GAMEX 2023 TOURNAMENT REPORT The GAMEX sport and game fishing tournament held in Exmouth each March is Western Australia’s biggest fishing event. It’s history stems back to the very beginnings of the Exmouth township itself, and over those years Exmouth’s world class sport and game fishing has propelled the event to a level of prestige that puts it on a national and international stage.
With the spectre of a global pandemic no longer hanging over the event, GAMEX 2023 saw some new initiatives that had been in the works since before we knew what the hell a coronavirus was finally brought into being. So let’s have a look at how the 55th running of GAMEX unfolded.
Tournament Structure For those unfamiliar with the tournament structure, GAMEX features 27 different prize categories which are basically split down the middle to align with the two sides of the event – either tag & release for billfish only, or ‘overall’ which allocates points for capture (weigh in) of any Game Fishing Association of Australia (GFAA) recognised game/sport fish as well as tag and release points for billfish and certain species of shark.
The two major sections of either side of the tournament that essentially decide which team is the winner of GAMEX (and have the greatest value cash and prizes attached to them to reflect their prestige) are Champion Team Tag & Release Marlin and Champion Team Overall Capture and Tag & Release.
Under the umbrella of these two different sides of the tournament are a whole heap of supplemental prize sections which include highest point scoring fish weighed in on each line class from 1kg to 10kg, individual sections (both for overall and tag & release billfish) for small fry (under 11 years old), juniors (11-16 years old), female and male anglers, a tag & release shark section, tag & release billfish sections by light tackle (1-10kg lines), medium tackle (15 & 24kg lines) and heavy tackle (37 & 60kg lines), separate tag & release billfish sections for boats 7m & under and the bigger rigs over 7m, a tag & release sailfish section, a specific section for the highest scoring ‘first year’ GAMEX team, and also mystery prize sections.
So as you can see, there’s a lot of different prize sections to chase! The reasoning behind all this is to spread the prizes around as much as possible so its not just a handful of teams taking out everything on the presentation night, as well as to showcase the incredibly diverse sport and game fishing Exmouth is so lucky to have.
The New Big Prize One of the most common pieces of feedback received from competitors visiting Exmouth specifically to fish GAMEX is that it’s very hard to beat the local or professional crews, especially in the two major sections. There’s no doubt there’s some truth to this, and is part of the reason for such a wide spread of prize categories as mentioned above.
In a further effort to address this issue, GAMEX 2023 saw the introduction of a new marquee prize in the form of a $50,000 boat/motor/trailer package thanks to Northbank Fibreglass Boats. Rather than simply attach this awesome new prize to one of the major sections, the prize was set up to be given away via random draw.
But that didn’t mean you could just rock up, sink tins, catch nothing and maybe walk away with a shiny new boat! To be eligible for the draw, each team had to qualify by scoring points (tag & release or capture, or a combination of both) on at least two line classes across the six days of tournament fishing. With so many different species to catch and ways to score points, which should have been quite easy over nearly a week of fishing, but it was surprising to see quite a few crews not managing to get themselves in the draw…
GAMEX 2023 Action Fishing kicked off for GAMEX 2023 on Sunday, March 19 with 58 teams and 245 anglers entered. The all-important weather forecast was predicting a few windy days first up, but gradually easing off to see some nice calm conditions for the second half of the week.
The lead up to this GAMEX had been a little out of the ordinary. The current flows through the 2022/23 summer had been absolutely all over the place, resulting in one of the poorer blue marlin seasons in recent memory. Likewise, the usual inshore influx of small black marlin that typically make up most of the GAMEX tag & release catch also hadn’t kicked into gear in any meaningful way, leaving crews guessing as to what to chase and where.
Despite this, results at the end of day one had some 40 billfish tagged and released. Most of these were small to middling black marlin along with a good amount of sailfish, plus a few blues for teams who ventured beyond the shelf edge. While that’s reasonable numbers for any tournament worldwide, hot years gone past have seen over 100 billfish tagged per day during GAMEX so the billfishing was somewhat mediocre by Exmouth’s lofty standards.
That’s largely the way things remained for the rest of the tournament billfish wise, with the fleet averaging almost spot on 40 billfish tagged per day (slowest day 37, best day 42). The final billfish stats by the end of the week were a total of 237 billfish tagged, which was comprised of 161 black marlin, 68 sailfish, 7 blue marlin a single striped marlin.
