The history of the Lae Game Fishing Club

Compiled from contributions from Geoff Drake, Kerry King, Barry Mallet and Ian Bull. Last update April 12, 2004.

Forming the Lae Game Fishing Club was the brainchild of Bill Honisett and Geoff Drake. They got together one day in Bill’s office and compiled a list of people likely to be interested and personally canvassed them to attend a meeting at the Lae Yacht Club.

In August 1971 a meeting was convened to form the Lae Game Fishing Club and to seek affiliation with the Queensland Game Fishing Association. Bill Honisett was elected President and Geoff Drake Secretary.

Affiliation was granted in October 1971 and at that time the club had around thirty anglers on its books.

The first fish boated within the club was a Bronze Whaler Shark of 62lb caught by Geoff Drake on 03/10/71. The line class was 20lb and the capture took 1 hour 40 minutes and was made difficult by the shark being hooked in the tail.

It was soon felt that fish were not plentiful around Lae and the bigger boats led by Neil Leydon’s 30ft Striker Anita and Keith Bradford’s 25ft Bertram Cheri made several trips to the Tami and Finschhafen waters. The Tami Islands were found to be teeming with surface fish and thus began a period of long range club fishing which culminated in establishment of the annual Tami Comp pilgrimage.

On one of these trips the humble gumi squid came into its own as opposed to the then more conventional spoons and jigs. Neil Leydon, Geoff Drake and Patrick Elder caught all their fish on red/white gumi squids. The best fish of the day was a 38lb mackerel on 20.

Bill Honisett was transferred back to Madang not long after the Club was formed and Neil Leydon was elected as his replacement. Neil had the honour of landing the Club’s first Australian Record. 93 lb dogtooth tuna on 80lb on 26/12/71. He was fishing off Tami and had the big line down for a shark. Neil had to get out all the fish identification books to realise just what he had caught.

The ‘Big One’ came on 22 July 1972 when Elder boated the Club’s first billfish, a black marlin of 110.5lb on 50lb line. The boat was Frank & Gai Haviland’s Kaibari and the method used caused quite a stir at the time. The boat was trolling slowly, stopped and let the bait sink then started up again allowing the bait to slowly come to the surface.

Leydon also took the honours with the Club’s second Australian Record, this time a dogtooth tuna of 116.5lb on 50lb. Back in those early days there were around 20 active Club members living in the Finschhafen area.

The Club’s first organised weekend competitions away from Lae were held in 1972. The first of these was held at Finschhafen and was well supported although no billfish were caught. The second was held from the South Pacific Timbers logging camp at Kui, in the Fly/Straggling Island area. Twenty five boats took part and fifty six anglers registered fish. Once again no billfish were caught but some good captures were records on light tackle. In the fleet of boats that attended the Kui competition some were in the 12 to 14ft range which just goes to show the keenness of some anglers in those days.

Between 1972 and 1976 Club members competed in the Port Moresby International Competition, the First Dunk Island Classic, the Innisfail Centenary Tournament, the Cairns International Billfish Tournament, the Moreton Bay Bluefin Tuna Competition and the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.

The 1st GFAPNG National Titles were held in Rabaul in 1976. Seventeen LGFC members competed under Kerry King, the newly elected Club President.

Lae was then awarded the 2nd National Titles (Easter 1977) and the Club enthusiastically set about organising it out of Finschhafen. 1982 saw the 7th GFAPNG National Titles held in Lae. The President at the time was Brian McMullen and this event was quite a success with marlin, sailfish, sharks, mackerel and big dolphin fish being weighed. In those days boats were permitted to depart for fishing at any time after midnight each day – Ian Bull’s Escape, Kerry King’s Kingfisher, Morgan Dyhr’s Pegasus and Don Elliott’s Manta duly left at 1am with headlights blazing and arrived at Waria patches in time for Lines In at 6am. Three things resulted out of this daring and camaraderie – firstly, starting with the next titles and for evermore the powers that be changed ‘earliest departure time’ to 5am! – secondly, Escape took out the major prizes (mackerel on light tackle) and lastly and more importantly a group of members were bitten with the ‘far fields’ bug.

