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Fishing Starts at July Open Billfish Tournament Sunday

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St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Nearly a half dozen boats homeported in the Virgin Islands and U.S. mainland are ready to fish in the 53rd July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT). This longest annually held angling contest in the Virgin Islands and is hosted by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club (VIGFC). Anglers in this three-day tournament, which concludes Tuesday July 19, will set their sights on catching and releasing the most blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish to win cash, trophies and prizes.

Last year, the team aboard Wave Paver, a 61’ Garlington based out of Port Canaveral, Florida, earned Top Boat with the release of seven blue marlin in three days. Wave Paver owner, JR Davis, released six of the team’s blues to earn the prestigious ‘Give Him Line’ award for Top Angler. Davis and the Wave Paver team will look to defend their title this year.

“The fishing has been good the past couple of days,” says Davis. “We had five bites and released three blue marlin yesterday and released two the day before. This is our favorite spot to fish. We’re looking forward to going out and having fun.”

Pescador, a 60’ Rybovich, owned by Stephen Deckoff, Sr., of St. John, USVI, is another JOBT entry. The team, which includes Deckoff as an angler, won the 2015 USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament.

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“The bite’s been good, the weather looks good and we’re looking forward to it,” says Pescador’s captain, Jay Fowler.

New this year, instead of observers, anglers will be given cameras with a different color ribbon each day of the tournament to document and verify catch and releases.

“It’s something we’ve done before, in fact most of the tournaments in the Bahamas and South Florida, have changed to this method. It works really well,” says Capt. Eddie Herbert, at the helm of the 58’ Merritt, Never Say Never, another JOBT entry.

Local sports fishing charter boat, Mixed Bag, a 45’ Luhrs Express, was out scouting the waters and practicing on Saturday for the tournament. Youngest angler, Robbie Richards, hooked a blue marlin that he fought for three hours before it snapped the line.

“I don’t want to be Top Junior Angler,” says Richards, of St. Thomas. “I want to win the whole tournament.”

Lines go in the water at 8:30 a.m. and out at 5 p.m., except on the final day of the three-day tournament when lines out will be at 4 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 JOBT is a conservation-conscious all-release tournament. No fish will be boated or brought to the dock for weigh-in.

Past winners of the prestigious Capt. Johnny Harms ‘Give Him Line’ Trophy read like a Who’s Who of blue marlin sport fishing. Angler Elliot Fishman’s winning 845-pound catch in 1968 set an all-tackle world record. Only two anglers have reeled in this honor two times – the late Howard Crouse in 1965 and 1988, and Puerto Rico’s late legendary angler Ralph Christiansen in 1973 and 1984.

For more information and to register, visit: www.vigfc.com or call (340) 775-9144. Visit us on Facebook too!

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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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