As always, some nice fish were encountered amongst the standard small blacks and sails. Reel Nauti fought a big blue marlin they estimated in the 300kg plus range, getting it to the leader several times but not quite managing to get the tag in before the hook pulled at close quarters. Stormy also came up solid on a sizable blue they called as 250kg plus, but disaster stuck with the fighting chair breaking loose from its strut and the fish lost.
On the final day after a long and difficult fight on 15kg line, Blue Horizon got the tag into a black marlin they estimated at 160kg which is a quality black for Exmouth, and on the same day The Flying Freckle hooked a big sailfish which could have given the Australian Female 10kg record of 57.5kg a nudge, but opted to tag and release it. One crew member who shall remain nameless going for a little swim while getting the tag in probably had something to do with that decision too!
On the capture side of things, some crazy baitball action had been taking place around the tip of North West Cape and into Exmouth gulf for over a month prior to GAMEX, with all sorts of pelagic predators getting in on the baitfish bonanza. This bode well for some healthy captures coming to the weigh station, and was certainly the way thigs panned out.
59 point scoring fish were weighed in across the 6 days, which included Spanish mackerel, shark mackerel, school mackerel, queenfish, golden trevally, cobia, dolphinfish, yellowfin tuna, striped tuna, wahoo, barracuda, spangled emperor and chinamanfish. The highest point scoring fish was a 6.14kg golden trevally landed on 1kg by Bri Bollard fishing on Dicken’s Cider, while the biggest fish to make it to the weigh station was a 17.74kg yellowfin tuna caught by Alex Vecka on Tide Change.
Over its 50 year history, GAMEX has been responsible for more state, national and world records than any other Aussie fishing tournament, and GAMEX 2023 was no exception. There were two pending records this year, both from the same angler in eight-year-old Luke Mounsey on Awesum who had a 5.16kg queenfish on 4kg which is a pending Western Australian Male Small Fry record, and a 2.24kg spangled emperor on 1kg which is a pending National Male Small Fry record.
Speaking of the kids, opening day back on shore sees the GAMEX Family Fun Day held at the Exmouth Game Fishing Club. Supported by RecfishWest and SANTOS, the Family Fun Day is for kids and families who may be a little young or inexperienced to be out amongst the big time action, and features a mini-competition fishing from the shore in the Exmouth Marina right alongside the clubhouse.
The live fish holding tank where the fish are kept on display before being released at the end of the day is always a hit with the kids, and it's usually a bit of an eye opener to see just what oddballs the kids manage to catch aside from the regulars like bream, cod, and small trevally in this fun little satellite competition.
Case in point was four-year-old Rory Williams who pulled out a nice javelinfish of all things. He was one pumped little fella on stage at the end of the day to collect his new rod and reel as winner of the longest fish caught overall, along with all the other kids who got a little prize from Halco Lures for participating.
The Winners Slower than usual fishing does do one exciting thing for GAMEX…it makes just about every section really close and hard fought! This was especially so on the billfish side of things, with results coming right down to the bell on the last day and a bunch of sections having to be decided on countback.
In the end though, Team Black Marlin won the major billfish section of Champion Team Tag & Release Marlin with 11 marlin tagged for 5600 points, ahead of runner up Team Blue Horizon with 9 marlin tagged and 4700 points.
Evolution also had a great tournament, although missing out on the major section, took out Champion Team Tag & Release Sailfish, Champion Team Tag & Release Billfish Light Tackle (1-10kg lines), and Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish Boats Over 7m to collect a nice swag of cash and prizes.
In what is undoubtedly the most hotly contested section of GAMEX – Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish Boats 7m & Under – the scoreboard was super tight all tournament long as the trailerboats battled it out on the inshore grounds. Tide Change took the win here with 10 tags on 2 line classes for 5400 points ahead of Under Wraps who had 8 tags on 2 line classes for 4700 points.
A special mention must also go to Gold Strike II who won Champion Team Tag & Release Billfish Heavy Tackle (37 & 60kg lines). After the first three days of fishing, the boys on Gold Strike II had not even seen a billfish let alone tagged one. But 4 fish tagged on day four turned things around for them, and they ended up winning this section with 6 fish tagged on 1 line class for 2400 points. Just goes to show in a six day tournament that things can turn around fast if you just keep at it!
