Coffs Harbour Stealth Comp

A few of us Mexicans decided to put our annual South West Rocks trip back a few weeks this year to coincide with the Coffs Harbour round of the Stealth offshore kayak fishing competitions. Thursday around midnight the westie half of the convoy assembled and headed to the servo for last minute checks before heading off for the meeting point at Glenrowan, two and a half hours closer to the NSW border.

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The next stop was Yass where Cheater and Kieran nursed their whiplash injuries from Leejo’s driving over breakfast. It seems Cheater’s car doesn’t have cruise control and Leejo isn’t much of a fan of constant throttle pressure. A good run of traffic through Sydney saw us arrive in Coffs Harbour in time to visit Mo Tackle before closing much to the relief of the aforementioned Leejo, the offshore newbie of the group, who had packed rods and reels but not lures or rigging tackle for the trip. With his wallet suitably lightened, we punched the address of the campsite into the GPS and made the five minute trip down the road to our home for the weekend. Cabins 226 and 227 at Park Beach Holiday park became base camp.

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A very recognisable carbon fibre ProFisha with orange tip on the roof of the car next door, identified Rokkitkit and Ant as our new neighbours, and with quick stroll around, it quickly became apparent that we had chosen the right campground with a number of Stealths to be seen on the roofs of passing vehicles.  There was a great buzz about the place (it may have been residual buzz from Chenski’s snoring during the car trip) and talk moved to tactics for the comp ahead. The forecast was looking pretty good and due to some networking on Cheater’s part, we had some GPS marks in our sounders courtesy of Tommo one of the locals, so even though we hadn’t fished that far up the coast before at least we had an idea where to head once out through the surf.

Rigging

Mozza and I made the decision to target tuna on livies for the comp, we made the call to leave off the wire traces going on the theory that more bites was a better prospect even if we got the occasional bite-off. Mozz went with two 10-15kg  rods with penn 560’s running 30lb braid to 40lb leader with a dusta and 7/0 live bait gammas. My gear was similar with an identical 10-15kg setup and also a 6-10kg snapper stick given the call-up opting to run two spin setups over my other 10-15kg overhead rig. We both also had a lighter 2-4kg setup to run our sabiki rigs.

Comp Day 1

A 5am start saw the trailer loaded and we were off to Digger’s beach for a quick briefing and a run down on the lay of the land from the local crew. Paperwork completed and setup done on the beach, we awaited first light for the launch.

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Small surf and the assistance of a rip made for an easy launch and we were on our way to McAuley’s in search of livebait. My first string of livies was stolen and with the obvious presence of mackerel or hoo I was beginning to second guess my choice of tactics. A re-tied sabiki resulted in two lonely yakkas in the bait tube, not the slimeys I was after but a start so on one went on my 6-10kg setup. With livies bridled, Mozz and I decided to paddle from McAuley’s close out towards the second mark out wide. We hadn’t gone far when a rod on both of our skis screamed off. Mine spat the hook  during the initial run while Jayme came up tight on his and not long after a solid mack tuna was yakside. It had inhaled the rig and couldn’t be released.

Cheater came on the VHF not long after enquiring on the minimum length for the brown ugly thing he had just caught, making things hard for Dennis without a positive ID. It was settled as being a cod of some sort and was sent back after some happy snaps. Kieran made friends with a blacktip reefie, and not to be outdone Cheater did the same soon after, announcing via VHF that Coffs Harbour gummies have a nice set of teeth. One of the locals got spooled by what was assumed to be a wahoo and Mozz and myself made the call to paddle north towards Karora. About a k from the mark we stopped and drifted while I adjusted views on the new sounder. As is usually the case, when you are not ready for it, both of us at this point had a rod scream off. My light rod again was the target and Mozz was clearly onto a nice fish. Yet again my fish skipped the noose while Mozz settled in for a good fight. Ten minutes later a much larger tuna was circling the yak and much to Mozza’s delight, this one had no ‘leopard print’on its side. I paddled along side to identify his first longtail and Jayme’s new kage gaff got its first use soon after.

