One tag, worth 100 points, is what it took to earn Abigail III, Capt. Red Bailey’s St. Thomas-based Custom 44 sports fishing charter boat the Top Boat title at the 44th annual July Open Billfish Tournament, hosted by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club, July 27 to 29.
Sixteen boats cast off to the North Drop on Day 1. Angler James MacNeil, aboard the Mixed Bag, broke the ice at 10:05 a.m. when he reeled in the first marlin of the tournament. By the end of the day, a total of seven boats tied on the leader board with a marlin release apiece for 600 points each. One of these was Bobby Jacobsen’s 64-foot Viking, Marlin Darlin, however Abigail III was skunked.
Tim Aylward of New Port Ritchie, Florida, who with wife Kathleen angled aboard Abigail III and have every year since 1992, says, “We saw three and they played with the baits. That was it. You couldn’t have called any of them a hook-up.”
The Aylwards’ luck reversed Day 2 when they rocketed to the top of the leaderboard with the release of three blues. “We were excited when we thought about the possibility of winning, but we didn’t want to get too excited. After all, Gulf Rascal (with Capt. Billy Borer at the helm) released three for the day too, but we beat them on time,” says Kathleen, who earned Top Female Angler in the 1997 edition of this tournament.
Meanwhile, it was Marlin Darlin’s day to go fishless. Yet again, luck reversed on Day 3.
“Our captain, (Robert) Cujo (Brinkmeyer) decided we should go northeast, away from the fleet about five miles and it paid off,” says Jacobsen. “We released three fish all in the space of 45 minutes, between 10:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.”
Jacobsen adds, “One of them pulled the hook before we could tag it. It’s the only tag we lost.”
At 4 p.m., Marlin Darlin released their fourth blue marlin of the day, a feat that earned them a tournament total of 2900 points.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 3:34 p.m. when Tim Aylward released Abigail III’s first marlin of the day.
“We never catch fish late in the tournament, so we thought ‘that’s it’,” says Kathleen.
As luck would have it, Kathleen caught her first blue and Abigail III’s fifth blue of the tournament at 4:25 p.m., five minutes before lines out. Capt. Red Bailey, who served as mate while his son Kelvin, Jr, took the helm and regular mate, Ariel Donovan, made the tag as they had with all of Abigail III’s other releases, thus earning the boat 3000 points and the win.
Marlin Darlin finished second and Gulf Rascal third with 2400 points from six blue marlin tag and releases.
Tim Aylward, with his release of four blue marlin, earned Top Angler and the prestigious Give ‘em Line Trophy.
“(Capt.) Red (Bailey) finally taught us how to fish,” joked Tim Aylward, “and we got lucky too.”
Past winners of the Give ‘em Line Trophy are a virtual who’s who of Marlin fishing. One of these was the late Elliott Fishman caught an all tackle world’s record blue marlin, a 845-pounder, while fishing the 1968 July Open Tournament.
Conservation-oriented, tournament rules call for 100 percent release, use of single hook, and IGFA Certified Observers rode each entered boat.
The July Open Billfish Tournament is the longest continuously held billfish tournament in the Virgin Islands. Proceeds from the tournament benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Virgin Islands.
RESULTS – BOAT RANKINGS
Abigail III, 3000 points
Marlin Darlin, 2900 points
Gulf Rascal, 2400 points
Therapy, 2300 points
Black Pearl, 1800 points
HT Hook, 1700 points
Wheezing, 1700 points
No Excuse, 1700 points
Freebie, 1600 points
Alican, 1600 points
Mixed Bag, 1200 points
Lady Lou, 1200 points
Six Pack, 600 points
Sharkey’s Revenge, 860 points
Revenge, 600 points
Rum Bum, 600 points
*Blue Marlin, 500 points tagged; tagged and released, 600 points
*White Marlin, 300 points tagged; tagged and released, 360 points
Sailfish, 200 points tagged; tagged and released 240 points