On the capture side of the ledger, Champion Team Overall Capture and Tag & Release was won by team Fatal Attraction who racked up 11 different species and scored points on 11 different line classes for a total score of 7578.57 points. Not far behind as runner-up was team Awesum who also tallied 11 different species on 11 different line classes for their total of 6459.83 points.
Awesum also won the Steve Pitman Memorial Trophy for the Most Skilled Angler (most species on the most line classes) with Kieran Passmore putting together 9 species on 11 line different classes over the six days fishing.
And finally, Oceans Legacy won the prize for the Highest Score from a First Year Team with their 2821 points putting them in 8th place overall. That is a fair effort considering the experienced field they were competing with.
The Northbank Boat Prize Last thing on the GAMEX 2023 Presentation Night was the drawing of the $50,000 Northbank Boats trailerboat prize. Remember, to be eligible for the draw each team had to qualify by scoring points (tag & release or capture, or a combination of both) on at least two line classes across the six days of tournament fishing. Surprisingly, some 13 teams did not qualify for the draw which for all the other teams that did qualify meant the odds of having their name pulled from the barrel were pretty damned good.
I can tell you I’ve never heard the clubhouse so quiet as the crowd eagerly awaited the winning team to be announced! The lucky team was Max Factor with anglers Dale Walker and Lee Rayson who were fishing GAMEX for the first time. Not a bad takeaway for a first time team!
The Northbank prize was awarded as a build credit, whereby the winning team could either take the 5 metre Northbank with a 75hp Mercury Outboard and Easytow trailer, or throw some more money on top of their $50,000 credit and order a larger model Northbank. The boys from Max Factor tell me they’re looking to do the latter, so we’ll hopefully see them back with their brand new Northbank next year.
GAMEX 2023 SECTION RESULTS SECTION 1 Highest Point Score Game Fish Other than Billfish or Shark Weighed in on 1kg Line WINNER:Bri Bollard Dickens Cider 6.14kg Golden Trevally RUNNER UP: Matt Gates Fatal Attraction 4.96kg Golden Trevally
SECTION 2 Highest Point Score Game Fish Other than Billfish or Shark Weighed in on 2kg Line WINNER: Jessica Hournhardt Wet Dreams 7.02kg Golden Trevally RUNNER UP: Kieran Passmore Awesum 6.92kg Narrow-barred (Spanish) mackerel
SECTION 3 Highest Point Score Game Fish Other than Billfish or Shark Weighed in on 3kg Line WINNER: Jessica Hournhardt Wet Dreams 8.18kg Golden Trevally RUNNER UP: Kalvin Gates Fatal Attraction 8.16kg Golden Trevally
SECTION 4 Highest Point Score Game Fish Other than Billfish or Shark Weighed in on 4kg Line WINNER: Jessica Hournhardt Wet Dreams 8.10kg Golden Trevally RUNNER UP: Brendan Hourn Spawn of Hourn 6.40kg Queenfish
SECTION 5 Highest Point Score Game Fish Other than Billfish or Shark Weighed in on 6kg Line WINNER: Bri Bollard Dickens Cider 9.18kg Golden Trevally RUNNER UP: Phil Conder Trust Me 7.46kg Barracuda
SECTION 6 Highest Point Score Game Fish Other than Billfish or Shark Weighed in on 8kg Line WINNER: Heath Holman Insalted 13.62kg Barracuda RUNNER UP: Khanh Nguyen Aqua 111 11.70kg Golden Trevally
SECTION 7 Des Ryan Memorial Trophy Highest Point Score Game Fish Other than Billfish or Shark Weighed in on 10kg Line WINNER: Alex Vecka Tide Change 17.74kg Yellowfin Tuna RUNNER UP:Brendon Elieff Insalted 11.78kg Narrow Barred (Spanish) Mackerel
SECTION 8 Champion Boat Tag & Release Shark WINNER: Oceans Legacy 13 tags 9 line classes = 2400 points (winner on countback of lowest average line class used) RUNNER UP: Spawn of Hourn 21 tags 3 line classes = 2400 points
