial Calcutta cash prize.
Hot Line’s skipper, Sean Van Veijeren, together with an extremely accomplished team of Gerhard von Bonde, Stuart Simpson and Richard Scott, worked the waters off Jesser Point hard, patiently and with determination. They released five billfish in total — at least one each day and a second on the Tuesday. This perseverance and success in marlin fishing shows their depth of experience.
That’s also what enabled Team Hot Line to win the 2017 40th Anniversary Mercury OET Bill- and Gamefish Competition and the twin Mercury 150hp outboard 4-stroke motors together with their insurance for one year (by Cross Country Insurance) and two Penn rod and reel combo sets, all of which was handed over to Team Hot Line by Rutherford Marine/Mercury South Africa’s Francois Human and Aaron Ledsham.
The entire 2017 Mercury OET 40th Anniversary Tournament was executed with the precision we have all come to expect from this prestigious competition.
Thanks to Master of Ceremonies Brad Van Zyl, the organisers, marquee management, weighmasters as well as both beach- and radio control and the all-important bar staff, the final gala prize giving of the 2017 40th Anniversary Mercury OET Bill- and Gamefish Tournament was a worthy culmination of four decades of promoting bill/gamefishing off Sodwana Bay.
However, what really crowned this event was when all the anglers who had released a billfish during this event, lined up in front of the dias after being awarded gold OET medals by the chairman Nico Zaaiman.
So much work, so much play, so much dedication, so much skill, so much luck went into hooking and bringing alongside each of these released billfish. Finally these efforts were lauded by everyone in the marquee that evening not just because they’d collectively caught this incredibly high number of billfish, but also because each and every fish was returned alive to the ocean.
On behalf of SADSAA, OET and every deep sea angler in South Africa, we congratulate and applaud your achievement.
The OET is always a spectacular event, so take note that the 2018 Mercury OET Bill- and Gamefish Tournament will take place during the first week of November 2018, and book early for another enjoyable competition you don’t want to miss. I sincerely hope to see you all there.

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