The Bellingen Eel Fishing Competition may have just had its final weigh-in.
Organiser Wal Tyson, who has been running the week-long catch and release competition for 32 years, said it’s time to wrap it up because the children aren’t coming along anymore.
“There were only six kids in it this year,” he said, displaying the exercise book where he keeps the records for each day.
“Here’s 2002,” he said, flicking backward through the book and running his finger down the list of names for one of the days. “There were 36 then.”
The competition targets children under 16 years old, but there are prizes and trophies for adults too, as the aim was always to give families a fun activity they could do together in the October school holidays.
Over the years, the kids taking part have got older and although there are some keen younger ones, like the Fredriksens, there haven’t been enough new participants to replace those who have grown up and moved on.
One of the stalwarts is Jai Storr, who has been coming along since he was seven years old with his mum Paula Tennant, his grandma Peggy Edman and his dad Marc Storr.
In 2009, Jai bagged the Australian record for the biggest eel ever caught – a whopping 11.65kg monster that he hauled from the Bellinger River a couple of kilometres upstream of Lavenders Bridge.
He’s now 18, and at Sunday’s weigh-in he presented an eel that registered 8.9kg, though he’s not convinced the official scales are accurate.
“It was 9.3kg on the scales at home,” he said.
Jai and Paula said the competition has always been great fun but not without its dangers.
This year they saw a huge red-bellied black snake and Jai collected five shell-back ticks.
They agree that enthusiasm for the competition among the younger set has waned.
“It’s turning into an adults comp,” Jai said. “The ones who used to do it all the time have gotten older.”
“The kids are sitting at home on their devices,” Paula said.
Wal said if the competition ceases next year, he will donate the perpetual trophy engraved with all the winners’ names and the photos he’s collected over the years of the children holding their eels to the Bellinger Valley Historical Society Museum.
Results from the 2018 competition will be published soon.