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Leejo found the fishing tough on day 1 but did manage to catch his rudder (twice). Chenski managed to snag a quality flathead on his sabiki to add to the Vic tally.  Back on the beach the photo evidence identified Cheater’s ‘brown thing’ as a point scoring Maori Cod.

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We began to refill the trailers and were gifted a nice spottie mackerel by Paul Pallett which was gladly accepted. A Coles run and some re-rigging in the afternoon followed by some filleting and some sesame tuna steaks back at the holiday park. Reflection on the days events made me ditch the snapper rod, the theory being that the rod had too much flex, absorbing some of the impact and preventing the thicker livebait hooks from penetrating the tuna despite having a solid drag setting. Mozz was sitting in a competitive 5th spot after day 1 and was in the best position of the Vics heading into day two.

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Comp Day 2

 

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Day 2 saw similar conditions out front, with a little extra wind early on but it died out quickly. Fishing was tougher on the second day with even livies proving hard to find for most on team Vic (expect Cheater who somehow managed to pull a whole string of slimies first up). Chenski and Leejo had hooked some pike and after spending an hour at McAuley’s in search of live bait Mozz and I had only managed two yakkas between us, (along with some more flatties and a few whiting).  We rigged one each we opted to follow a similar track to yesterday to see if any more longtails could be found over at Karora. They couldn’t, it turns out, but I did have a brief run  on the way out to Marsh Shoal that resulted in my livie becoming a deadie with post mortem revealing the cause of death to be a severely compressed head. The only legitimate catch of the day for me was a solid flattie (late 40’s) coming in on the sabiki. Team Vic came third in the state of origin behind both the yanks and the canadians, Mozza was the highest placer of the Vics with 6th spot. After a BBQ and a chat with some of the blokes we hit the road for South West Rocks where we would spend the rest of the week. A big thank you to Australian Kayak Specialists for organising another great event and to the crew of fisho’s for the hospitality.

Tight lines,

Sea Sherpa

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A three-day week at Lake Tyers…

A conversation with a mate over a beer quickly turned into a solid plan and accommodation was booked for a three-day stint up at Tyers. Having never been before, I was keen to chase a big dusky and with reports of 90cm+ fish being caught at the previous weekend’s flathead challenge, excitement was high.

We left Wednesday morning driving through to Bairnsdale where a quick stop was made at the bakery and then on to Lakes Entrance. We stayed at the Lake Tyers Camp & Caravan Park with easy access to the boat ramp, but you could easily stay in one of the many spots on the main strip in Lakes Entrance.

Lake Tyers Map

Good to knows

  • Phone coverage is pretty sporadic (on Optus at least) we took vhf radios to keep in contact on the water.
  • Google maps won’t load in much of the area so load the maps in town and take photos to refer to in the state park and out on the water.
  • Most of the tracks are passable in a 2wd but check if there’s been rain before hand. There are a couple of big potholes on the Trident track that require careful navigation.
  • Lots of wildlife on the trails in the Tyers State park, watch out for crossing wallabies!
  • The fork on the Trident track- the campground is on a cliff with no water access, take the right hand trail to get to the water.
  • If you need to top-up during the trip, The General Store up from the Waterwheel Tavern stocks both Munroe’s soft plastics and Jigman jigheads.
  • The boat ramp isn’t signposted from Lake Tyers Beach Road, so look for Gully Rd instead, it is right across the road from the caravan park.

Gear selection

I opted for a 2000 reel on a 2-4kg graphite spooled with 8lb braid and an 8lb fluro leader (two rod-lengths).

Mozza my offsider went with a 2500 reel on a 2-5kg graphite again spooled with 8lb braid and 8lb fluro leader.

