St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The bite, fight, catch and release of a blue marlin less than an hour after lines-in landed the team aboard the 72’ Merritt, Business Stinks, first on the scoreboard on the first day of fishing in the three-day 45th annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT). What’s more, the Brazilian-based team’s luck held throughout the day. It’s anglers, Paulo Cecchetti and Business Stinks’ owner, Lucas Abud, were the first to release two more blues to remain in the top boat spot by lines-out.
“The day started early with that first release by Lucas,” says Capt. Scott Leon, at the helm of Business Stinks. “Then, Paulo caught one of a double-header in the early afternoon and another about an hour later when the third blue of the day teased up to the bait.”
Business Stinks wasn’t the only team in the 8-boat tournament fleet to release a trio of blues. Cheeseburger, a 60’ Scully whose team is from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and who traveled to St. Thomas from the Dominican Republic just days ago to fish in the ABMT, also released three blue marlin.
“We headed out to the North Drop this morning, the first time since we were last here in the summer of 2015,” explains Rimmer Covington, who with Rod Ladner, own the Cheeseburger and are two of its three anglers. “Roman Davila released the first one just after 9 a.m.. Then we got our second bite around 11 a.m., but couldn’t get it to the pitch. Mid-day was pretty quiet. Then, Ron caught a blue around 2:30 p.m. and Roman our third. That last one was a beautiful bite. It came up on the right teaser, down tight and released in less than 10 to 15 minutes.”
Five boats each released one blue marlin today. Angela, a 50’ Ronan with sports fishermen from Puerto Rico aboard, were the first of the team’s reeling in singletons to round out third in the boat standings. The Gulf Rascal, Dona Lucy, A1A and Sodium also caught one marlin today.
“There seemed like a decent pick of fish in the morning, based on what we heard on the radio from the boats around us, then midday it really slowed. The bites picked up in the afternoon and that’s when we caught one and lost another,” says A1A Capt. Mike Kalandros, from Stuart, Florida.
Sodium, Florida’s Chad Damron 75’ Weaver, which earned Top Boat at the July Open Billfish Tournament last month, had a slow day with only one release. Yet, Damron’s evening was much busier, as he led the shrimp fry on the end of IGY’s American Yacht Harbor’s famous ‘A’ Dock.
“I peeled 25 pounds of shrimp and caught a blue marlin today. Life is awesome,” says Damron.
Lines go in the water on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and out at 5:30 p.m. On Sunday, fishing is from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
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 ABMT is a conservation-conscious all-release tournament. No fish will be boated or brought to the dock for weigh-in.
The ABMT is being run this year as a team tournament under IGFA rules only, without the call for competitors to adhere to additional special tournament rules such as the need for anglers to rotate rods hourly.
“The sport of fishing has changed over the years. Now, families are more involved and as a result, owners want to participate in a tournament in the same way they do while fishing on their own on an everyday basis, while at the same time supporting the local community,” says Andrea ‘Andy’ Courteau, with Gulf Rascal’s Capt. Billy Borer are co-directing the ABMT this year.
Both Courteau and Borer, as angler and captain, respectively, have competed in the ABMT since the 1980’s. Thus, both have extensive knowledge of the sport and local fishing grounds to their credit.
On land, the 5th Annual MarlinFest takes place this weekend. On Saturday, there’s an Arts & Crafts Fair and Chowder Challenge from Noon to 6 p.m. in the upper parking lot at IGY’s American Yacht Harbor Marina in Red Hook. On Sunday, a Shrimp Boil starts at 6 p.m. and Caribbean Show, complete with Mocko Jumbies and music, starts at 8 p.m., in the parking lot of the Red Hook Shopping Mall.
The ABMT and MarlinFest benefit the locally-registered not-for-profit Marine Vocational Program (MVP). The MVP’s goal is to serve as a vocational institution that provide U.S. Virgin Islands youth with a career path into the marine/hospitality/tourism industries. Current MVP programs include learn-to-swim, sailing, scuba diving and small boat handling and operation skills.
Started by Chuck Senf back in 1972, the ABMT has evolved into one of the most competitive saltwater sports fishing events in the world or the ‘Super Bowl of Sports Fishing’.