The seas surrounding Grenada are some of the best in the world for catching a Grand Slam, which means taking a blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish all on one day. It was just this kind of fishing that brought the team aboard the 47ft Hatteras, Exile, to fish the Budget Marine Spice Island Billfish Tournament (BMSIBT), held January 19th to 23rd. Not only did the USA-based team achieve its slam, but they also released a total of 19 billfish in the three day tournament to win the Top Boat title. What’s more, Exile angler, Christopher Van Grieken, from Curaçao, released a total of eight billfish to earn Top Angler.
“The key was a great team, especially Captain Ricky Wheeler,” says Van Grieken. “On the first day of the tournament I missed a few fish, but Capt. Ricky kept us positive. I also got to use Ricky’s invention, the ‘party hats’ and ‘party skirts’. These are skirts that you add to your ballyhoo when you rig the bait. I really believe that the skirts and hats helped me get most of the bites.”
The Exile team is composed of boat owner/angler, Dr. Frank Pettisani, anglers Van Grieken and Nicholas Novell, Capt. Wheeler and mate Sandy Dabreo. They were among 245 fishermen aboard 50 boats hailing from Grenada, Carriacou, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique, Antigua, Canada, the UK and the USA, taking part this 53rd annual tournament.
A hint of the great things to come happened right after the fleet’s Bimini start when within minutes of lines in on day one many boats reported strikes. By the end of the day, 30 billfish were released and Gud Tyme from Trinidad took an early lead. Exile landed third on the scoreboard with one white marlin and two sailfish releases.
“We ended up having amazing fishing seeing a dozen billfish, but we had a hard time making the connections,” says Wheeler.
Day two proved even better when the fleet set a BMSIBT record of 60 billfish releases in a single day. Nine of these were released by Exile, with four of these sailfish caught by Van Grieken, moving both boat and angler to the top of the leaderboard.
Catches hit a crescendo the third and final day when the fleet released 57 billfish, yet lines in happened an hour and a half earlier to accommodate the awards ceremony. For Exile, the fishing was slamming!
“We started with a double-header blue marlin and sailfish, but pulled the hook on the sail. After some fast backing down we got the release on the blue. Then the sail bite was on, so we pushed in quick and got on a single then a double of sails. We wanted the slam bad and, after the double, got lines in quick and wham! Right teaser white marlin. Frank did pretty work on the switch and we got the Grand Slam! We missed a few sails later in the afternoon, but ended the day with a BANG catching a nice blue marlin. So, we ended up winning the tournament by a huge margin!” says Capt. Wheeler.
The Exile team won a number of beautiful awards including the special Grand Slam Prize of a dinghy and outboard engine.
In total, 147 billfish were released. Not one billfish was boated and killed, a fact the BMSIBT committee is extremely proud of giving its efforts to ensure conservation of this magnificent species.
“It is always a pleasure to host this event and we enjoy having our friends from across the waters join us for this challenge,” says tournament chairman, Richard McIntyre. “We look forward to seeing all our friends again in 2017.”
For full results, visit: www.sibt.gd
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.