I elected to fish the trip exclusively on sp’s. I visited Munroe’s Soft Plastics to stock up. (No affiliation, just supporting another local small business) I bought three new types of plastics from to add to the collection in the tackle box and have play with for the trip:

  • ‘fools gold’ 76mm c-tail minnow
  • ‘black gold’ 3.75 inch paddle tail aka the Wokka special
  • ‘smelt’ 3.75 inch paddle tail

Mozza brought a mixed  collection of vibes, prawnstar hardbodies, keitech plastics as well as the same collection I had from Munroe’s.

In terms of jig heads we ran 1/8oz with 3/0 and 1/16oz with 2/0 hooks

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Day 1 – Long Point

It was lunchtime by the time we reached the caravan park and unloaded the gear. We opted to hit the water for an afternoon session with a plan to fish up to dark. We decided to try the Upper Reaches first, with the theory that the main lake areas might have had more fishing pressure over the competition weekend just gone. For the first session we made our way in the Long Point Track. It was passable with the two skis on the roof of the wagon, but a kayak trailer might have been hard work. A couple of the bigger holes required careful wheel placement at an angle across the road and you would be doing well to get three sets of wheels to follow the same path with trees tight to the edge of the track. Near the end of the track we found a steady slope down to the water making for an easy launch. Easy in a 4wd, but doable in the wagon with dry ground underfoot.

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There was soft mud at the waters edge but luckily it doesn’t take much water to float a Stealth so launching was pretty straightforward. A stroll along the shore before launching revealed an abundance of small mullet in the shallows so the ‘wokka special’ and ‘smelt’  paddletails were rigged to give the same dark top, light bottom silhouette in an attempt to match the hatch.

We had left the sounder back at the cabin so we covered a bit of ground around here trying to find out the depths and setting up suitable drifts with the wind picking up at times.  It proved slow on the fishing front with only two duskies each for the tally in the 30’s range for 3 hours fishing, despite various retrieves and many, many casts. On our return another vehicle had joined ours on the bank with a tent set up behind and two kids fishing land based on the shore. Our enquiry if anything was biting was met with the response that they had caught one trout, a claim quickly corrected to a bream by their father. We packed everything inside the skis ready to go in the morning and made our way back out the track in the fading light. On our return to camp, we left the wagon and strolled down the road to the Waterwheel Tavern for dinner and a frothy with an aim to form a plan for the morning. Unfortunately the data coverage put paid to those plans but the food hit the spot.

Day 2- Main Lake

After breakfast on day two we headed back towards Lakes Entrance to get some phone coverage to load new maps for the days adventure. The plan was to launch from one of the boat ramps in the main lake and do some exploring. When we got close enough to town to load google maps we discovered that access to the boat ramp was down Gully Rd, across the street from the campsite we had left 10 minutes earlier!

Once we found the boat ramp we saw that you can drive right to the waters edge 100m up the shore and unload and launch there. Immediately at the launch there is a short trough followed by a sandbar to cross to get to the channel.

We made our way up the channel towards the point at the end of Hendries Lane. I hopped out of the Stealth and parked it on the point to wade back in and cast into the drop off at the channel. Mozza followed suit and this proved a good idea with the first of the day coming from there again on the wokka special. Not quite the big girl we were after but definitely a start!

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We proceeded into the inlet to explore over towards Fisherman’s Landing setting up long drifts to the far shore before resetting and going again. There were a few boats fishing the same area but we all seemed to be managing fish in the 30-40cm bracket. A few more were caught here on a mix of caramel eclair minnows, worms and the good old wokka special. Lunch was beckoning so we headed back to the ramp and packed up for a trip back into Lakes Entrance to load more maps, find a bakery and make a plan for the afternoon session.

After recharging the batteries, and re-applying the sunscreen, we hit the water again launching from the boat ramp area but this time pushing further up towards Mill Point. It didn’t take long to get onto more fish but again we were struggling to get size. Mozza tested out a few scents and pulled in a few fish in the late 30’s and early 40’s.

