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Granders Abound during St Thomas July Open

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The 46th annual July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT) July 3 to 6 out of St. Thomas proved that the grand – or better yet “grander” – fish stories of old can come true anew. In addition to down-to-the-wire tournament action that didn’t see Gulf Rascal, a 68-foot Hatteras owned by Florida’s Rod Windley, declared winner until lines out the last day, two boats hooked up 1000-pound-plus blue marlin.

Florida angler, J.R. Bergeron, aboard his 47-foot Cabo, Reel Escape, and not fishing in the JOBT, was the first to hook up a dream ‘Big Daddy’ blue marlin.

“We were just out for a fun day of fishing, me, the captain and our mate,” says Bergeron. “We saw two 300- to 400-pounders in the morning and pulled the hook on both. It was about 6 p.m. when Capt. Rusty Watters said, ‘Let’s make one more turn on the Drop.’ Bam. I knew it was a big one when I hooked up.”

Bergeron fought the mega blue marlin for 8 ½-hours as dusk turned to dark and nearly to dawn. The fish sounded, or shot straight for the sea floor, for a long time before Bergeron finally got it up to the back of the boat where it took all three of them to wire it and make the release.

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“Its bill and tail fin extended a foot or two on either side of the transom and my transom is 15-foot 10-inches, so we estimated the marlin was a good 18-foot long and it was also wide,” says Bergeron.

Knowing that a blue marlin this big is female made it a no-brainer to release, said a conservation-minded Bergeron.

Reel Escape’s no-show at the dock by midnight combined with no way to communicate with the vessel since cell phones and VHF radios don’t reach 20-plus miles offshore led Bergeron’s frantic family to put a call into the U.S. Coast Guard. A rescue helicopter dispatched from Puerto Rico located the vessel and didn’t leave until guardsmen got a thumbs up from the crew that all was well.

The next day, tournament and Texas angler, Don Schmidt, fishing aboard his 64-foot Viking, Omi Gosh, hooked up another grander-plus blue marlin at mid-day.

“It was easily over 1200 pounds,” says Schmidt, whose nephew, James, offered a more graphic description: “It looked like a big truck barreling down at us.”

Schmidt elected to let the fish go and stay in the tournament running, where time and number of fish count more than fish size.

“The bad thing about letting it go was that we thought no one would believe us about its size,” says Schmidt. “The good thing was having the observer onboard who verified the marlin’s size.” A certified IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) observer was on board Omi Gosh, as there were on every boat in the all-release JOBT.

There have been four grander or 1000-pound blue marlin caught in Virgin Islands waters. The first world record blue marlin caught in a tournament was set by angler Elliot Fishman in the 1968 JOBT with a 845-pounder.

It wasn’t big fish, but the most fish released first, that won the 2009 JOBT for Gulf Rascal. The boat, with Capt. Billy Borer at the helm and Lee Steiner, Rick Steiner, Joel Findley and Gerald McKenna as anglers, caught and released five blue marlin.

Fishing got off to a slow start, yet Gulf Rascal anglers released a pair of blues – including the first fish of the tournament – to take an early lead. Day two turned even more productive when Gulf Rascal added three more marlin releases to its team’s score.

“The bite turned on, especially in the afternoon,” says Borer. “We pitched to three, hooked all three, and caught and released all three.”

The last day, the fleet was glued to the VHF to see if Gulf Rascal or Rude Awakening, a 55-foot Viking owned by Florida angler Rudy Polselli, Jr., would win. Rude Awakening started into day three with three releases and quickly added a fourth. It was 3:15 p.m., with 45 minutes left in the tournament, when Rude Awakening released its fifth blue marlin, a feat that tied Gulf Rascal on count.

“We hoped we’d catch another or they (Rude Awakening) wouldn’t,” says Gulf Rascal’s Borer, who got his wish to win.

For full results, visit www.vigfc.com

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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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