The Classic always sees kids getting involved and making use of the great fishing the area has to offer.

Weipa Fishing Classic – a lesson in COVID innovation

The volunteer committee did a fantastic job redesigning the Weipa Fishing Classic to suit
The larger of two boat/motor/trailer packages up for grabs at the event.
The smaller boat/motor/trailer prize will be enjoyed by its new owner.
A pair of quality spanish mackerel taken during the event.

SMALL outback communities rely on their major community events for many reasons – for the social interaction, to raise money and to enjoy the unique lifestyle their particular location provides.

In the small Cape outpost of Weipa, the major events of the year include the Fishing Classic and the Bullride, weekends keenly awaited by a town that is situated in the heart of some of the best country in Australia for both activities.

But in the ‘year of the pandemic’, it seemed that our beloved Weipa Fishing Classic, usually staged over the June long weekend, would have to be abandoned.

Apart from all the enjoyment that provides for a town with more boats per head than any other in the state, there’s the injection of over a million dollars into local business that the event usually brings, a prize pool of around $130,000 that is distributed, and tens of thousands of dollars in profit that is donated back to community organizations by the voluntary Fishing Classic committee each year.

However, sometime in August, with many of the other community events canned or heavily modified, the new Fishing Classic committee decided that Weipa couldn’t afford not to run its biggest weekend.

A couple of more tech savvy members thought that they could come up with a COVID-friendly format, but were concerned that they had no precedent or that nobody would turn up, so they ran a community survey on the local ‘Secrets of Weipa’ Facebook page.

The response was overwhelmingly positive!

So, off they went into the unknown, with plenty of enthusiasm and ideas!

The 2020 Weipa Fishing Classic turned out to exceed all expectations, confirming that the vision of a small but dedicated group could be realised if you get out there and have a go!

I sat down and had a chat with President of the Classic committee Aaron Schleich to get a handle on how it all came together.

DD: G’day Aaron, first up, tell us a bit about yourself?

AS: Well Dave I’ve lived in Weipa now for the past 13 years and been a homeowner here since 2009. My wife Janine and I came up here with the intention of working with Rio Tinto for 2-3 years, but loved the region and the community and ended up having three boys along the way. We really enjoy our camping, fishing and exploring the Cape and now we are introducing our boys to the lifestyle and they are thriving! We truly love the region and want a prosperous future, which is why we remain active in keeping the community spirit alive and well.

DD: So how did the concept for this year’s Fishing Classic come together?

AS: The committee started by reviewing the economics of our usual proceedings. In past years, we’ve relied heavily on the involvement of the Creek to Coast’ program to handle the media and promotional side of things but this came at considerable expense. So, with the likelihood of a much-reduced event, we asked ourselves how we could deliver better product data transparency for our sponsors and how we could increase their promotion, yet still make a profit. We had already been playing around with a few ideas of using our own presenters, doing our own video then stitching something together at the end. So, we had a bit of a chat around some options that we’d been discussing individually around still holding the fishing event but, given the COVID restrictions, felt we wouldn’t need to worry about any of the event management and all that sort of stuff, just host the fishing side of things.

DD: So you took the opportunity to redesign the entire event! That’s a massive undertaking. What was your time frame?

AS: We rescheduled the Classic for the weekend of October 30 to November 1 so that gave us just over two months. There was an environmental scientist in town, Khory Hancock, who has a large media following via his website and Instagram, so we approached him about being MC. He was so enthusiastic, he joined the committee. Initially, we were going to use our phones and Facebook to try and stream the event but when we were arranging to get our competition shirts printed in Cairns, our contact, Scotty, mentioned he was now involved in video streaming which prompted a very excited conversation around how we might be able to do this on a more commercial platform. From there, a team was put together that included our usual media and entertainment specialists, the Beserk Brothers, James, the digital hardware expert, and Khory to front the show.

DD: The major appeal of the Classic is usually centred around 30 prize draws over three nights that attract over 2000 ticket sales. Did you stick with that scale of things this year?

AS: We normally get a lot of out of town visitors who come up especially for the event, but realised that was not going to happen, that it would be a majority of community members only. Therefore, the committee opted to reduce the draws to 15 in the hope of selling around 1500 tickets. There would still be the major prize of a boat package – and we managed to get a smaller rig for the runner up. Plus, there was a $10,000 cash prize for the first time ever.

DD: And how did this pan out?

AS: In the end we sold around 1600 tickets, distributed 84 prizes in the prize draw and random giveaways, plus 72 rod and reel packages for the species category winners, ran a monster raffle, in total over $130,000 worth.

DD: Wow, that’s fantastic! How did the live streaming of the weigh-ins, draws and presentations work out?

AS: Even with the expertise we had assembled, it was still a seat of the pants setup! We did originally consider pre-recording a lot of the main things like the opening, the introduction to country for instance, but in the end we developed a loose production sequence that would cut between picking the draw numbers and promoting our sponsors, then chatting with the winners when they phoned in and followed up with their tickets. We learned a lot from Friday night and by Sunday, were pacing the proceedings much more efficiently. There were two outlets for our streaming, via our Facebook page for those watching at home and a commercial feed to places like the Albatross Bay Resort and bowls and golf clubs where they had the event up on the big screen. So the promotion went many ways, the pub and clubs were busy, the community still spent money on food and refreshments and our sponsors were given heaps of air time. We had over 500 groups watching on Facebook on Friday night with one group reportedly in Singapore!

DD: Sounds like the 2020 Weipa Fishing Classic exceeded all expectations!

AS: It sure did Dave and we will be contributing most of the money raised to improving our showground, which is a site we used for the first time this year.

Huge congratulations must go to the small voluntary committee that ultimately came up with this remarkable event in these far from normal times.

There’s obviously a blueprint here for other community fishing competitions to follow.

It’s a wonderful example of how important being able to engage in recreational fishing is to our communities, particularly those outside of the big cities – and the resourcefulness of some of the people who love to wet a line.

In these days of growing mental health concerns, events like these inject massive amounts of positive vibes into the mix.

Recreational fishing, it seems, is more than just trying to catch a fish!

To read more from Dave Donald, click here!

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