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The best I managed was a 50cm model. We set up on a drift on a very fishy looking drop off when splashes could be heard in the shallows. Small bait fish were jumping clear of the water and skitting along the surface. We figured they had to of been chased by something so we headed that way and began casting into the action. It wasn’t long before the tailor made themselves known with spectacular ariel displays and fighting hard on light gear. Tailor are spiteful buggers -one of them managed to bite a nice hole in Mozza’s environet, but then refused to open his mouth for the lip grips.

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We chased the tailor for a little while before pushing up to Mill Point and also trying a few drifts past a very fishy looking snag on the point opposite but it had again gone quiet. We were running out of daylight at this stage so made our way back down towards Hendrie’s picking up another couple of fish on the way. One last stop off on the point where I got my fish early in the morning, but the channel was devoid of life this time round. Last casts were made in the fading light and then we proceeded to track our way back to launch in the dark trying to navigate around the sand bar in the process. We packed up in the headlights of the car and made our way back to the campsite for a quick shower before hitting Lakes Entrance for dinner at the Sports Club  Good coverage meant plans were made for the upper reaches with maps sorted for a crack at the Trident Arm the next morning. The wagon was packed for morning checkout with Sam Newman & Co providing a soundtrack then it was a welcome kip after a long day on the water.

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Day 3 -Trident Arm

Day three saw a half hour hike around the lake to the other side to explore the Trident Arm and upper reaches. Again the tracks were navigable in a 2wd with only a couple of larger potholes to navigate. Plenty of wildlife on this side of the lake with large reptiles and frequent wallabies crossing the tracks. The waterside is busy too with pelicans, black swans and crimson rosella making their presence known. I’m not much of a bird watcher, but a few days in a spot like this is good for the soul!

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After a fair drive we hit a fork in the trident arm track. We elected to hang the left following the sign for the campground assuming it would be on the water’s edge, but a few minutes later we found out that it is in fact on a cliff with a very steep track down to the water – not doable with a kayak. We tracked back and took the right-hander which turned out to be a trail right down to the waters edge with a where a nice easy launch awaited us.

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A change in the water clarity from the other launches led us to a change in tactics pulling out the ‘fools gold’ and ‘smelt’ plastics from the tackle box. The opposite shore from the launch got a few duskies on the board early but again we couldn’t find the big ones. The bream were around in good numbers in the shallows in the inlets with silhouettes scarpering forwards with every stroke of the paddle. Some were hungry though not deterred by 8 and 10lb leaders and they were more than happy to have a crack at 3/0 hooks as they passed, even if they couldn’t grab hold. This one did manage to hook up on a 2/0 jig head.

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We explored further afield with Mozza out-fishing me on the duskies. Same lures, same leader, jig head and retrieve so it must have been his wasabi scent that made the difference. The smelt paddletail was his go-to lure for the day while I managed to land both duskies and bream on the fools gold. Overall it made a nice change to explore a new spot and it is safe to say we’ll be back to explore again as we only covered a tiny portion of the whole system.

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Tight lines!

Sea Sherpa

NSC’17 The Wrap Up

I returned to work today in a semi-zombified state after what I have to say was one of the most full-on weekends away I’ve had since I can remember. What started as a pie-in-the-sky idea discussed with Maz over coffee on holiday last year quickly snowballed into NSC17, the best fun I’ve had in years, thankfully a sentiment shared by those I got around to catching up with on Sunday morning.

If you build it they will come…   

Being newcomers to comp planning, we brainstormed a list of all of the companies we would have liked to have on board and Maz busied herself emailing and presenting sponsorship packages that echoed the dogged determination of Andy Dufresne trying to get that library in Shawshank Redemption. She did well and managed to entice some key sponsors on board to get the ball rolling.

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Meanwhile I was left the task of finalising a location, insurance, permits, contingency plans, safety assessment and all the other fun bits. I settled on North Shore as the venue due to the relative shelter from big swells making the comp more accessible to new entrants with less offshore experience, having easily accessible reef areas in close to the launch. We were lucky to have Henty Bay jump on board as a location for base camp and a boat ramp located within the caravan park allowing entrants to roll out of their cabins/tents straight to the water.

