Newcastle Port Stephens Game Fishing Club have received 95 entries for their modified tournament, the Garmin-D'Albora Port Stephens Classic, this weekend.
The club was scheduled to hold their annual Garmin Billfish Shootout Tournament but changed tack to avoid issues with COVID restrictions on gatherings.
Still a Saturday-Sunday event, the Port Stephens Classic has $18,000 prizes for champion boat tag and release, most meritorious capture billfish and most meritorious capture shark.
The most meritorious awards take into account the line strength weight as well as the fish size. The division replaces traditional awards like heaviest marlin and shark.
Although less prizes are on offer, the big cash up for grabs for the winners has ensured plenty of interest.
Brent "Hammer" Hancock, from Tackle World Port Stephens, was busy this week helping customers prepare for the tournament and the following weekend's NSW Interclub competition.
"The reason for the change was simply because of COVID," Hancock said.
"We couldn't run a proper tournament, so to speak, because of COVID. You can't have presentations and all that.
"We attract 800 anglers to the Billfish Shootout and we just couldn't have that many people in one spot because of COVID. The decision was made to have a smaller tournament, but in saying that, we've still got 95 boats fishing it, so it's still a pretty good tournament."
The interclub contest will also take on a new format in which boats leave and return from their home port instead of congregating at a host venue.
"I believe there's still about 100 boats fishing it out of Port Stephens and the rest are scattered from Coffs Harbour down to Eden, so it's going to be very interesting," Hancock said.
The changes across both events have generated plenty of questions and debate online.
"It's a different environment, and the thing is, if you don't like the look of the tournament, don't fish it," Hancock said.
"Everything is different these days, even our lifestyle, so unfortunately it's a shock to the system for everybody, but you can still go fishing, so it could be worse."
While competition anglers will be chasing trophy fish, Hancock said plenty was on offer inside Nelson Bay.
"Inside the bay as been really red-hot," he said.
"All that rain has flushed a lot of bait into the bay, a lot of white bait, frog-mouthed pilchards ... so the pelagic action has been unreal.
"There's been bonito and tailor throughout the bay and mack tuna gorging themselves on white bait.
"The flathead fishing in the bay has been sensational the last couple of months and the whiting is good as well.
"Offshore around the reefs, there's still been good snapper and trag.
"Obviously the marlin fishing is still good. No one has been out for a few days, so the fish have been left alone, so it's going to be interesting come Saturday-Sunday to see what happens, after this southerly blow."
Jason "One For" Nunn, from Fishermans Warehouse Marks Point, can sense a change coming with bream biting more and more in Lake Macquarie.
"The estuaries are fishing really well," Nunn said.
"There's still plenty of bream and whiting around. Surprisingly the whiting are batting on nicely but there's some class bream being caught right through the estuaries and on the beaches.
"There's a lot of travelling bream along the coast, coming into the estuaries, which is a sure sign autumn is just around the corner.
"There's also good flathead around. One of our regulars, Ronny Owens, he got some nice flathead and bream last Thursday. But we're also starting to see a sprinkling of tailor back in the estuary and along the beaches.
"Water temp on the beach is around 20-21 degrees, so it's quite good. There's also good kings in the lake because there's a lot of very nice squid around."
Two Charlestown Anglers Club members had some intimidating competition for snapper during their trip to Harrington last weekend.
Snapper was the bonus species for the three-day competition, which hit some ordinary weather but also catches for most members.
Troy Terrill reported that one pairing decided to anchor up and burley in the hunt for snapper only to attract a great white shark, which circled their boat for 30 minutes. Not surprisingly, they had no luck finding snapper there.
Terrill was the men's champion with 11 fish, taking in six species, just in front of Scott Nugent, who had 10 fish with five species.
Women's winner was Tahnee Pike with a couple of reds. Josh Maher was the junior boys' champion.
Charlestown's next weigh-in competition is on March 5.