With its veritable roll call of Australia’s most highly prized fish species and a marine topography that seems as if it was put together purely with the enjoyment of anglers in mind, it really is difficult to mount a case against Exmouth being this country’s hottest sport and game fishing destination. It stands to reason then that Exmouth’s biggest annual sport and game fishing tournament, GAMEX, should hold pride of place as Western Australia’s premier fishing event.
Over its 50 plus year history, GAMEX has been responsible for more state, national and world records than any other Aussie fishing tournament. Testament to kind of action that this ever-popular tournament can and usually does turn on each year.
GAMEX’s lofty reputation amongst keen fishos as one of the country’s best tournaments spans not just this continent but across the seas as well. It’s quite amazing just how many international anglers hold fishing Exmouth and GAMEX as an aspirational goal, and each year quite a few make the pilgrimage to what, for them, is the far edge of the world to realise this ambition.
But as exciting and enjoyable as participating in this highly renowned fishing event is, a common complaint from GAMEX competitors – particularly those not based in Exmouth – is that it’s impossible to beat the local crews. I’ve even heard accusations that the competition is rigged to ensure only locals win the chocolates! Take it from someone who is up to his neck in assisting the Exmouth Game Fishing Club host the event each year, there is absolutely way and no how the results of a set format tournament like this can be skewed. And while it will always be true that Exmouth based teams do have the advantage of local knowledge, any visiting team that fishes smart has just as high chance of taking out a win.
Unfortunately though, year after year we see many crews and competitors make simple mistakes which essentially put themselves out of the running. Cutting out these lapses and turning your crew into a team to be reckoned with is relatively easy, really only requiring a bit of pre-planning and focus.
So then, what follows is the inside scoop on how to get yourself to the head of the GAMEX winners list.
Tournament Structure ‘Winning’ GAMEX is something of a misnomer, as this is a diverse tournament which is designed to cater to anglers of all ilks and inclinations. GAMEX currently features 27 categories across capture, line class, tag & release, team and individual sections for small fry, juniors, female and male anglers, so there’s a heap of opportunity for any team to take out multiple categories and end up with a mountain of great prize swag on presentation night.
However, there are two overall categories which could be considered the ‘major’ sections, and as such, have the greatest value cash and prize booty attached to them to reflect their prestige within the tournament results. These two categories are Champion Team Tag & Release Marlin and Champion Team Overall Capture/Tag & Release.
Champion Team Tag & Release Marlin is one of the more popular sections, which is to be expected given Exmouth’s well deserved status as a billfish hotspot. It’s a marlin only section, seeing as there is a separate sailfish catch & release section. To further even out the stickfish field, Champion Tag & Release Billfish sections for boats under and over seven metres in length are also included in the event structure, although the extraordinarily close proximity of Exmouth’s billfish grounds to shore mean that teams fishing out of small boats really don’t have any disadvantage against those in bigger cruisers.
There’s also three ‘tackle category’ sections for those wanting to chase billfish. These are Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish Light Tackle (1-10kg line), Medium Tackle (15-24kg line) and Heavy Tackle (37-60kg line). These three sections were recently introduced to provide a greater spread of winning teams on the billfish side of the tournament.
To compete in the Champion Team Tag & Release Marlin category you pretty much have to fish solely for billfish right throughout the six days of GAMEX, purely because it’s a hotly contested section that lots of teams choose to focus on. A consistent performance making the most of your opportunities to hook and tag fish across the length of the event will rack up enough points to put you in the running for the win, but keep in mind that most teams that win this section will usually manage at least one hot day. So if you’re back in the pack early on in the event, hold fast to the knowledge that it only takes that one good day or one good patch of fish to rocket up the leader board.
Champion Team Overall Capture/Tag & Release is the ‘across the board’ section which basically shows off the incredible diversity of Exmouth’s sport and game fishing. Point scoring fish in this section are any species which are recognised as ‘game fish’ by the Game Fishing Association of Australia (GFAA), which in Exmouth waters means you can realistically chase over 40 different species. Although it’s not really practical to compare the two major categories, the team that wins this section will arguably need a wider skill set to rack up enough points across enough species and line classes to come out on top.
Although all GAMEX sections revolve around point score in order to evaluate the merit of any capture against the line class used, the Champion Team Overall Capture/Tag & Release is a wholly point-centric section. So to fish it with a view to win, you must always be looking to maximise point score by catching as many different species of game fish on as many different line classes as you can. We will discuss exactly how to go about this in more detail a little later.
