Anglers have a reel-ly good time

THE 14th annual Swan Hill Combined Service Clubs Fishing Classic certainly proved it is once again reeling in plenty of bites.

A field of 100 boats, featuring two people per boat, took to the Murray River at the weekend for the popular event, run by the Rotary Club of Swan Hill and Swan Hill Lions Club.

Event spokesperson Murray Ray was thrilled with this year's turnout, saying it was reminiscent of the catch and release competition's formative years.

"Back in the early days, we had 100 boats contesting and a waiting list of 20. That went on for a few years until such time as clubs around the area started to start their own fishing competitions and we had numbers drop off," Mr Ray said.

"We had 70 boats last year and this year we are back to 100 boats, so it has been very exciting."

This year's field contained competitors from near and far, with Ray providing a glimpse into where the visitors travelled from and why they make the trip to the Heart of the Murray.

"We had entries from Port Melbourne, Glen Waverley, South Australia, so they've come from all over the place - a lot of people actually come from Chiltern. It's always pretty good that way," he said.

"We get absolutely wonderful feedback from the competitors. 

"We're also very fortunate we had a marvellous chef (David Daly) in with us all the time and people just love all the food that goes on and everything that happens.

"A lot of people have come back for years on end and even if they don't get a fish on the board, they still love it. 

"I spoke to a bloke who has been to six of our events and he said he's never been on the board, but comes back each year because they are all good blokes that we fish with. 

"It's an extremely social weekend."

Friday and Saturday night were dedicated to social networking, where guest speaker Rod Mackenzie shared his knowledge.

But it was the Saturday and Sunday where the competitors had to boat the talk, with lines being wet for more than 15 hours from some contestants.

A points system was in place for the competition, whereby a point was awarded for each cm of a native fish caught.

The winning team was the dynamic duo of Mick Wilcox and Ed Scholten, who posted a combined total of 436 points.

As a Swan Hill local, Wilcox has been involved since the inaugural event back in 2005 and loves taking part.

"It's a great competition. The camaraderie with all the boys and catching up with them - it's good fun," Wilcox said.

"It's a good feeling (winning). We got lucky on the Saturday with six Cod."

Dan O'Bryan and his partner, Jason Stevens, who finished runners-up on 318 points, enjoyed their time baiting plenty of hooks, but O'Bryan says they weren't in it to come off second best.

"I've been to twelve out of the fourteen events here. It's a really well-run event, with great numbers of fish and it's just a great weekend, O'Bryan said.

"Second is just the first loser. But it's good prizes from the sponsors as well and local businesses have done really well."

At the end of the day, there is one main reason why this competition runs - to raise money for local charities.

Having turned over more than $400,000 throughout the years, Ray, who has been involved since inception, believes the effort is always worth it.

"It's hard work, but it's beneficial because any profits that we make out of this go to a local charity as it always has before," he said.

"Last year, we gave money to Chances For Children and also the Swan Hill Fire Brigade."

As for how much money has been raised or where the money will go this year, that decision is yet to be made according to Ray.

"Those figures will be determined in the coming week or so because we still haven't even paid our accounts yet," he said.

"We'll have a meeting as a committee and make recommendations to both Rotary and Lions as where we think it would be nice for it to go to, then it's just up to the boards of both Rotary and Lions to decide."

All this could not happen without the help of the SES, who rotated with the Swan Hill Fire Brigade to be this year's marshals for the event, and while Ray also wanted to thank all the sponsors, there is just too many to count.

"We've got a list of our sponsors, and a number of them have been with us from the start, and it's just absolutely fantastic," he said.

"The (Pental Island) caravan park has been very good in letting us use their facilities on the first weekend of March each year.

"They present the caravan park in a way that everyone has a space to put their tent up and so forth and it's a great venue because everything is in the one spot."

Ray already has his sights on 2019.

"We'll be back here and at it again - hopefully with another 100 boats in tow on the first weekend of March next year," he said.

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