History – Alliance Tag and Release Tournament

Alliance Tag & Release – 10th Anniversary – The following is written by Brian Fennessy prior to the 10th Alliance Tag and Release Tournament. It gives a good insight into the formation and ethos of the Alliance that still hold true today.

Bermagui is without doubt the trailerboat capitol of Australian Gamefishing, and some may well argue the deletion of the word “Trailer boat “.
Whatever the argument for decades now, and prior to the time of Zane Grey, Bermagui has jealously guarded it’s close access to the Continental shelf and the reef areas extending to Montague Island in the North and Tathra Canyons in the South.

Bermagui Big Game Angling Club is one of the oldest gamefishing clubs in Australia, if not the oldest. There is always some debate as to whether or not the Sword Fish & Tunny Club is entitled to that title.  Certainly the Bermagui Club is one of the biggest in Australia and boasts membership of over six hundred  members. Through their affiliation with the Game Fishing Association of N.S.W. Bermagui Club have the right and exclusive right to conduct gamefishing tournaments sanctioned by that body, out of the Port of Bermagui.  That,s good if you are a N.S.W. game fishing club and there is control over the sanction of tournaments.  But with the popularity and the increasing interest in gamefishing  from trailerboats, there came the interlopers.  Yes, they came from Victoria and the A.C.T.

To state that there is no gamefishing in Victorian waters, will bring shouts of derision, but to safely say there is no Marlin fishing in Victorian waters is a fairly true statement.  There is certainly no gamefishing in Canberra .  This situation existing, Clubs from those states  wishing to conduct gamefishing tournaments  in the pursuit of Marlin and consistent Yellowfin had to travel to Bermagui.  The principal clubs who did conduct these tournaments were The Victorian Game Fishing Club,and the Latrobe Valley Game Fishing Club from Victoria and the Canberra Gamefishing Club from A.C.T.  After years of solace and virtual sole rights, Bermagui was invaded by the outsiders.  Outsiders that did not come under the auspices of the N.S.W. G.F.A.  although, of course those clubs were affiliated with the Game Fishing Association of Australia.

Prior to 1990, the clubs battled along with their  tournaments, each doing their own thing , owning their own equipment and really little co operation existed between the clubs.  Especially as the Victorian Game Fishing Club had come to the scene and claimed the Easter period for their principal tournament. Needless to say there were running battles and skirmishes between clubs and individuals.  Personality clashes and ego tripping was responsible for much dispute between the clubs.  Things could have been alot better and economically more successful .

It was in 1989, that the embryo existed that was going to be a long term resolution to the problems that existed. For some time, John JONES, Ampol Distributor for the Cooma area, and owner of the Ampol base in Bermagui , had a desire to sponsor a gamefishing tournament in Bermagui. To this date his opportunity had not arisen.  On the other hand, Laurie COLEMAN, then President of the  Victoria Game Fishing Club  had a vision of  a tournament conducted out of the Port  of Bermagui, that would be Tag and Release only.  Two situations that existed with no relationship at the time, that could in the future be impacting on gamefishing out of the Port of Bermagui.

. At that particular time there were people in each club that did conduct tournaments out of the Port of Bermagui, who were sensible enough and somewhat visionaries to the future to encourage gamefishing and to want to put an end to minor squabbles and get on with a united front to the common interest.  Adrian CROTHERS was at the time President of Bermagui Club and was ably supported by Jim UTTLEYMORE, Rob Martin and Roger ZWYERLIEN represented Latrobe Valley, whilst Canberra were represented by Dave BUTTERS   The Victorian Gamefishing Club was represented by Laurie COLEMAN and Brian FENNESSY.                

There were of course preliminary informal talks between the individual parties and then a decision was taken that we should meet at the Horseshoe Bay Hotel , the home and virtual museum of Bermagui Clubs history Papers were presented by each Club on their particular points of view and their vision for club co operation in the future.  As the particular clubs represented gamefishing from different states there could be no formal arrangement that would bring the clubs together under any united banner that could be sanctioned by  the Game Fishing Associations.  The union was to be informal.

“ALLIANCE “ among other meanings, is “ The union or connection of interests,  A contract or treaty between persons or parties connected or allied” Really the perfect description of what was to be achieved. The meeting was long and analytical and there was plenty of food for thought.  However the initial step forward was that the four clubs concerned would unite and conduct a Tournament of “Goodwill “, that would promote the ethics and traditions of gamefishing as they are meant to be and encourage fellowship among anglers. The ALLIANCE TAG AND RELEASE GAMEFISH TOURNAMENT  was born.

To incite interest, this tournament was to be different.  Different in that firstly, there was to be no capture of fish and secondly we were to introduce Team Fishing. Team Fishing is the selection of three boats and the aggregate points at the conclusion of the tournament  is counted against all other teams.  The highest point scoring team wins and takes the most prestigious trophy. A real encouragement in co operation.

