Bernard Johnson has sailed across the Atlantic and he has fought a blue marlin for nearly 24 hours, albeit not on the same trip. But, says this St. Lucian native and current International Game Fish Association representative for his Caribbean island, “I found in life, it’s always the things that are hard to obtain that I seem to want the most.”
Born and raised on the 238-square-mile of St. Lucia, located south of Martinique and north of St. Vincent, Johnson says, “I started trolling with my father at the age of eight, using in those days rods made of bamboo and reels that turned in only direction. We also used homemade reels fixed to the boat, which my father called ‘winches’. These had no rod.”
Today, Johnson says blue marlin are his favorite fish. “I must say, though, I derive great pleasure out of sailfish, kingfish, dorado, and tuna too. In fact, my best fishing day happened many years ago in Barbados, when we caught 56 dolphin and kingfish in a single day.” When it comes to blue marlin, Johnson says, “I fish mainly with 30- and 50-pound test. My favorite methods are trolling with either dead or artificial baits.”
His best fish story centers on a blue marlin and it bears a striking resemblance to Ernest Hemingway’s classic tale, “The Old Man and the Sea”.
“It was about two years ago, when on a Saturday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. we hooked into a blue marlin that carried us through until midday the following Sunday when we finally lost it,” Johnson relates. “Although the leader came to hand many times, we just couldn’t budge the fish. We tried during the night to get it into shallow water, thereby making it more difficult for the fish to sound. We succeeded in going initially from 3,000 feet to 110 feet when we finally lost it. We even sent a diver down at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning to have a look and the fish was just circling around and around pretty much on its side, like a huge surf board. It was estimated to be in excess of 1,000-pounds, and I just hope I can live long enough to have such an opportunity again. This all happened in my own back yard, about eight miles north of St. Lucia. While I was indeed sorry to have never got to weigh it, it really would have been a shame to kill such a magnificent creature. Quite honestly, having fought so gallantly, it deserved to escape.”
In addition to days fishing with friends, Johnson has always enjoyed tournament angling and has won many events over the past 35 years.
“I fish as many tournaments as I can between St. Martin and Tobago,” he says. He’s also fished the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin or ‘Boy Scout’ Tournament in St. Thomas. But, Johnson says, Grenada’s Spice Island Billfish Tournament held each January is his favorite. “I’ve fished this tournament every year for the past 32 and was honored a few years ago with a picture of myself and a sailfish on a postal stamp.”
Although he fishes mainly in the Caribbean, and calls his favorite locale to angle his home island waters, Johnson has fished all over the world. He’s traveled to the Pacific coast of Central America and to the north of England to do a bit of fly-fishing.
“I fish about 100 days a year, as my work schedule allows,” says Johnson, who founded and still manages St. Lucia Cold Storage, founded and is current managing director of Tropical Homes Ltd. in St. Lucia, and on the development board of The Landings Limited, a 5-star resort development. Johnson and his wife Joyce live on the water in Rodney Bay. Johnson’s platform for fishing is his 54-foot Bertram, Grey Ghost.
“I have a regular captain and crew,” he says, “and I always fish with friends, although not always the same people because they’re not always available. Pretty much anyone who likes fishing and happens to be around is welcome to come with me. Quite frankly, having caught hundreds of billfish over the years, it gives me more pleasure to see my guest catch the fish and then to release it. When the fish is released, I always end up giving them a lecture in conservation but I’m not sure they’re always convinced.”
In addition to IGFA, Johnson is a member of The Billfish Foundation (TBF) and treasurer of the Marine Industries Association of St. Lucia (MIASL) Inc., a non-profit, 70-member-strong organization formed in 2003 and dedicated to promoting and developing the island nation’s yachting sector.
Looking towards the future, Johnson says, “Unfortunately, as time goes by, we have more knowledge, better equipment but we seem to catch fewer fish. This indicates that the fishery is being slowly depleted but I think with proper management it will come back. I would hate to think that my grandchildren would not derive the pleasure I have had through fishing. This can be achieved through 100 percent catch and release.”