July Open Tourney Draws Sports Fishermen to the VI

Sports fishermen from the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. mainland are already registered to fish in this year’s July Open Tournament (JOT), the longest annually held angling contest in the Virgin Islands boasting a 43-year tradition of fishing fun. “Because we’ve added the requirement for observers this year, we’re going to have to limit registration to the first 25 boats to sign up,” says Harry Clinton, executive director of the hosting Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club (VIGFC).

Observers are experienced anglers, captains and crews who have passed an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) instituted program. These trained folks can eliminate or reduce rule disputes that may occur in 100 percent release events when no fish are boated or brought to the docks and big prize money is at stake. The VIGFC hosted a training day in June to boost the number of observers locally.

Traditionally, the JOT was fished over the Fourth of July holiday. But, since the full moon is thought to be better for a blue marlin bite, organizers decided a few years ago to move the date to three day’s before the month’s full moon. This year, the event is set for July 6 to 9.

Anglers will set their sights on scoring the most release points for blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish. “This is an all-release tournament,” Clinton says. “No fish will be boated or brought to the dock for weigh-in.”

Last year, it was Florida angler Sam Jennings’ Revenge 58, Revenge, which scored its second-year-in-a-row win as Top Boat. Jennings himself scored the prestigious Give’M Line Trophy for his three released blue marlin, while it was his son Jon’s one released marlin, in addition to his father’s three, which gave Revenge its four fish Top Boat winning total.

Of note, past winners of the Give’M Line Trophy read like a Who’s Who of blue marlin sport fishing, with angler Elliot Fishman’s winning 845-pound catch in 1968 setting 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 legendary angler Ralph Christiansen in 1973 and 1984.

Signs by the end of May portend that this will be a great bill fishing season. “When I’ve gone down to the docks, I’ve consistently seen 2, 3 and 4 flags flying. So, it seems that the bites been on,” Clinton says. Sports fishing crews will run a flag up their aft rigger at the end of the day to signal how many marlin they’ve released in that day.

Proceeds from the JOT benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Virgin Islands.

Tournament registration will take place beginning from 5 to 7 p.m. on July 6 at the VIGFC above the Frigate East restaurant in Red Hook, St. Thomas.

For more information, call: 340-775-9144.

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