St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Double the number of releases by the fleet on day two of the 53rd July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT), hosted by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club (VIGFC), put more boats on the scoreboard. However, it was Zac Murch, the 14-year-old Davie, Florida angler aboard the 58-foot Merritt, Never Say Never, who also doubled his personal number of releases today to keep both the boat and himself in the lead for Top Boat and Top Angler with a total of four blue marlin. Murch wasn’t the only junior angler to release a blue marlin, showing that in this tournament it isn’t age but prowess on the pitch and finesse on the fight that ultimately determines the champion.
“We saw two and caught two (blue marlin),” says Murch, recapping the day he spent out on the water with mother, Melissa, as fellow angler and Capt. Eddie Herbert at the helm. “The first was a rigger fish (fish caught off an outrigger). I had it up to the leader twice before releasing it. The second I caught off a pitch. It ate really well. I’m feeling pretty good about the day and the tournament so far.”
There was great action within the first hour of lines in today. Jr Davis, owner/angler aboard the 61-foot Garlington, Wave Paver, based out of Port Canaveral, Florida, hooked up a blue marlin at the same time as John Deckoff, from St. John, USVI, who was fishing aboard his family’s 60-foot Rybovich, Pescador.
“Our fish was bigger, about 350-pounds, and that’s why I think it took us a little longer to release,” explains Pescador’s Capt. Jay Fowler.
Time is everything in an all-release tournament. It is the number of billfish released and who releases that number first that determines the winner.
Mixed Bag, a 45-foot Luhrs Express that Capt. Rob Richards charters out of the Westin, St. John, was one of the tournament boats that earned a spot on the scoreboard today with two marlin releases. The first was caught by angler Clay Gaffney and the second by junior angler, 9-year-old Robbie Richards, Jr, Capt. Richard’s son.
“The big deal for Robbie is that it was his first fish on a pitch bait. Releasing the fish using 30-pound test line is another big deal. Both of these for a kid his age are real accomplishments in the sports fishing world. We’re really proud of him,” says Capt. Richards.
Tournament fishing resumes Tuesday with lines in the water at 8:30 a.m. and out at 4 p.m., followed by an Awards Ceremony at the VIGFC clubhouse in Red Hook. In addition to Top Boat, up for grabs is the prestigious ‘Give Him Line’ award for Top Angler. The names of past winners engraved on this perpetual trophy reads 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.
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