This bug resulted in a group, including the above and with the addition of John Atherton’s Sunbird & Roger Gillbank’s Mosa planning and doing the Bougainville Titles the following year. This major trip of over 2,000 miles (going via Kandrian, Pomio & Buka Passage and returning via Buin, Woodlark Island, Egum Atoll, Ferguson Island & Tufi) by club boats was the start of the club’s proud tradition of support for titles outside Lae. Substantial flotillas of club boats have attended all subsequent Madang and Rabaul titles greatly assisting these clubs. It also spawned Christmas (holiday season conveniently coinciding with the doldrums) trips by club boats in following years to the Trobriands, Woodlark, Egum Atoll & Samaria/Louisiades in the south and in more recent years, Siassi, Arawes and Lindenhafen to the north and east.

The 12th National Titles (1987) were hosted by the LGFC out of Salamaua. Logistically this was the most difficult feat in titles history. It seems like half of Lae was being transported on boats and barges to set it up. All went very well socially with 102 anglers taking part. The only set back was the atrocious weather and a lone billfish actually boated, although probably 20 or more were reported as strikes or hook ups during the final 2 days. The best fish of the tournament was a 23kg wahoo take on 8kg line by a visiting angler.

Lae’s next National Titles was the 17th (1992) and this proved to be a very successful event. The Huon Gulf turned on fish as it had never done before. By the close of the tournament 150 anglers had caught over 2545kg of fish, made up of 345 captures comprising 18 different species. The highlights of the tournament were the sheer number of big yellowfin tuna weighed in, the largest tipping the scales at 71kg.

The club pitched in at short notice to host 20th National Titles in 1995 after the eruption of the Rabaul volcanoes put paid to a Rabaul titles that year. A record number of anglers took part with 45 boats and 221 registered anglers from Papua New Guinea, Australia & New Zealand competing. The total weight of fish caught was 3006kg comprising of 13 different species. In all 30 marlin and 4 sailfish were captured (this includes tagged fish). There were 373 captures. At these titles the real potential of the Huon Gulf for marlin was realised. Up until then only two or thee billfish captures were recorded each year. Subsequently, spurred by the efforts and expertise of John Cross and others, the billfish potential has been realised with 40-50 captures recorded each year. It is good to record that the vast majority have been tagged & released.

With the absence of both Bougainville & Rabaul from the circuit, the next Lae National Titles came in 1998 followed by ‘the best titles ever’ in 2002 after Rabaul stood up again for the Centenary year. Preparation for the 2002 Titles saw the club build the Radio Shack, partly as a contribution towards the new Lae Yacht Club and partly to ensure facilities would be in place for the titles – the titles committee moved in as the carpenters moved out! The club received invaluable assistance in this project from Ron Dickson who contributed his time and effort supervising construction. Planning was by our master draughtsman and then Secretary, Lester Rohrlach. Many local companies also contributed, the final cost being around K80,000 and value around K120,000. The Radio Shack, which started life on the drawing board as a small dog box sitting at the corner of the ramp, also incorporates LGFC club meeting & storage rooms upstairs and marina ablutions and laundry block downstairs.

Although the club had been tagging for some years prior, the tagging of billfish was pioneered by Barry Mallett in 1987. Barry tagged a sailfish in the closing hours of the last day (June 30) of the club year earning the ridicule of a number of prominent members. Brendon Tait tagged the first marlin (blue) on Christmas day 1988 off Mosquito Island (in the Flys). Although marlin had not been discovered in any quantity in those days, Barry, Brendon Tait and Richard Bull led a relative sailfish tagging spree from 1988 through 1992 which saw sails schooling in at least one area (outside Lasanga Is). It is pleasing to report that tagging has now become very much the rule rather than the exception.

The level of company sponsorship, both for National Titles and Monthly Club Competitions, has been and continues to be, at such a high level as to give LGFC the highest total and active membership in PNG.

LGFC holds all its meetings at the Radio Shack and displays news items tournament details and trophies in the Lae Yacht Club.