Each Club was required to financially commit and thus fund the first tournament.  The plan was that as time went by, the small profits that were anticipated would repay each club.  On the other hand one of the concepts of the  plan was that cost of the tournament would be kept to a minimum with all monies being returned to the competing anglers in one form or another. Principally through benefits.  All facets of the tournament were offered in option form, that is shirts, B.B.Q. and final dinner were all options and not compulsory upon the angler. Cost cutting to the competitor, and the subject of later  positive comment.

This tournament was intended to stand apart from other tournaments in it’s format and in it’s presentation.  It was not intended to be an elitist tournament, but a tournament that was to extol the virtues of the traditions and ethics of the sport and to encourage  anglers to understand the camaraderie that should exist in the gamefishing circles.  To take this issue a little further, there were to be no trophies in kind to the winning teams or anglers.  All trophies are perpetual and are represented to the winner by a Photo plaque or a wooden fish replica, with little monetary value.

In selling a tournament to anglers that did not allow the capture of fish  and secondly did not have trophies of great monetary value was seen to be a huge task, especially as the anglers were expected to pay to enter.  I am sure that the commitment of the member clubs to this task and the individual efforts have made the Alliance Tournament what it is today.

The trophies that have been perpetuated have to be seen to be believed and they stand out as a display in the Ampol Garage at Bermagui, in a custom made glass cabinet, that emphasises their beauty and their importance to a fraternity that increases each year.  The Team and Male angler trophies are beautifully carved wooden trophies imported from U.S.A. that I am sure will be the envy of anglers for years to come. The Champion Lady Angler trophy is somewhat reminiscent of a Wimbledon Trophy and is eagerly sought from year to year among the ladies who fish the tournament.

Our inaugural tournament, as you may well imagine , had its share of knockers.  It would never work, and if it does it will be a one year only.  An attitude that only fired the enthusiasm of the tournament organisers.  Well, if it was going to fail it was   going to fail with a resounding thud, as the invited persons were an impressive list.   Julian Pepperal , Research Scientist, and perceived Godfather of the Tag & Release programme was to address all competitors and  supporting members of the public , at the briefing. Also  invited were the Presidents of each respective State G.F.A. body as well as representatives of community bodies  and the Coast Guard.  Ampol were to be represented by John H JONES   as well as the State Manager and members of the company state executive.   That would be a bigger crash than the 87 Stock Market crash and we were not anticipating that.  It’s easy to be a knocker, support comes usually at some effort and expense.

Well  the arrival of the event on the Labour Day weekend  in March 1990 arrived and we had a total of Thirty Eight boats. Not bad for something that wasn’t going to work.  Not only did we have those boats, but the sponsors chartered well known Col O’Brien boat”Tru Dee V “ and went to sea just to see what all the action was.  While all of this was going on, the organisers had their hearts in their mouth to overcome the second hurdle. Tag a marlin.  Well we didn’t have to wait long, the first marlin was tagged in the first morning.  We were off and running.  It is somewhat akin to the first run of a test batsman. The second and the rest come pretty easy.

The success of the first tournament certainly was an aid to the focus of the Alliance objective and enthusiasm was directed to the activity of the next year and the second tournament.

The years now tick by  with the Alliance Tag & Release Tournament firmly ensconced in the South East Coast Gamefish Calender, and gaining in stature as well as Angler attendance. One of the significant features of this tournament is that to this year we have maintained the active and generous sponsorship of our two original sponsors, John H. JONES of Ampol and John DUNPHY of Shimano.  Both of these sponsors are avid in their support of tagging and releasing gamefish, and we have alot to thank them for in the maintenance  of their loyalty.

As in all corporate investment and partnerships, some time is taken to see that the road ahead is heading in the right direction, and after the conduct of six Alliance Tournaments, it was time to take stock of the situation and ascertain proper direction. To achieve this goal, the management team representing the four clubs, convened a seminar on the future of the Alliance Group of Clubs and where better to hold such a function than Fraser Island in the Gippsland Lakes. Neutral territory and half way for everyone.

Each Club was represented by some four representatives and the agenda items circulated with their respective prepared papers.  After two days of thinking, discussing, eating and drinking, the Alliance  Group came out of the Seminar with a resolution to purchase common equipment to the combined value of approximately $30,000. This equipment included a huge tournament marquee, with seating and tables to cater for all future tournaments.  B.B.Q.s to assist in the catering and ancillary items to assist in communications and the smooth and efficient running of any tournament. We were really now a co operative.  To assist further in the interaction and management of all of this newfound equipment, we drew up an agreement to use the facilities already existing in communications and a further plan for replacement needs in due course.

Now we are celebrating success together with each of the clubs involved, the individuals within those clubs  who have strived hard to make things work, and certainly with our sponsors whose loyalty has been unquestioned.

On the 6th March 1999. the Alliance group of clubs, will conduct their tenth annual Alliance Tag & Release Gamefish Tournament at Bermagui. Be part of it.