Remember this? Superb fishing, camping and ‘Big Red’ fun
WHETHER you were camping with family or friends, sleeping in your ute or checking out the "Big Red'' QT bus, the Kirkleagh Klassic was a fun weekend.
The fishing competition was one of Australia's most popular and successful freshwater events for more than a decade.
It was organised and conducted by active volunteers on the Somerset and Wivenhoe Fish Stocking Association, formerly called the Brisbane Valley Fish Management Committee.
Sadly, circumstances caught up with organisers who had done a fantastic job putting on secret weight and catch and release competitions for many years.
Having the secret weight format reduced the risk of cheating as anglers presented their fish not knowing what the specific measure was for each weigh-in.
The weights and section winners were released after the catches of legal-size fish were recorded.
Although anglers who regularly fished Somerset Dam had an advantage, it was a true family weekend with kids often sharing in up to $30,000 worth of prizes.
A lucky angler randomly drawn from the entrants could leave Kirkleagh with a new $8000 boat, trailer and outboard motor, just for entering.
The more established anglers could weigh in their fish as often as they liked, watching them released for someone else to catch.
As a keen observer who supported the competition as a journalist and fishing fanatic, it was tremendously satisfying seeing hundreds of anglers involved and so many families enjoying the activities.
The annual Kirkleagh Klassic competitions were held each October.
In addition to the diverse range of fish caught, there were mini rock and roll shows, a tagged fish worth $5000 on offer and exhibits by key fishing groups.
The DPI and Department of Transport provided people to observe and share knowledge about fishing and related lake activities.
Bob Dowse Sports Store was a major backer, along with ongoing support from The Queensland Times.
The original organising group of volunteers were with the Brisbane Valley Fish Management Committee (BVFMC), which staged the first competition in 1990.
In 1997, the BVFMC became the Somerset and Wivenhoe Fish Stocking Association to better represent the focus of enhancing and looking after the two major impoundments.
Importantly, thousands of dollars was raised at each event for nearly 15 years, with that money used to buy fingerlings for ongoing restocking projects.
The Somerset and nearby Wivenhoe lakes were topped up regularly with bass, golden perch and silver perch and occasional cod and saratoga, when those species were available.
Just days apart in 2008, a massive release into the Somerset and Wivenhoe lakes included 269,000 bass, 55,000 golden perch and 10,400 cod fingerlings.
At that stage of restocking, 3.4 million fingerlings had been let go covering both impoundments.
They are incredible numbers by anyone's standards.
The major benefit of the Kirkleagh Klassic was using the funds to continue stocking.
For every 2000 fish caught, restocking officials could return up to 100,000 fingerlings over the following 12 months before the next competition.
Time finally caught up with the Klassic ending a wonderful chapter in family fishing fun.
However, those who fished the event or simply watched everything going on, will remember what was achieved at the Kirkleagh Klassic.
It created the fundraising foundation for decades of restocking initiatives that continue today.
Dedicated restocking enthusiasts like Garry Fitzgerald, Bunny Qualischefski, Kev Horsey, Pat Evans and Dale Sinclair ensured the lakes within an hour's drive of Ipswich were loaded with millions of fingerlings.
Somerset region mayor Graham Lehmann took off his political hat and rolled up his sleeves as one of the hardworking annual helpers.
Other smaller stocking groups also assisted at different stages.
Despite the 2011 floods having a massive impact in later years, the restocking work today has replenished fish stocks for everyone to enjoy.
The lakes these days receive regular fingerlings purchased from money raised from Queensland's Stocked Impoundment Permit scheme. This remains a valuable income stream for restocking groups, who work with local councils and fisheries departments.
Other regional waterways like the Bremer River and Warrill Creek are also monitored and topped up with fingerlings under different projects.
But the underlying goal remains the same - looking after what we have and ensuring fish stocks are strong for the future.
During the annual Kirkleagh Klassic competitions, a valuable outcome was seeing what was being caught.
In 1994 for example, 1058 competitors fishing the Kirkleagh Klassic braved blustery and rough conditions that weekend.
More than 1000 fish were still weighed in, highlighting the skills of the anglers and the wonderful fishery that had been produced through restocking.
In 1993, a record number of 1446 anglers participated in the Klassic.
In other years, the competition regularly attracted 700-800 anglers with about 3000 people camping and enjoying the weekend of fishing and entertainment.
In 2002 with the dam at 38 per cent capacity, 462 anglers caught 1916 fish for the weekend. That included a 12.8kg Mary River cod landed by a Caboolture competitor.
A number of golden perch that year were over 3kg.
When the dam was at 105 per cent capacity in 1999, the 814 entrants caught 1216 fish.
Restocking authorities gained vital feedback from this information each year - what everyone was bringing in and how species like golden perch, bass and silver perch were growing in the lakes.
An occasional prized cod was also weighed and released to fight another day.
Anglers of all ages learnt about bag and size limits, how to catch and release fish and what to do with pest species like tilapia.
Education was important, along with best baits and lures to use, and how fingerlings were purchased to restock the lakes.
That's why the Somerset and Wivenhoe Fish Stocking Committee members deserve credit for still focusing on helping the community.
From those early days in the late 1980s to now, the main goal has been developing a sustainable inland fishery.
With events like the Kirkleagh Klassic no longer running, anglers are encouraged to continue supporting catch surveys.
A special app has been created that can be accessed by phone, tablet or computer. It involves 12 restocking groups around Queensland and covers 21 locations.
It gives anglers an opportunity to help improve fishing habitats for the future by sharing data about fish caught and how long they spend on the waterways.
More information about the fishing apps is at http://survey.sweetwaterfishing.com.au/
Back reminiscing about the Kirkleagh Klassic, there was always plenty to see and do.
Sleeping on the QT double-decker bus, which I did in later competitions, provided a novel weekend experience.
The QT's promotion manager and former elite sportsman John Brown was the fearless bus driver, taking hours guiding the Big Red through the hills near Somerset Dam to Kirkleagh.
That journey alone was a story in itself, testing John's patience and the calm skills he acquired playing rugby league and cricket.
At one stage, John also organised for extra QT newspapers to be delivered to the nearby Someret Dam shop.
John and I would then collect them and distribute the QTs to stunned campers at the fishing competition.
That took morning newspaper delivery to a whole new level.
Few people would have that drive and dedication these days - going the extra mile like the hardworking restocking volunteers and their helpers at each Kirkleagh Klassic.
This article is part of a Fishy Tales series focusing on unusual experiences, adventures and topical issues.