2018 OET Bill- and Gamefish Tournament

(Published in the January 2019 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)

By Erwin Bursik

TROPICAL Dream charged triumphantly through the surf at Sodwana Bay on Friday 9 November 2018 with the double red tag-and-release flags and two green flags proudly displayed from her starboard outrigger. Her final slide up the beach was as grandiose as Kobus Sutherland could make it and his crew disembarked from their craft with smiles that said it all.
Apart from the stringent formalities still to be passed at the final day’s weigh in, it was apparent to all that Tropical Dream’s two striped marlin released that day would make them the winners of the 2018 OET Mercury Bill- and Gamefish Tournament.
Now in its 41st year, those of us who religiously take part in this event have one ambition and that is to mount the dais in the huge marquee to the rampant sound of “We are the Champions” and be awarded the magnificent prize of two Mercury 4-stroke motors. This year it was Kobus Sutherland and the crew of Tropical Dream who were acknowledged as the Champions. They subsequently received from Francois Human, Mercury’s Technical Manager, the two Mercury motors that had taken pride of place up front in the marquee during the entire week of this, the most prestigious event on South Africa’s offshore angling calendar.
Whilst the tangible prizes they won and the specially minted medals hung around the necks of all the team members will fade into the mists of time, Tropical Dream’s achievement will live on in the halls of OET fame.
During early November 2018 all who had entered this very special competition became focussed on the digital weather map and forecast for the five days from 5 to 9 November 2018. They were hoping that the forecasts were wrong and the horrific weather predicted for most of the week would disappear into the ether — or wherever these prognostications came from. Sadly, this time the predictions were largely correct, and even though we fished two and a bit days of the five it was only on the Friday that it was “lekker” to be out on the ocean.
The sad message from the weather committee on its WhatsApp group “Called off for today, wind gusting 21 knots at the Point and a very dangerous surf,” put paid to the Monday and Tuesday. Early on Wednesday the south westerly that had come through during the night had abated a bit and about half the fleet headed to sea.
Unfortunately that was a mistake, as those of us who were out there experienced terrible sea and wind and the comp was called off about 9.30am. The boats were largely fishless, with only a few gamefish being weighed in.
The weather gods were still not on our side on the fourth day with a very strong land breeze in the morning swinging around to the dreaded south easterly (Poison Wind) blowing moderately hard until lines up was called at 3pm after an extra hour of fishing was allowed.
The ice was finally broken early on Thursday as Mrs Seevarkie reported the hook up and release of a sailfish. It was interesting that while three blue marlin and a striped marlin were released that day a number of good sized yellowfin tuna were also reported. One of these was a “nice yellowfin on board” modestly reported by Oom C–Breeze which turned out to be a magnificent fish of 78.3kg caught by Francois Bezuidenhout.
Yellowfin tuna in the 30kg-plus category have hardly ever been recorded during the history of the OET, yet on day four of the 2018 tournament five big tuna weighing 26kg, 36.7kg, 43.5kg, 44.7kg and 78.3kg were landed. However with the following day’s virtually ideal conditions and the entire fleet pulling lures for nine hours not a single big yellowfin tuna in this class was caught.
Makes one wonder why the catch statistics vary so much. Take, for instance, the final and almost perfect day on the ocean with the entire fleet of 50-plus craft trolling lures — why was it that only two marlin were released and those from the same boat? Not many marlin were raised into the spreads and I only heard of very few other billfish being hooked and lost.
With sea conditions good — apart from the reverse current and dull blue water colour — most of us predicted a tally of at least ten to 15 billfish would be released. To end up with only two that day makes me realise just how little we really know about this sport of ours. How can the groot dam be so leeg van vis when the day before there was an abundance of small gamefish as bycatch and five billfish?
Although the fishing was nothing to write home about, what did impress me was the wonderful camaraderie of those who attended the 2018 OET Mercury Bill- and Gamefish Tournament. The welcoming function, daily happy hour and indeed the final prize giving were all fully attended. And although one would have expected a degree of disappointment at the conditions and lack of fish we experienced, the “happiness” felt during all this period proves that there is more to fishing than just fish.
Once again, Nico Zaaiman, the OET President and his competition committee did an incredible amount of work behind the scenes as well as setting up the marquee and decorating it with all the banners, flags, bunting and vendors stalls to make it, in my opinion, one of the best we have experienced at any OET. The table cloths emblazoned with the Mpumalanga Deep Sea Fishing Association’s logo and that of SADSAA raised the bar, so to speak, to confirm that the OET is much, much more than just an annual association fishing competition.
MC Chris Rothman was superb at all the official functions, ensuring that they were not dragged out and that the correct level of sincerity was struck regarding the overriding status of the event, yet never forgetting the fun side and camaraderie necessary to ensure all those present would be keen to return in 2019. Men like Jan Strydom, Edwin Freeman, Sam Botha and many others put their hearts and souls into the organising and executing of the OET and should be acknowledged for their immense dedication and attention to detail.
Very early on the day following the prize giving I collected my banners from the 95% emptied marquee. Only then did I realise the enormity of what went into making this empty shell the vibrant spectacle it was the previous evening.
On this subject, one must never forget the input, both in terms of prizes and visual displays, that the OET sponsors make to an event such as this competition. Sponsorship by the Platinum and Gold Sponsors as well as each and every one of the smaller sponsors, combine to make this annual event the wonderful experience it was this year as well as the preceding 40 years.
The participants should be aware of this and are encouraged to support those who have backed our OET; let’s prove to the sponsors in a tangible way that their support of angling is truly appreciated.
As anglers we can bleat about the weather conditions, we can cry about the marlin not wanting to strike, we can be upset about tackle or equipment failures, but none of this ever makes us think of striking this event off our personal competitive competition calendars. The OET is ingrained in the heart and soul of all OET-ers; it is part of their angling lives, and I sincerely hope it stays that way well into the future.
Mark your November 2019 diary with “OET Sodwana” and highlight it in yellow, for it is one that should not be missed. See you there.

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