SECTION 9 Champion Small Fry Angler (under 11yrs old) WINNER: Luke Mounsey Awesum 3 species 4 line classes = 1455.33 points RUNNER UP: Dean Gates Fatal Attraction 2 species 2 line classes = 1200 points
SECTION 10 Champion Junior Angler (under 16yrs old) WINNER:Jessica Hournhardt Wet Dreams 5 Species 8 Line Classes = 3529.17 points RUNNER UP: Devon Jefferies Black Marlin 1 Species 1 Line Class = 800 points
SECTION 11 Champion Female Angler WINNER:Bri Bollard Dickens Cider 5 Species 8 Line Classes = 3645.84 points RUNNER UP: Jessica Clapton The Flying Freckle 2 Species 3 Line Classes = 2800 points
SECTION 12 Champion Male Angler WINNER: Matt Gates Fatal Attraction 9 Species 10 Line Classes 6265.24 points RUNNER UP: Kieran Passmore Awesum 9 Species 11 Line Classes 6152.83 points
SECTION 13 Champion Small Fry Angler – Tag & Release Billfish WINNER:Dean Gates Fatal Attraction 1 tag 1 Line Class = 400 points RUNNER UP: VACANT
SECTION 14 Champion Junior Angler – Tag & Release Billfish WINNER: Devon Jefferies Black Marlin 1 tag 1 Line Class (15kg) = 400 points RUNNER UP: Ilish Cunningham Grand Slam 1 tag 1 Line Class (37kg) = 400 points
SECTION 15 Champion Female Angler – Tag & Release Billfish WINNER:Jessica Clapton The Flying Freckle 8 tags 3 line classes = 4300 points RUNNER UP: Janelle Hodgson Keeperinn 4 tags 2 line classes = 1900 points
SECTION 16 Champion Male Angler – Tag & Release Billfish WINNER:Dusty Miller Under Wraps 8 tags 2 line classes = 4700 points RUNNER UP: Nathan Opalinski Top Deck 8 tags 2 line classes = 3900 points
SECTION 17 Champion Boat Tag & Release Sailfish WINNER:Evolution 8 tags 2 line classes = 3900 points RUNNER UP: Tide Change 5 tags 1 line class = 2500 points
SECTION 18 Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish Light Tackle (1-10kg line) WINNER:Evolution 11 tags 1 line class = 5900 points RUNNER UP: Tide Change 9 tags 1 line class = 4900 points
SECTION 19 Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish Medium Tackle (15-24kg line) WINNER:Black Marlin 14 tags 1 line class = 6600 points RUNNER UP: Blue Horizon 10 tags 2 line classes = 4700 points
SECTION 20 Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish Heavy Tackle (37-60kg line) RUNNER UP: Stormy 6 tags 2 line class = 2400 points WINNER: Gold Strike II 6 tags 1 line class = 2400 points (winner by countback on lowest average line class)
SECTION 21 Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish – Boats 7m & Under WINNER:Tide Change 10 tags 2 line classes = 5400 points RUNNER UP: Under Wraps 8 tags 2 line class = 4700 points
SECTION 22 Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish – Boats Over 7m WINNER:Evolution 14 tags 2 line classes = 7300 points RUNNER UP: Black Marlin 15 tags 2 line classes = 7200 points
SECTION 23 Champion Boat Tag & Release Marlin WINNER:Black Marlin 11 tags 2 line classes = 5600 points RUNNER UP: Blue Horizon 9 tags 3 line classes = 4700 points
SECTION 24 Champion Boat Overall Capture/Tag & Release WINNER: Fatal Attraction 11 Species 11 line classes = 7578.57 points RUNNER UP: Awesum 11 Species 11 line classes = 6459.83 points
SECTION 25 Steve Pitman Memorial Trophy – Most Skilled Angler (most species on most line classes) WINNER: Kieran Passmore Awesum 9 species 11 line classes
SECTION 26 George King Memorial Trophy – Top Tagging Captain (most tags) WINNER: Eddy Lawler Black Marlin 15 tags
SECTION 27 Phil Tickle Memorial Trophy – Most Meritorious Capture (Highest point score capture excluding billfish or shark) WINNER: Bri Bollard Dickens Cider 6.14kg Golden Trevally on 1kg = 614 points
MYSTERY PRIZE 1 Highest Overall Point Score from a First Year Team WINNER: Oceans Legacy 2821 points (8th place overall)
MYSTERY PRIZE 2 Team Who Had the Hardest Luck WINNER:Why Not (broke down not once but twice and still managing to put some fish on the scoreboard)