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Exciting Finish at the July Open Billfish Tournament

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Two boats nearly swapped places on the leaderboard during the third and final day of fishing in the 54th July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT), hosted by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club (VIGFC). In the end, it was Sodium that earned Top Boat and the 75ft Weaver’s owner and angler, Chad Damron, who won Top Angler with six blue marlin releases.

“We hooked up quickly this morning (last day) and were one of the first to catch a blue marlin,” describes Damron, of Crystal River, Florida. “Never Say Never hooked up while we were fighting our fish, so that put us both one ahead.”

By midday, the release tally was five blue marlin for Sodium and four for Never Say Never, a 72ft Merritt owned by Jim Carr of Coral Gables, Florida.

Then, Sodium hooked up but the marlin broke off the hook. Never Say Never used the opportunity to tease up a blue and connected with a release. This tied both boats with five releases apiece, with Sodium still in the lead based on time.

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Three generations fish aboard Never Say Never (from left): Jim Carr, Melissa Murck and Zac Murck. Photo: Dean Barnes
Three generations fish aboard Never Say Never (from left): Jim Carr, Melissa Murck and Zac Murck. Photo: Dean Barnes

“We caught another marlin around 2pm. That meant Never Say Never had to catch two more to beat us, so I was feeling pretty confident. The closer it got to lines out, the better I felt,” says Sodium’s Damron, who credited his crew, Captain Randy Jendersee and mates Travis Butters and Tyler Valles for the win. “It’s so special here. The fish are meaner and if you miss one on the first pass it usually comes back around. The Virgin Islands are such a great place to fish. Big fish and lots of fish.”

For his Top Angler win, Damron will have his name engraved on the prestigious Captain Johnny Harms ‘Give Him Line’ trophy.

Damron’s six blue marlin releases were nine fish short of earning this year’s new prize: $25,000 cash for catching and releasing 15 blue marlin during the three-day tournament.

Sodium’s Chad Damron, of Crystal River, Florida outfished the competition. Photo: Dean Barnes

Never Say Never, helmed by Captain Eddie Herbert, finished second in the Top Boat standings with five blue marlin releases.

“I just hoped we could have seen a couple more marlin to win,” says Never Say Never’s Murck, who won the Top Junior Angler award. “Still, it was pretty exciting.”

Local charter boat, Mixed Bag, a 40ft Luhrs based out of The Westin, St. John with Captain Rob Richards at the helm, finished third in the boat standings with the release of three blue marlin total.

In total, the tournament fleet caught and released 19 blue marlin and one white marlin in three-days of fishing. Teams in this the longest annually held contest in the Virgin Islands, represented the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. mainland.

Profits from the VIGFC tournaments, which received 501 C (3) status this year, will benefit the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Marine Vocation Program and local veterans. Tournament sponsorship and donations are tax deductible.

Sponsors include IGY’s American Yacht Harbor; Fish Tails Bar & Grill; Southern Glazer’s Wines & Spirits, distributor of Mount Gay Rum; and Yeti.


Report by Carol Bareuther. Photos by Dean Barnes 

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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