Skip to main content

Water Sports

World’s largest billfish tournament right here

In 2023 it was the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, but now it is the largest in the world. This is the Kubota Classic Billfish Tournament. There are 420 boats with a waiting list. Each boat has four or five people on it. “That’s 2,000 people before they get off the water,” says Manager of Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club, John East. The prize money for this amazing tournament comes to around $1.8million in prizes. The heaviest billfish prize is $350,000 in cash. The lucky gate prize is a 5 tonne digger from Kubota valued at $115,000.
 |  The Informer  | 

The Champion team prize is as yet undetermined as that is self-determined from the jackpots but all rational calculations seem to make it as high as $600,000-$700,000.

Then there are four overseas trips and a variety of other product and machinery prizes that would dazzle any angler. The one man behind the success of this tournament is Tom Maxwell.

“He has enabled its success to the level that it is,” says Manager, John East.

“He is the Director of the Billfish Tournament and it is clearly his vision and drive that has led the team to making it such a success. The Mercury Bay Game Fishing club is Tom’s home and we fully support this and provide the infrastructure for the tournament and of course, our upmost support for Tom’s work.

“March 14-16, 2024 is in every members calendar and there are 3,000 members in our Game Fishing Club here and most of them are active fishing members.

“When the event is on, Tom will spend each day at the event, giving updates and bulletins. Every boat is listening and it adds to the excitement.”

When asked about his strategy, Tom says, “It is a million small things. My involvement began with getting Kubota as the naming sponsor and that is when I started to work with the Game Fishing Club to help organise the tournament. Sponsors want to be part of something that is a success and this has been a great success.”

There’s a lot of aspects to be thankful for. There’s the teams – each boat is a team. There is no tournament without them and their goodwill.

Then there’s the sponsors – their generosity makes the tournament exciting and very attractive to enter. The prize money and prizes to be won speak for themselves.

The huge team of awesome volunteers – setting up, packing down, weighing, serving, cooking and cleaning. We could never calculate the immense value they bring to this tournament.

Many of them are members of the Mercury Bay Game Fishing Club.

The Kubota Classic 2024

Then there is the staff and their team who work so hard and efficiently to host this event.

“I think the town and wider community is starting to capitalise more on the opportunity that this event presents,”added Tom.

“This year there will be people in town and some will stay a little after 16 March, on to 17th. We hope retailers risk a little and have the shops open and offer some special deals in shopping and beauty services that are clearly made known to the visitors in the township.

“There are a lot of people who join the competitors but are not out in the tournament. The size of it has accelerated and we want residents and other spectators to feel it is their Kubota Classic even if they don’t fish.    

This year for example, we are going to have seating and grandstands so that people can come and watch the fish being weighed.  It is totally open to the public.  More benefits to the whole Mercury Bay community is what we are aiming for.”

John is very aware of the opportunities ahead.

“We are going to collect all of the data from this year to add to what we have, and we will work with the local Council to work out from their economic assessment matrix, just what is the potential for leveraging the hospitality and retail market for the good of the community.

“I am new to this job (John has only recently taken over general management of the MBGFC)  but I am struggling to think of any event that has an impact on the community anywhere near to the extent of this tournament. The only one is the Summer Concert which has not taken place these last two years. A significant number of the 420 boats are trailer boats who come back to base each evening.

We are a club that has an extremely good heart. What I mean by that is, we are debt free; we have a solid membership base, the assets are in excellent state and we have one of the best locations in the country. We have outstanding Governance – strong cross-section of local and commercial and legal skills in our governing committee.

We have very people-oriented and capable hard workers in our President and Vice-President, Gordon McIvor and Anne Smal. From a hospitality perspective we have unlimited opportunity – not just our club but the whole town.

One of my jobs in this role is to build a media plan. Yes, we are here for fishing and to give our members a good experience of belonging and membership plus a great experience of hospitality. However, the media plan we formulate must embrace the whole community to bring them benefits in conjunction with adding value to the club.”

The biggest compliment locally that I noticed last year, says Gordon McIvor, “has been seeing bait and tackle stores doing huge trade, petrol stations not keeping up with the demand for fuel, pubs and restaurants packed, some of the retail stores having their busiest trading days, the queue for taxis being three hours. I want to see more of this.”

For Mercury Bay, the team are very proud that some of the top boats in the country are coming to Kubota Classic 2024 and many of them are returns from previous years. Leigh Hopper has just got the consent for the Marine Precinct plans and construction and he has mentioned that the boats wanting to come here are bigger than they first thought.

Look out – there will be some super yachts who come to watch these fishing boats.