Outside of the major sections and those centred around billfish come what we could term the individual sections. These categories are for the highest point scoring captures (excluding sharks and billfish) on line classes 1kg, 2kg, 3kg, 4kg, 6kg, 8kg and 10kg, as well as champion angler categories for Small Fry (under 11 years old), Junior (11-15 years old), Female and Male anglers. Most years it’s possible to chase one of these supplemental sections to try to score a prize right up until the final hour of the event, which means there’s always ‘live’ sections until the final lines out call goes over the radio.
So that’s the tournament structure and sections in a nutshell. The big tip here then is to decide which section you’re going to focus on well before the tournament starts. The worst move you can make is to just go out and fish for whatever comes along, because then you’re handing your chances of a section win straight over to lady luck. And as we all know, she can be a real bitch at times.
Train your Team Tournament fishing is a team sport, and a team that is well drilled and ready to roll will always beat an under-prepared and ill-practiced team in any sport. So, if at all possible, get your team together in the months, weeks or days leading up to GAMEX and spend some on-water time training, even if it’s only ‘dry run’ training in waters where there’s not really any chance of actually catching the fish species you’ll be after during GAMEX.
A good tournament fishing team is one in which every member knows their roll and how to perform it; whether that be on the rod, clearing the other gear, driving the boat, taking the leader or tagging/gaffing/netting the fish. Experience is the ultimate teacher for any tournament team, but that doesn’t necessarily mean than an inexperienced team can’t compete.
For example, every GAMEX we see quite a few anglers who achieve the always memorable feat of catching their first billfish during the tournament. These first time billfish anglers usually enter with the mindset of enjoying the experience and camaraderie of the event, rather than with any real ambition to win. However, even a group of absolute billfish newbies can put themselves in with a chance of scoring some great prizes if they concentrate on fishing as a team.
With a little research, advice from experienced anglers and that aforementioned practice, it’s easy enough to have your team all in sync and anticipating what is going to happen when a billfish comes up on a bait or lure. If everyone aboard knows the theory of what to do to end up successfully hooking, fighting and tagging that first fish, it really only takes a couple of successful encounters for even a flat out first time crew to click into gear and be able to compete in a tournament situation.
On that point of seeking advice from other fishos, one of the truly great aspects of fishing a tournament like GAMEX is that it offers a tremendous learning opportunity. Other competitors, event organisers and local captains are usually only too happy to help any fellow fishos seeking knowledge that might improve their fishing, and GAMEX even features a dedicated Pro Clinic night prior to the start of fishing where local and visiting experts freely offer their advice and expertise on a range of cutting edge subjects delivered in a formalised setting.
Have a Game Plan No team can succeed without a solid game plan, and in a fishing tournament that game plan is really all about which sections you’re going to target and the tactics and tackle you’re going to use to achieve that goal.
As mentioned, one of the biggest mistakes teams fishing GAMEX make is to just go out and fish without having a focus which section or sections they are trying to win. The sections you’ll chase is something that you MUST decide on well before the tournament starts so that you can tailor your gear, techniques and fishing location to catching what are high point scoring fish in your chosen section. If you fish without this focus, your odds of winning a significant prize decrease dramatically.
However, GAMEX being a six day tournament means there is the opportunity to have a plan B if things don’t pan out quite as you’d hoped. Say for example, you’re looking to strive for the win in the Champion Team Tag & Release Marlin section, but around halfway through the event a few boats also targeting marlin have been on fire and have racked up a lead you just can’t see your team pegging back. With two or three days left to fish, there’s still plenty of time to shift focus to another section.
In this scenario you could focus on sailfish for the Champion Boat Tag & Release Sailfish section, nominate one single angler only to take all the rest of the billfish hook-ups you see to try to win one of the Champion Angler Tag & Release Billfish (Small Fry, Junior, Female or Male) sections, fish a specific line class to attempt to win Champion Boat Tag & Release Billfish Light, Medium or Heavy Tackle sections, or forget the billfish sections completely and go chase a fish that will win you a line class section. If you plan your work and work your plan there’s really a very high probability of your team winning one or more GAMEX sections.
The perception many people have of sport and game fishing tournaments – especially those involving billfish – is that they are only for folks with big boats and big budgets, but this in no way true of GAMEX. Trailerboats actually have an advantage in this comp over the bigger launches, especially if your team is targeting multiple sections or the overall win.
