Less than a dozen famous sports fishing captains have been inducted into the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament’s Hall of Fame. Even fewer have survived the U.S. Northeast’s ‘Perfect Storm’ that happened nearly a quarter century ago this month. Captain Albert Johnson, who fished recreationally for blue marlin in the Caribbean in the 1970s and 1980s and continues to fish commercially, can lay claim to both of these outstanding feats.
Johnson’s life-long career as a fisherman started at the age of ten when his family moved from the landlocked state of Arizona to Mississippi.
“I got bitten by the fishing bug early,” he says. “I started hanging around the docks and then going out on some of the commercial boats. It was pretty exciting.”
Johnson worked his way from mate right out of high school to eventually captain. He moved to Hillsboro Inlet, Florida, and worked with some of the best in the industry. This led to successful trips down to the Florida Keys and across to the Bahamas. In 1979, Johnson was asked by the owner of the Don Chason-built Elbo 7 to fish a May to September season in St. Thomas.
“Back in those days there were maybe six boats tops out fishing the North Drop and on many days we’d be the only boat out there,” he says.
Johnson came back to the Virgin Islands two summers later where he became the first captain in St. Thomas to record 105 blue marlin catches in 60 days. He nearly repeated this feat the next two years with 102 and 101 catches, respectively. Johnson continued returning to the Virgin Islands for the summer marlin season until 1984.
In 1990, he took a job running a commercial swordfisher, the 78-foot Mary T. A year later, the Mary T would be almost as famous as another boat, the 72-foot Andrea Gail.
“We were out on the Grand Banks in a warm foggy strip of water having some phenomenal fishing, when I see a blip on the radar that another boat was close,” Johnson says. “It was the Andrea Gail. Billy (Capt. Billy Tyne) said he’d been out 30 days and hadn’t caught much. He asked if he could take over our set when we went in. I told him yes.”
Johnson ran his catch into port and came back out. In the meantime, Tyne had filled his hold with the catch of a lifetime. Tyne was headed in when Johnson, the unofficial weatherman of the fleet, radioed about the ferrous storm approaching.
“I still remember the last radio transmission I got from Billy, he said: ‘She’s comin’ on boys, and she’s comin’ on strong,’” says Johnson. “Later, we found out that a weather buoy was reporting 100-foot waves in Billy’s last location.”
Johnson successfully rode out the storm by heading into a cold, dense finger of water in the Labrador Current. For 30 straight hours he stood at the helm steering into the waves by day and going with the seas in the dark of night in case of a rogue wave. When the storm finally subsided, it was Johnson who reported to the U.S. Coast Guard his sighting of floating fuel barrels stenciled with the letters A.G.
Today, Johnson, who lives in Sebastian, Florida, captain’s the 100-foot Growler and commercial fishes off Florida in the winter and Grand Banks in the summer.
“I was gun shy about the weather for a couple of years after the Perfect Storm,” says Johnson. “But fishing is something I love. It’s in my blood.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.