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Having a swell time…

The week leading up to the comp gave me a few more grey hairs, checking the long range forecasts waiting for them to come into range. They tended to reverse predictions daily with winds going with and against swell and ranging from 5knts to 25knts. As the long range forecasts became medium and short range, it became apparent that there was a very good chance that we might get not one but 4 days of fish-able weather over the long weekend. My back-up plan of running away to Ningaloo Reef with all of the prizes would have to be put on hold, this thing was going to go ahead!  A mad scramble ensued to get the last few January skis fitted out and delivered. I also had to go and find a jet ski of all things and on arriving home with the ‘rescue vessel’ was duly informed by Maz that her mum had a tracksuit in those same colours back in the eighties! It looks fine in the far off shot she took…

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Another entrant was kind enough to pass on this shot:

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With all of the necessary gear packed in three cars and two trailers, we headed for Portland on Thursday, arriving in the early afternoon. The excitement built as we drove around town, where yaks could be spotted on top of cars in most of the main streets. We had a meet and greet with the Henty staff, checked in and set up camp. A quick walk around showed that many of the entrants were down and pre-fishing with Kieran nabbing a cracking tuna to get the ball rolling and a few of the Pie Floaters team reporting dropped fish out at Julia Reef. The fish were around and it boded well for a cracking weekend to come!

TGIF

Friday rolled around and while I was running a few errands around  Portland, the boys were on the water with Tas and Shane showing people how to get onto the fish. The marquee went up on the bluff (Thanks to Hatters for the loan) and people started to file in for the comp briefing. With everybody registered, welcome packs were divvied out and the competition procedure explained. The weather forecast was reviewed and we were on for the morning barring a major shift in the weather between then and 6am. A few of the entrants remained for the demonstration of the safety equipment, while the seasoned pros ventured off to get rigged up and discuss tactics with team-mates.

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Comp Day

A picture paints a thousand words and we were lucky enough to have Amber from Sweep images on hand to capture the action on comp day. As teams set up in the pale morning light, keyrings were handed out and the start drew closer…

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6.30 came and 35 keen fishos hit the water in a range of pedal and paddle kayaks. Some opted for a trip out to Julia Reef while others raced to the Anchorage. By the way, hats off to some entrants who paddled between 200km and 300km over the course of the weekend – a solid effort!  A couple of yakkers decided to play the numbers game on the reef with the Dirty Faced Westies and All Show No Go trying their luck on the snapper. A squall rose up over the harbour suggesting some rain might move in over the comp area and a weather update over the VHF informed the field that it might get a little bumpy for 10 minutes but the rain radar showed the showers were due to push inland. Soon after, word came over the radio that GAB was on, as well as requests for someone to deliver him a gaff (with a few expletives thrown in for good measure). Cheater hit the beach looking for aspirin leaving Mal to do the hard yards on the reef for the Mud Brothers. I launched the jet ski to check in on the field, bloody hell those two strokes are loud – four stroke for next year! A hungover ‘McLovin’ in the Dirty Faced Westies was busy untangling three birds nests, none of which were the result of any fish. Scattered catches of snapper and salmon from those on the reef with Iron Horse having already sorted through over 60 pinkies for team All Show No Go, in search of some larger models. Others reported a struggle to find the fish but better conditions on the water after the squall passing with the drift slowing down somewhat. The Pie Floaters had disappeared over the horizon, as had most of the glass crew including the guest member Marto from the Up Sh1T Creek team, who opted to troll with one rod, from the Stealth Toura I had brought down on demo despite it not having any rod holders! The Hobie Get Along Gang were having mixed fortunes with Cruiser reporting a quiet one when I visited, Nello had only caught his rudder and the others were out wide. The Yakeroos were the relative unknowns, hard to locate on the water and the radio silence suggested they hadn’t found the fish but you can never write off Phil…

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The time ticked by and the announcements over VHF revealed that there wasn’t long to go. Some of the guys began to hit the beach with reports relayed that Jordo had hooked up and was on his way to Tassie! As the entrants rolled in it was clear that it had been a tough day’s fishing – for some the numbers game on the reef had been the wise decision, while the gamble to go out wide for pelagics and glory made for a bittersweet tale.