Smaller trailerboats can relocate quickly and easily, making game plan changes to take advantage of a hot bite or shoot off to an entirely different location to rack up some quick points an everyday option, whereas bigger boats take valuable tournament time to relocate, so are largely locked in to their original plan.
For example, if you’re fishing the Champion Team Overall Capture/Tag & Release section out of a small trailerboat, you can head out off the west side of North West Cape one day to bank some billfish tag and release points, then easily be at the bottom of Exmouth Gulf the next to rack up line class capture points on light tackle sportfish like queenies, trevally and cobia. For bigger launches this kind of flexibility is a logistical nightmare, but for the trailerboat team it’s no more difficult than driving to a different boat ramp at the start of the day.
The Five Ps We’ve all heard the old adage of the five Ps - Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. Similarly to having your game plan sorted ahead of the comp, you simply have to have all your gear prepped and ready to roll as far ahead of the tournament start as possible.
If you’re going to fish multiple sections or target the Champion Boat Overall section, this might mean a lot of gear to be rigged and readied. Point scoring across a variety of line class requires quite a few outfits, and replacing line, setting drags, tying rigs, constructing leaders etc is no ten minute job. So at some stage prior to the tournament, get the team together and spend a night sorting out all the gear that will be needed for the duration of the event.
Getting the gang together to rig everything up can actually be a valuable team building experience, with plenty of time to discuss tactics and make sure everyone is on the same page. Throw in a few cold ones and it usually turns into a good night with the boys, having a laugh and building the anticipation of what hopefully will be six straight days of epic Exmouth fishing.
A good tip if you’re planning on fishing multiple line classes is to simply run a short top shot of a chosen line class to help cut down on the need for thousands of dollars in outfits all holding different breaking strain mainlines. The recent changes to GFAA regulations regarding backing line breaking strain and the use of braid for backing means that it’s now much easier to change line class on any given outfit with a quick re-spool of a tournament evening, or even out on the boat.
The GFAA regulation on backing line states that a catch shall be classified under the breaking strain of the first five metres of the line directly preceding the double, leader and hook. Therefore, just a short top shot of your chosen line class is fine for tournament fishing, which means changing this out is simple and inexpensive. However, be aware that GFAA record claims require 16 metres of line from the hook to be supplied, so perhaps making your top shot 20 metres at a minimum is good practice just to be safe.
Speaking of GFAA regulations, a major part of your preparation is knowing and understanding them. Most of us don’t fish to GFAA regulations in our regular fishing, so perhaps aren’t familiar with these rules which apply strictly to most tournaments as well as record claims. So be sure to visit the GFAA website: www.gfaa.asn.au or grab a copy of the annual GFAA journal, study up on the official rules for equipment and make doubly sure all of your gear is within these rules so that you don’t end up having catches disqualified.
Although this is a fundamental requirement of fishing any tournament, it’s astounding how year after year, teams neglect to check their gear against the rulebook and end up having catches disallowed as a result. I’ve seen some great fish disqualified by simple oversight, causing absolute heartbreak at the weigh station as fantastic prizes and potential record claims go begging. You’ll need to present your gear for inspection with each fish weighed in, and random gear checks take place right throughout the tournament, so you will get checked at some stage.
The most common equipment violation anglers in any tournament get disqualified for is their leader line (the terminal end of your set up running from the leader connection to the bend of the last hook) being too long. GFAA regulations for leader length with saltwater fish species are as follow (correct at time of writing) – In all line classes up to and including 10kg the leader shall be limited to 4.57m (15ft). The combined length of the double line and leader shall not exceed 6.1m (20ft). The leader on all classes of tackle over 10kg shall be limited to 9.14m (30ft). The combined length of the double line and leader shall be limited to 12.19m (40ft).
Many fishos using pre-made (i.e. purchased from a tackle store) wind-on leaders get caught out here by assuming that these off the shelf leaders will conform to GFAA regulations, which often is not the case. So you will need to get the get the measuring tape out on these. Also keep in mind that nylon monofilament and fluorocarbon can stretch and lengthen when placed under load, so a leader that was right on the legal length when it first went into the water may measure over the limit once it’s been through a lengthy battle with a big fish. So to be safe, always run your leaders a foot or so short of maximum length.
