Darwin’s Unique Barra & Bream Comp’

Saturday, 21st July, 2012 saw the staging of the second annual Barra, Bass and Bream Digest Harbourmasters’ Invitational on the waters of Darwin Harbour. In stark contrast to last year’s event, a cool, windy dawn greeted the 41 keen competitors who made up 21 teams taking part in this year’s BBBDHI, and the stiff sou’ easter continued to build throughout the morning, peaking at close to 30 knots before subsiding a little in the early afternoon.

Matt Wheeler of team “Indisposed” with the day’s best barra at 68cm. Matt and his partner, Callum Priddle, finished second overall, just a point behind the winners.

The aim of this unique one-day tournament is straightforward enough: go out and catch as many barra and bream as you possibly can on cast-and-retrieved lures or flies (trolling, bait fishing and berleying are not allowed). However, where it gets really interesting — and very different to any other Top End fishing competition — is in the final scoring process. Only the combined lengths of the longest barra and the longest bream taken by each team actually count towards their final points’ tally. And, critically, one species doesn’t rate without the other. In other words, you could theoretically land a metre-long barramundi (a monster by Darwin Harbour standards), yet still score zero points, simply because you’d failed to catch and record a bream!

This chunky 31cm pikey bream was just enough to get “The Bald & The Beautiful” (Steve Harvey and Shane Godden) over the winner’s line. Combined with a 59cm barra, it gave them a score of 90 points, a mere one point ahead of second place!

Unique concept

My wife (and fellow writer/presenter) Jo and I devised this unusual event in an effort to effectively force Top End anglers into thinking a little more seriously about the vast schools of bream that frequent our waters, especially during the cooler months of the Dry Season.

In the past, most Top End fishos have been quite dismissive about bream and bream fishing. Yet, with my southern background and years of competing on the bream tournament circuit, I know just how challenging these little buggers can be to catch! I wanted a way of sharing that challenge with Territorians. This competition was the best way Jo and I could think of to make them take their local bream stocks a bit more seriously. It seems to have worked, too! We were also fortunate enough to secure the backing of Alex Julius and his fishing media empire. Alex’s Barra, Bass and Bream Digestmagazine fittingly became the tournament’s official naming rights sponsor from day one.

Starlo with “Arthur Bream”… a dirty big barracuda decided it needed the back half of this vital fish more than Steve did!

This year, the competition also had a new and fascinating research aspect, thanks to a request received just a few days prior to the event from Dr Mark Grubert, Senior Fisheries Scientist at NT Fisheries.

Most Darwin anglers have always assumed that only one species of true bream occurred in our waters: the ubiquitous pikey, known to science as Acanthopagrus berda. However, it now appears that there may be as many as four different varieties present here, including a very “new” species that was first described scientifically as recently as 2010.

Some of the day’s bream, kept for DNA analysis by the boffins.

The fisheries boffins are all very excited at the prospect of finding out if this new fish, known as the Pacific sea bream (A. pacificus), occurs in Darwin Harbour and, if so, how common it is. With this in mind, competitors were asked to bring in a few bream for DNA testing, and 10 specimens were duly delivered to Mark at the completion of the event. I’ll be sure to let you know the results of that DNA testing in a future issue!

The cream rises

The rough, windy conditions and relatively cool water this year certainly provided plenty of challenges for BBBDHI competitors but, as usual, the cream rose to the top. A total of 26 barra and 23 bream were recorded during the seven and a half hours of fishing, with just eight teams managing to complete the all-important “daily double” by securing both species. In the end, point scores were extremely close, with only a centimetre (one point) separating first and second place.

The eventual winners were team “The Bald and the Beautiful”, consisting of Shayne Godden and Steve Harvey, with an impressive 90 points. Just one point behind them were team “Indisposed”, made up of Matt Wheeler and Callum Priddle, and four points further astern lay the “Unsincubbles”: Glenn Hubble and Roger Sinclair. Last year’s victors, Phil Newton and Luke Adams of the “Deadly Mullets”, finished fourth this time on 81 points.

Biggest barra measured during the event was a lovely 68cm salty landed by the second-placed team “Indisposed”, while the biggest bream was a very respectable 32cm specimen recorded by team “Barrathon”: Andrew Pollard and Keith Watson. The award for most-meritorious capture went to the field’s only land-based angler, Hiro Nakamura of the one-man “Team Hiro!”, who attracted quite a crowd of lunch-time onlookers while landing a lovely 62cm barra from busy Fisherman’s Wharf, right in the heart of down-town Darwin!

Shayne Godden from “The Bald & The Beautiful” with a typical Darwin Harbour barra. By combining this 59cm fish with a 31cm bream, they guys picked up over $900 in cash and got their name on the perpetual trophy for the event.

Size matters!

One really interesting aspect of this year’s BBBDHI was the critical importance of the actual size of the bream caught. Previously, most competitors had regarded the capture of a bream (any bream!) as simply the “conversion process” needed to validate their more important barra score. However, as this year’s results proved beyond any shred of doubt, bream ain’t bream, and size does matter! So, while the second-placed team scored that beautiful, chrome-silver saltwater barra of 68cm (the longest of the day), they were only able to combine it with a modest 21cm bream for their total tally of 89 points. In contrast, the winning team’s barra measured just 59cm yet, in conjunction with a handsome 31cm bream, this was enough to elevate them to the top of the winner’s podium! Definitely food for thought…

Steve Harvey, seen here with a non-scoring golden trevally, was half of the winning team, “The Bald & The Beautiful”.

We suspect that next year, BBBDHI entrants will be placing a lot more emphasis on not only catching a bream, but also attempting to make it a good one! We also expect that the field will continue to grow in size as more and more Top End anglers learn of this unique fishing challenge and rise to the lure. Meanwhile, if you’d like to see the great YouTube clip of this year’s event, produced by my good lady, Jo, using footage and photos supplied by the entrants, simply go on-line and search for BBBDHI 2012 or click HERE. And, if you’re keen to get involved next year, jump onto the competition’s dedicated page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Harbourmasters  and register your interest right now!

Oh, and in case you still find it hard to take those pesky little bream seriously, consider this fact: Winners Godden and Harvey walked away with a cash purse of $925, in addition to the beautiful perpetual plaque… Not a bad return for a day’s fishing on the Harbour!