It’s the thrill of the bite, the adrenalin-pumping fight, and the awesome release of a magnificent blue marlin back into the sea that entices the cream of the crop of sports fishermen from around the globe to fish in the 36th annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT), also known as the ‘Boy Scout Tournament’.
“What draws anglers to the Virgin Islands is the blue marlin fishing. The blue marlin fishing in the Virgin Islands is some of the best in the world,” says tournament director, Jimmy Loveland.
Backing up this statement, last year anglers aboard 37 boats released a record-setting 207 blue marlin over four days of fishing.
Started by Chuck Senf back in 1972 – and nicknamed The Boy Scout Tournament since a portion of the proceeds have always benefited the VI Council of the Boy Scouts of America, one of Senf’s favorite charities – the ABMT has evolved into one of the most competitive saltwater sports fishing events in the world. It’s one of tournaments making up Bisbee’s World Billfish Series, is a qualifier for the Rolex-IGFA Invitational “Tournament of Champions”, and is the last exciting leg of the prestigious Bermuda Triangle Series and Spanish Main Series.
Following International Game Fishing Association guidelines overseen by a professional Board of Captains and well-qualified observers, this event is fished by some of the world’s elite sports fishermen. Last year’s Top Angler, Luis Nevarez, fishing aboard the Cabo 40, Peje, with Capt. Juan Alberto ‘Berto’ Marquez at the helm, is an ABMT veteran from Puerto Rico who released six blue marlin to win.
“We’re expecting 40 or more boats with quite a few first-timers,” says Loveland. Some already signed-on to fish the ABMT this year include Revenge, Freebie, Sharky’s Revenge and Rum Bum. “These boats are owned by world class anglers,” the tournament director says.
A welcome party on August 12 officially launches the big boys’ fight to see who will reign supreme in the standings. Fishing days are August 13, 14, 15 and 17 – three days before and a day after the month’s full moon – punctuated by a “Full Moon Party” hosted by the Ritz-St. Thomas on the August 16th lay day.
Lines are in the water daily at 8:30 a.m. and out at 5:30 p.m., meaning that by 6:30 p.m. spectators can catch the spirit of sport fishing by ‘doing the docks,’ to watch the big rigs come in and spot the flags flying from the outriggers. The more flags, the more marlin the boat caught. Flags are flown upside down for released fish and right side up for fish that are boated. Blue signals the catch was a blue marlin, while a white flag denotes a white marlin.
Little fry get their fish-catching fun on August 17 at the Innovative Wireless Handline Tournament. Starting at 9:30 a.m., kids can pick up complimentary bait and handlines, and then take to the docks around American Yacht Harbor to try their luck. Even those that get skunked receive free pizza, drinks and T-shirts.
The ABMT’s final fishing action on August 17 ends with the sport fishing fleet’s swift Jim Smith ‘Race From The Edge’. The best place to watch what often turns out to be a photo finish is from the spit of land past the pool at the Sapphire Beach Resort. The Awards Ceremony takes place later in the evening along with the naming of the 2008 USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Top Angler, who pockets a $10,000 cash prize.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.