The one that didn’t get away…

The one that didn’t get away…

In the final stages of preparing for my wedding, with only two months to go, a quote I recently saw on Facebook has been lodged in the forefront of my mind

The message was that marriage is founded on enduring friendship. My most recent adventure has truly deepened my belief in this sentiment.

Before I met my fiancé, Andrew, I had never been fishing – hadn’t even held a rod. I mucked around with a hand reel once as a kid on my uncle’s boat, but other than that, my experience with fishing and knowledge of the great abyss under the sea was pretty much limited to what I had learnt from Disney animations and David Attenborough.

Things have changed!

Blessed with having our own 6.4m Sportfish, I find myself now longing for trips out on the water – daydreaming of my next big catch and a swim amongst the reef. I am captivated by the ocean’s beauty and the freedom brought with the fresh ocean air, the boat crashing against the waves. Whilst I’ve come a long way in the past year, in no way was I prepared for what was to come upon entering the 2015 Mike Carney Toyota Billfish Challenge.

Blog by Tamara Dawson Fishing Boat

The morning had finally arrived with a brisk northerly swell and an expected wind to 15 knots. Needless to say, I was feeling quite apprehensive – not only for embarking on a four day trip out to sea as the only female on board along with 3 blokes, but also because I was dressed as a pirate’s wench, complete with vintage bodice, gold-trimmed hat and dagger. Not my usual attire for 6am.

Andrew, ever committed no matter the cause, coordinated perfectly with his shoulder parrot, thick wig of black dreaddies, red velvet vest and buccaneer pants. We made for a cute pair of swashbucklers. With our 2 deckies in tow, we headed for the official breakfast and blessing of the fleet. A small gathering of competitors rose to the challenge of the fancy dress. I felt strangely reassured upon seeing cross-dressing lady-beetles, tutus, and other pirates down at the Yacht Club


Before this trip, I had gone searching the seas for billfish (Marlin and Sailfish), only twice – where I mainly just read and sipped wine. I had never actually seen one. As apex predators, these fish can outsmart even the savviest fishermen. I was beginning to think they were simply an old sea tale – mythical creatures of the deep. My luck was about to change. 

We charged into the challenge, copping quite a hiding from the wake of bigger class boats (between 20-55ft). The team’s spirits were high as we powered off into the horizon, keen for adventure. It occurred to me that I was living the dream of almost every fishing enthusiast stuck back on the mainland at work. I had to pinch myself to check it was really happening. Here I was, completely inexperienced in all things pelagic, yet I was setting off to chase the marlin and sailfish of the wide blue ocean. The notorious country of Cape Bowling Green awaited. Competing against boats much larger than ours and against competitors who have spent their lives on the water, I felt quite humble yet utterly euphoric by just being part of the action and seeing it all unfold. 

It’s a good thing I love to soak up a bit of sun, crack a beer, and chat away the afternoon because that’s about all that really happened on the first day. To be fair, our 2 industrious deckies worked solidly rigging baits and hauling up the outriggers – having to redo it each time a pesky mackerel or tuna bit it all off. I took the first day to watch and learn…and supervise. By the second day I was itching to have a go. Bless the boys for their patience; as a teacher myself, I applaud their teaching practices. Coxy and Landy taught me all they could and soon enough I was covered in bait guts and wetting a few lines. 

As the crew’s skipper, it was Andrew who first raised the alarm. Seeing the ever-cunning sailfish eying off our skip baits and teaser at the back of the boat, the team leapt into action. Absolute chaos broke out. Beer flew, prawns were dropped and I ear-marked the page in my novel the quickest I’ve ever done in my life. The sound of the 8 kilo line hurling off the reel is something that now will forever echo in my memory. We’d managed to outsmart the notoriously crafty sailfish. With rod in hand, I soon realised that this was a completely different kettle of fish to my previous experience of “bottom-bashing” at the reef.

On the end of the line was a 40kg, 3m sailfish, thrashing as hard as she knew how.

Blog by Tamara Dawson Fishing

The 2 hours and 15 minutes that followed has taught me many lessons. Without Andrew’s truly impressive driving skills to re-manoeuvre the boat each and every time the fish decided to charge off back down for another 20m sprint, Coxy’s instruction and constant motivation, and Landy’s Spartan-like tagging skills, there is a very real chance I would have ended up coming first place in the Underwater Wiremen’s Club.

With a bit of luck on our side, I managed to do the exact same thing on the final day of the competition. Being a relatively quiet year with only 30 fish caught spread amongst 25 boats, it was enough to land me the title of Champion Female Angler. The ear-to-ear smile is still beaming from my face.

Of course, the win is entirely due to the success of the team. The boys were simply outstanding in teaching me what to do – from rigging the baits to the critical “lift and wind”. Initial trepidations were overcome upon setting out on the water.

And what an experience to share with my future husband!

His passion for adventure is infectious and it’s one of the many reasons I am absolutely in love with him. As friends, he encourages me to face the formidable, to try new things and to hold on tight even as the waves rise to 2 metres, amidst 20 knot winds. As partners, teammates in life, we overcome things together – tagging the big fish, riding the waves, enjoying every moment and living to tell the tale.

This experience runs a close second place to the upcoming wedding in this year’s calendar. With a fantastic win for my first voyage, I’m already designing next year’s costume and we have big plans for competing in 2016 and for many seasons to come.


Written by Tamara Dawson

Having lived in Townsville since 2011, Tamara has fallen in love with the city and lives with her fiancé, who she met after moving here. An English and History teacher by trade, she is currently working part time in order to write her thesis for a Masters of Education.

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