Remember too that no one wants to see disqualifications due to rules breeches, so the tournament Weighmaster and officials are always there to help, both during and before the event. If you’re unsure about any equipment or tournament rules, just ask.
Fish the Card As mentioned earlier, GAMEX is essentially a line class point score tournament, so maximising the points you achieve with each fish landed or tagged & released is crucial to success. The way to do this is to understand the tournament rules and fish to them.
Now an important point to note here. The tournament rules are distinct from those GFAA equipment regulations we just talked about. Tournament rules cover localised things like fishing times, fishing areas, logging of tags, weigh in times and so on and so on. The GAMEX tournament rules can be found here, are provided as a hard copy to each team in the team info kits (boat bags) and are read out during the briefing night at the start of the tournament, so there’s no excuse to not be fully aware of them.
While the tournament rules cover all manner of tournament regulations, what we’re talking about here is how to best try to win sections. So from that perspective it’s the point score structure which is the key aspect of the GAMEX tournament rules.
The scoring system differs between tag & release captures and actual landed fish brought to the weigh station. The tag and release sections are simple in that each fish (marlin, sailfish, swordfish, spearfish or shark) scores a set amount of points depending on line class used but regardless of the estimated size of the fish. At time of writing (January 2021, so please check the tournament rules closer to the tournament start as the scoring system may be subject to change) the GAMEX tag & release sections point score system is as follows –
Marlin/swordfish on 1-10kg line = 600pts. On 15-24kg line = 500pts. On 37-60kg line = 400pts. Sailfish/spearfish on 1-10kg line = 500pts. On 15-24kg line = 400pts. On 37-60kg line = 300pts. Whaler shark on 1-10kg line = 200pts. On 15-24kg line = 100pts. On 37-60kg line = 50pts. Other GFAA recognized shark species on 1-10kg line = 300pts. On 15-24kg line = 200pts. On 37-60kg line = 100pts. Points accrued for the tag & release sections are per tag, not per line class.
So you can see from this that to score maximum points in the marlin/swordfish, sailfish and shark tag & release sections you just need to tag as many fish as possible, ideally fishing the lighter line classes to maximize points per fish.
The catch and weigh sections (which exclude all sharks and billfish) are scored using a formula of the weight of the fish x 100 then divided by the line class used. So for example, an 18kg Spanish mackerel caught on 6kg line would score 300 points, and likewise a 3kg spotted mackerel caught on 1kg line would also score 300 points.
The only exception to this scoring formula is for golden trevally weighed in on 1kg line where the formula is the weight of the fish x 50 then divided by the line class used. The reason for this exception is that big, heavy, and therefore, extremely high point scoring golden trevally can be found in very shallow water making them relatively easy (compared to most other species) to catch on 1kg line. The point score a big golden can achieve on 1kg line was deemed to have unfairly skewed GAMEX results in the past, hence this rule change was made some years back.
But here’s the rub; only your highest point scoring fish of each species on each line class will actually score you points. This prevents competitors simply continuing to weigh in the same species on the same line class each day and racking up points purely on volume of fish caught. Therefore, the best way to build a potentially winning point score (particularly for the individual and Champion Team Overall sections) is to land as many different species of fish on as many different line classes as you can.
Everyone’s a Winner The great thing about a tournament like GAMEX is that it’s ultimately up to you and your team as to how you want to fish it. Those with a competitive streak can go hard trying for the win and get their enjoyment out of the contest, while those that are more interested in having fun can take a much more relaxed approach, sink a few frothies and just fish socially. With such a wide spread of sections and prizes given those 27 categories, either way there’s still a very good chance of picking up a prize or two. Add to that daily random spot prizes and giveaways, and it’s a rare thing indeed for a GAMEX team to come away without some sort of prize to show for a fun week of fishing.
One thing that some previous GAMEX competitors have asked about in the past is whether the tournament rules can be altered to make professional charter skippers ineligible to compete. The thinking here is to try to create a more even playing field, but doing so would rob the tournament of its considerable prestige. Not coming up against some of the better operators on the west coast would take much of the challenge and ultimately, the satisfaction out of competing and winning. Better then to concentrate on improving your tournament fishing skills and tactics so that when you do achieve that section win, it really means something.
Hopefully all of the above has been useful in helping to understand the ins and outs of what is one of the largest on most prestigious fishing tournaments in the country. Here's hoping we see you next GAMEX up on stage collecting a mountain of prize plunder at the presentation night!