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Lines In at 54th July Open Billfish Tournament

Captain Jay Fowler of the Pescador (L) and Captain Rob Richards of Mixed Bag (R) register for the July Open Billfish Tournament. Credit Dean Barnes

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Over half dozen boats homeported in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rici and U.S. mainland are ready to fish the 54th July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT), hosted by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club (VIGFC), July 6 to 8. Anglers in this longest annually held angling contest in the Virgin Islands will set their sights on reeling in the most blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish to win cash, prizes and carved hook trophies by marine artist David A, Wirth. The hot new prize this year is a chance to pocket $25,000 cash by catching and releasing 15 blue marlin during the three-day tournament.

Last year, the team aboard Never Say Never, a 58-foot Merritt, earned Top Boat with the release of six blue marlin in three days. Fourteen-year-old angler, Zachary ‘Zac’ Murck, of Florida, released all the Florida-based team’s blues to earn the prestigious ‘Give Him Line’ award for Top Angler.

“We’re certainly going to try to,” says Capt. Eddie Herbert, aboard the new Florida-based Never Say Never, a 72-foot Merritt, about the team’s plan to successfully defend both Top Boat and Top Angler awards.

The competition this year will certainly be formidable. Back this year too is Jim Lambert’s new Reel Tight, now an 86-foot Merritt. The Florida-based Reel Tight team have also earned Top Boat and Top Angler trophies in this tournament in the past.

“The new boat launched in April, says Reel Tight Capt. Joe Fiegel. “We fished 10 days in the Bahamas then brought her down here last month where we saw plenty of fish during the last moon.”

Good fishing is something Chad Damron and his crew experienced today aboard Damron’s 75-foot Weaver, Sodium, with Capt. Randy Jendersee at the helm.

“We saw five blue marlin and released three of them,” says Damron, from Florida.

Virgin Islands’ entries into this year’s JOBT include St. John’s Stephan Deckoff’s new Pescador, now an 80-foot Bayliss, and local sports fishing charter boat, Mixed Bag, a 40-foot Luhrs Express, with Captain Rob Richards.

Captain Eddie Herbert, of Never Say Never, signs up the the July Open Billfish Tournament. The boat won the 2016 event. Credit: Dean Barnes

“Anything is possible. That’s what’s so great about salt water sports fishing,” says Pescador’s Captain Jay Fowler, about the possibility of winning this year’s $25,000 top prize.

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.

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. and Yeti.

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

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