Three flamingos flew over the wake as the first of 34 boats left Curaçao behind on Friday, March 17, heading five to ten miles offshore to drop lines in the winter in search of billfish prowling below the surface. The leggy pink birds turned out to be a good omen for the team aboard Hey Chama, a Bertram 54—Ricky Winkel, Charles Heldewier, and Anthony diBenedetto—who took home the $10,000 First Place Team prize.
The catch and release tournament, oriented towards the conservation of the species, was underwritten by Platinum Sponsor Luhrs and Gold Sponsor Budget Marine Curaçao, along with fourteen other local companies.
IGFA rules applied, and this year the Curaçao Yacht Club, home base and sponsor of the tournament, implemented a new system for verifying releases. Each team was required to provide its own digital still or video camera indicating a time and date stamp. When ready to release, the team called tournament control and were given a code nu mber between one and five. Then another photo was taken with a crew me mber holding up the correct nu mber of fingers in front of the fish. At the end of the day, cameras and all photos were brought to the weigh station for verification of official release points.
“The organization went very well,” said winning team me mber and Tournament Director Charles Heldewier. A digital billboard in the clubhouse drew a crowd as images were displayed at the end of each day’s fishing. As dorado, wahoo, and tuna were weighed at the club docks, fishermen and spectators sipped hot fish soup next to the scales. Each afternoon, the clubhouse was packed with families and friends waiting to greet returning boats and join in the nightly dancing to live music.
Four blue marlin were caught and released on day one and six on day two, for a total of ten during the tournament (except, of course, for those that got away.) The victorious Hey Chama team scored the first release on day one and fifth release on day two, and Ricky Winkel was named Best Qualifying Angler.
“We’ve been fishing here since we were five,” said his teammate Heldewier, who put local knowledge to good use when Hey Chama started scouting for marlin. “You look at the color and temperature of the water.” Irving Irausquin, who was named Best Captain, found success by steering the Hey Chama team over to Klein (little) Curaçao, an uninhabited island off the southern coast.
Plenty of other anglers were not quite as savvy or perhaps just unlucky even after trolling in the same location as Hey Chama. Despite clapping in the direction of the bait, calling out to the hidden fish, and banging on the transom, the team that included Curaçao Yacht Club President Roli Perret Gentil aboard Crazy Lady, a Viking 47, came home empty handed both days. “That’s why we call it fishing, and not catching,” Perret Gentil pointed out after spending a total of eighteen catch-challenged hours on the water during the tournament. The boat’s owner Reginald Wilsoe, whose son Yannick took a break from school in the Netherlands to join him for the event, was philosophical about the tournament.
“Every day is not a catching day—but on the boat I forget all my problems,” said Wilsoe.
None of the fishermen took home the keys to a Dodge Magnum this year by beating the 21-year old “803 Challenge,” named for the 803-pound blue marlin boarded after a three-hour fight during the 1985 tournament by angler Robert van Vliet. But they know They Are Out There–and everyone who participated is ready to come back and join the hunt again next year.
Results: Luhrs 40 th Annual International Blue Marlin Release Tournament: March 16 – 19, 2006
Best Qualifying Angler of the Tournament: Ricky Winkel
First Place Team ($10,000 prize)
Vessel: Hey Chama
Team me mbers: Ricky Winkel, Charles Heldewier, Anthony diBenedetto
Second Place Team ($3,000 prize)
Team members: Salvador Lairet, Habram Gonzalez, Rafael Sanson
Third Place Team ($1,500 prize)
Vessel: Make My Day
Team members: Steffen van Heyningen, Carl Mendes de Gouveia, Paul Machado, Bertie Perret-Gentil
First Released Blue Marlin:
Vessel: Hey Chama; Angler: Ricky Winkel
Last Released Blue Marlin:
Vessel: Lady Sarah; Angler: Glenn van Trigt
Vessel: K-Pricho; Angler: Frans Heine
Vessel: Ja-Luhrs; Angler: Ruben Arends
Vessel: Paso Largo; Angler: Brian Irausquin
Vessel: Boogie; Angler: Mark Towery