January the 20th-23rd 2009 will mark the historic 40th running of Grenada’s Annual Spice Island Billfish Tournament, the longest running and most popular tournament in the Southern Caribbean. For those who do not know the term, “billfish” refers to members of the marlin, sailfish, spearfish and swordfish family, which have in common the extended upper jaw known as a “bill.”
It all started with Jim Needham of the “Flamboyant Hotel”. He lived to fish and loved to venture along the coastline of Grenada in his little open boat (14’) Mambo where he raised and caught dozens of Billfish. He just had to share this love with someone and so in 1964 he called his friend Louis Rostant (Trinidad) and they met in Grenada with Martin Mathias (owner of a beautiful Sports Fishing Vessel – Bahari), to formulate and stage the first ever Grenada Fishing Tournament. Sadly, no records are available but we do know that less than 10 boats (Grenada and Trinidad) participated in what was essentially a gentleman’s tournament. No formal rules were in effect at the time.
However, Jim & Louis worked steadfastly to refine the organisation and adapted International Game Fishing Association rules to suit the Grenada event. These men worked hard at attracting visitors and anglers alike to participate in the annual event. Almost immediately, the numbers of anglers increased with boats from all the neighbouring islands (Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, St Lucia, and Martinique) that became then, and indeed to this day, the main contingent of support for our event.
Back then the number and weight of fish brought to the dock determined the winner, and many people would crowd around the weighing scales at the end of the day to see the fish displayed. Times have changed and now, in the interest of conservation, most billfish are released alive. Each boat gets a camera to photograph the fish in the water and points awarded based only on the species of billfish not the size. Only a few of the biggest fish (usually potential record breakers) are retained and weighed for points.
The 2008 tournament had 36 boats carrying 175 anglers. Why do they come? SIBT has a long and proud reputation on several fronts – first and most important – we have fish! Grenada’s waters are some of the most prolific grounds in the southern Caribbean and the tournament reliably produces multiple releases of Blue Marlin, White Marlin and Sailfish and is probably the only tournament where you have a good chance to catch a “Grand Slam” (a catch of three billfish species in one day).
In earlier years Grenada was predominantly a sailfish tournament hence it allowed only lighter line classes (20, 30 & 50 lb breaking strain); however in the last 10 years this has changed somewhat with more and bigger blue marlin showing up culminating in Adrien Johnson’s fabulous 669 lb fish in 2006.
As a major new change to celebrate the 40th anniversary, for the first time, the tournament will allow the use of 80 lb line. This is an exciting development, which is sure to attract many more competitors, as this will greatly increase an angler’s chances of landing a blue marlin bigger than the 669 lb record fish. In the last few years many very large marlin have been lost when the 50 lb line broke under the excessive strain during fights lasting several hours.
Although run by a committee of dedicated volunteers, SIBT prides itself on being a well-organised smooth running event, based at the Grenada Yacht Club, which provides excellent dock facilities in the calm waters of the Lagoon.
As an added attraction for anglers, SIBT is a qualifying tournament in the IGFA Offshore championship (the winner of our event is invited to fish a tournament of champions held in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico). It is also included in the newly formed Southern Caribbean Billfish Circuit (SCBC) which organises the billfish tournaments of Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago (2), Barbados, St Lucia and Martinique into a championship with prizes for the overall winner based on their best three scores from the individual tournaments.
Grenada has several sport fishing boats available for charter to anglers wishing to compete in the tournament. Members of the public (locals and visitors alike) are encouraged to come and watch – the boats will parade from the Grenada Yacht Club (GYC) through the Carenage and outside the harbour for the Bimini start at 6.45am on Tuesday January 20, 2009 (the Carenage and Fort George will be good viewing points). They will start to return to GYC after 5 p.m. Wednesday will see them return to GYC after 4.30 p.m whereas Thursday will be the rest day with activities at GYC. On the final day (Friday 23rd) they will return from 3 p.m.
The success of the Spice Island Billfish Tournament can be contributed, to a large degree, to many local and international Sponsors, who have been steadfast in their support over the years, and without whom this event would not have achieved the prestigious reputation it enjoys today.
For information, call Wendy Pat at 440 0602 or 535 1340, email [email protected],
Preview and photos submitted by SIBT committee member Gary Clifford, True Blue Sportfishing