The 51st July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT) – the longest annually held angling contest in the Virgin Islands hosted by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club (VIGFC) – will kick-off Wednesday July 9th with a fleet of nearly a dozen boats home-ported out of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and several U.S. mainland states.
Anglers in this three-day tournament, which concludes Friday July 11, will set their sights on catching and releasing the most blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish.
Last year, the Virgin Islands’-based 60-foot Rybovich, Pescador, earned Top Boat. Owner Stephen Deckoff, Sr., of St. John, and son, Stephen, Jr. released a total of eight blue marlin. Deckoff Sr. released five of these blues to win Top Angler, a $10,000 cash prize and his name engraved on the perpetual Capt. Johnny Harms ‘Give Him Line’ Trophy. The names of past winners engraved on this prestigious perpetual prize reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of blue marlin sport fishing. Angler Elliot Fishman’s winning 845-pound catch in 1968 set an all-tackle world record. Only two anglers have reeled in this honor two times – the late Howard Crouse in 1965 and 1988, and Puerto Rico’s late legendary angler Ralph Christiansen in 1973 and 1984.
Pescador isn’t back this year to defend its title. However, the talent in this year’s fleet is so incredibly deep that literally any team could take the top prize. For example, Jr. Davis, from Port Canaveral, Florida, who last year won the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin or ‘Boy Scout Tournament’ aboard his 61-foot Garlington, Wave Paver, is entered.
“We’ll be grinding away trying to catch enough fish to win,” says Davis, who recently arrived to the USVI from the Bahamas where the Wave Paver team placed first in the four-tournament Bahamas Billfish Championship.
Another hot entry to watch is the Ocean Surfari Charters team fishing aboard the 61-foot Buddy Davis, Indigo. The team finished second in this tournament last year.
“Our game plan is the same as last year,” explains Capt. Kevin Haddox. “That is, to capitalize on and catch all of our bites. We’ll be using our own lures this year like last since they worked so well for us.”
Capt. Rob Richards, who charters his Luhrs 40 Open Express Mixed Bag II out of the Westin, St. John, is also usually in the prize running. This year, he’ll compete with his six-year-old son, Robbie, as one of the team’s anglers. Richards has outfitted his son with a special high-speed reel that is small and light.
“I was worried about my line snapping,” explains Robbie, who released his first blue marlin last summer. “But now I know how to set the drag. So, I can’t wait to go out and catch a blue marlin.”
Lines go in the water at 8:30 a.m. and out at 5 p.m., except on the final day of the three-day tournament when lines out will be at 4 p.m.
IGFA trained Observers, all members of the IGFTO (International Game Fish Tournament Observers), will ride aboard each boat throughout the tournament to verify the releases.
The public is invited to greet the fleet as the boats come back to the dock around sunset. The number of flags flying on the outriggers indicates how many billfish the boat’s anglers caught and released for the day. The JOBT is an all-release tournament.
Proceeds from the JOBT benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Virgin Islands. The Boys & Girls Club of the Virgin Islands, a 501 C (3) organization, enables all young people, especially those most needy, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens. Donations are tax deductible.
For more information, visit: www.vigfc.com or call (340) 775-9144.