As entrants filed up the ramp to sign in and measure their catch a call came in from Shane to report that he probably wouldn’t make it back in time as progress was being hampered by a large tuna. Jordo and Shane were the last two on the water with Jordo’s radio having failed to hold charge. Shane at that point reported that he didn’t have a visual on Jordo leaving me wondering if he had passed the ships at the Anchorage on the way back or was passing customs at Auckland. Tas luckily had a set of binoculars and from the bluff I could see the yellow deck of Jordo’s Kaskazi pushing for the shore. Unfortunately the distance was too great to cover in the time remaining for both of the boys with  Jordo hitting the beach at 1.50pm and Shane a further 20 mins back the road.

The Results

The Individual Challenge Award and Best Catch Award went to Gabriele Meoni who caught a 98cm tuna from his Stealth fibreglass kayak.

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Second prize went to Peter Ritchie who caught two snapper and a salmon, showing that a large pelagic fish wasn’t a prerequisite to success. Pete had gone out fishing again after measuring in his fish, but we crossed live to him out on the water to give him the news that he hadn’t come first and his Hobie had in fact been beaten by a Stealth…

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Third prize went to Mr Nelson Rouw who caught two snapper and four Adventure Island rudders. Unfortunately the rudders were not on the accepted species list, but the snapper earned him a set of Lockracks, a Fish Chilla bag from Dry Store and a Visor Buff.

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Portland man David Webb used his local knowledge of the reefs to nab fourth place.

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…and Luke Easton took fifth place much to his own surprise, earning himself a Beachwheelz kayak cart for his efforts.

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Special mentions to both Jordan Rouw and Shane Esmore for their cracking catches on the day.  Jordan landed a 19.4kg tuna having paddled 40km on the day and Shane landed a 23kg model as well as a kingfish. Unfortunately both Jordan and Shane did not return to shore within the competition window.

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In the Teams Challenge, Iron Horse’s plan to play the numbers game on the reef paid off, even if he had to land over 100 snapper for the day to pull it off. The Team challenge was decided by calculating the team average, giving All Show No Go the first spot on the perpetual Team Challenge trophy with a team average of 11.8. Steady catches from Luke and another Portland local Derrick, helped Team Berley Pro into second place. In the absence of Shane’s tuna on the scorecard, the Get Along Gang had to settle for third spot despite the efforts of Spider for the Dirty Faced Westies. The wooden spoon goes to the Pie Floaters, of whom no-one really expected much, in a cruel turn of events it turned out that unfortunately for them the only South Australian that can catch a fish these days had entered as an independent. They have vowed to return  next year in an attempt to relive their days of former glory, such as the time they lost the State of Origin to the Vics in Port Augusta.

All Show No Go (Team Mirage) 11.8
Up Sh!t Creek With A Paddle (Team Berleypro) 7
Hobie Get Along Gang (Team A.I.) 6.7
Dirty Faced Westies (Team Pink) 4.1
Yakeroos (Team VKA) 4
Mud Brothers (Team Western Port) 2.6
Pie Floaters (Team SA) 0

That about wraps up the North Shore Challenge for this year with only the winner of the photo/video comp yet to be decided. With some cracking photos already in, it will be a hard task to choose a winner. If you want to check out entrant’s photos, search #NSC17 on social media.

Here’s a collection of some of the event photos taken by Amber over at Sweep Images as well as some shots sent my way by the entrants:

I’ll finish with a massive thank you to all involved in the weekend, the entrants, support crew, the sponsors, spectators and those that gave help and advice along the way.

Roll on #NSC18 !

Tight lines,

Sea Sherpa