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Marlin Man at the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament

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Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament 2012


Angler Todd Baxley of Charleston, S.C., brought the winning fish to the scales at the prestigious Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in Morehead City, N.C, fullfilling what any blue water angler would have at the top of their bucket list. Incredibly, Baxley struck the blue marlin, reeled it in AND gaffed it to lead FlyBuoy to victory.

Gary Davis owns the 56-foot Ocean sportfisher FlyBuoy, and Todd Baxley has been fishing with him for 14 years. Their philosophy about pulling big lures for big blue marlin blends well together, and they had chased the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament title five previous years. Other crewmembers included Capt. Robert Hollingsworth and wife Kathy Baxley, a long-time bluewater enthusiast.

The format at the 54th Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament allowed boats to fish four-out-of-six days in order to determine a winner. “We went to sea on Day One (June 11) and found 2-foot seas with a light chop, ideal for billfishing,” said Baxley. “As the designated angler, I also rig up the baits for the boat, and our spread included some Marlin Magic and Moldcraft lures. Believe it or not the fishing was slow and by 1:45 p.m. we had no bites at all.”

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Just minutes after a brief conversation among crewmembers about a possible change of tactics before the 3 p.m. cutoff, three fish crashed their bait spread. “I saw all three blue marlin. The two smaller fish did not get hooked up and were likely males,” said Baxley. “The larger female fish ate the Wide-Ranger all black Mold Craft Fishing lure and the reel began to scream. I set the hook and got strapped into the fighting chair.”

A Shimano 130 reel can hold 1,100-yards of line, and this blue marlin peeled off 700 yards on her first run. “When the fish jumped about 350-yards away, I judged it to be 500-pounds and instructed the crew this was a keeper,” said Baxley. “We backed down on the fish for an hour, but it took a total of two hours to fight the fish close to the boat. Then Capt. Hollingsworth moved to the transom to grab the leader while I jumped up and gaffed the blue marlin.”

The fish was loaded through the transom door at 3:15 p.m., and they headed back to port. “This tournament really celebrates big blue marlin, and there were 2,000 fans waiting on us at the scales,” said Baxley. At 499.3-pounds, FlyBuoy’s blue marlin was leading the tournament with five days of fishing to go.

“It was a stressful week of waiting, but somehow our fish held up,” said Baxley. FlyBuoy won a total of $494,710 for their fish, and they narrowly missed a bonus of $246K that comes for any blue marlin weighing over 500-pounds, but Baxley jokes that the boat owner would have wanted a newer boat if they had won the extra prize. “Only 54-boats have won this in the past, and that is what means the most to us.”

Baxley’s best billfish tips come from years of experience and some informative trips to the productive waters off Kona, Hawaii.

“Fishing with Marlin Parker in Hawaii taught me a lot about catching blue marlin. I like to rig my hookset down, not pointing upwards like most, and I think the purple and black color combination is hands down the best. Lastly, my bait spread will always include a Red Eye Ruckus lure.”

Back home in Charleston, the Baxley’s fish in the S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfish Series events and have been recognized with applause at each stop. “I still get congratulated everywhere I go,” said Baxley.
What’s next?

“We will continue fishing offshore this fall, but will target wahoo, dolphin and sailfish since the blue marlin will have moved on,” said Baxley. ‘We’ll pull skirted ballyhoo in water from 180 to 400 feet deep, near formations off the S.C. coast like the 226-Hole and the Edisto Banks.” And yes, FlyBuoy is already planning to return to Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in 2013 to defend their title.

Jeff Dennis is a Charleston native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com.


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Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston loving the saltwater, and he contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

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