St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The right place at the right time paid off for the sports fishermen aboard the 58-foot Merritt, Never Say Never. The team, led by owner/angler Jim Carr from Coral Gables, Florida, were the first to release three blue marlin during the first day of fishing in the 43rd annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT).
“We went up off Anegada and I caught and released all three fish spread out over the day,” says Carr, who flew in Friday night in the wake of Tropical Storm Erika just to fish the tournament.
The Pescador team also released three blue marlin while fishing off the North Drop and are in second place based on time.
“I released one blue in the morning and my son, John, and I each released one in the afternoon,” says Stephen Deckoff, Sr. the St. John, USVI-based owner/angler of the 60-foot Rybovich.
Wave Paver, Port Canaveral, Florida-based Jr. Davis’ 61-foot Garlington, rounded out the top three teams with the release of two blue marlin. Wave Paver also kicked-off the tournament by being the first to score a blue marlin release.
In total, the 9 boat tournament fleet released a total of 11 blue marlin.
The ABMT is being run this year as a team tournament under IGFA rules only, without the call for competitors to adhere to additional special tournament rules such as the need for anglers to rotate rods hourly.
“I like the new format because sports fishing really is a team sport,” says Never Say Never’s Carr. “For example, if one of our mates, Travis Morrison, wasn’t up on the bridge and spotted a marlin coming in to the teasers, we never would have known it was there and caught and released it. Plus, we are all familiar with IGFA rules. This is a welcome change.”
In the first-ever MarlinFest Wet ‘N Wild Center Console Tournament, the 40-foot Deep Impact, Turn & Burn, owned and fished by St. Croix, USVI’s David Johnson, leads after the first day with one white marlin release.
“We didn’t see anything today,” says Josh Bourg, aboard the Viper 33’ No Limit, also fishing the Wet N’ Wild. “Our target was billfish. Midday we did see some birds and switched it up to fish for tuna and wahoo, but nothing happened.”
The Wet N’ Wild is for anglers who enjoy big game fishing for blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna and wahoo on standup tackle.
On land, crowds came out to enjoy the 3rd annual MarlinFest Red Hook ‘Jump Up’. Over twenty arts, crafts and food vendors lined the upper parking lot at IGY’s American Yacht Harbor Marina. In the afternoon, seven restaurants competed for the $1000 cash prize in the Chowder Challenge. Fish Tails won ‘Best of the Fest’ for its Mahi Corn & Crab Chowder. Latitude 18 finished second with its Seafood Chowder, while Molly Malone’s came in third with its Conch Chowder. Judges included Marleen Dykhuis, who judged the Chili Cook-Off for many years, Virgin Islands’ Daily News restaurant critic, Lori Abbotts and the Food Network’s Extreme Chef winner, Terry French.
“What I like about being a chef and being involved in events like this is the chance to give back and benefit the community,” says French, who is also an avid fisherman.
Proceeds from MarlinFest benefit the Marine Vocational Program, which is a locally-registered not-for profit.
The ABMT and Wet ‘N Wild’s final day of fishing concludes on Sunday. The Awards Ceremony takes place later under the Marlin Tent at AYH.
Started by Chuck Senf back in 1972, the ABMT has evolved into one of the most competitive saltwater sports fishing events in the world or the ‘Super Bowl of Sports Fishing’. The ABMT is fished under International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) rules, and is overseen by a professional ‘Board of Captains’ and well-qualified judges.
The ABMT continues its 43 year tradition of benefiting the Boy Scouts of the Virgin Islands.