St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The blue marlin buzz ran hot on the docks last night in the wake of Tropical Storm Erika as nine boats registered to fish an abbreviated two-day 43rd USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT). What’s more, two boats signed up for the first-ever MarlinFest Wet & Wild Center Console Tournament, which will also take place Saturday and Sunday. On shore, everything is a go for MarlinFest’s 3rd annual Red Hook Jump Up on Saturday compete with Arts & Crafts Fair, Chowder Challenge and Caribbean Show.
“Boats scattered due to the storm, but many came back and we had a lot of enthusiasm to go forward with the tournament,” says director, Jimmy Loveland. “Some of the most excitement came from the boats, No Limit from St. John, and Turn & Burn, from St. Croix, who will make history as our first MarlinFest Wet & Wild competitors.”
The combination of full moon and rising barometric pressure in the storm’s aftermath should produce excellent fishing.
“We had one (blue marlin) come up today,” says Capt. David Salazar, captain aboard the Puerto Rico-based 54’ Viking, Marlin Raptor, who tested the bite on the North Drop for a few hours yesterday.
Boats ready to fish the ABMT include Marlin Raptor, Pescador, Never Say Never, Wave Paver, Jichi, Black Pearl, Stalker, Sharky’s Revenge and the Reel Tight.
The Reel Tight, an 80’ Merritt owned by Jim Lambert, Jr. and homeported out of Hillsborough Beach, Florida, went fishing Friday. “The water looks pretty good out on the North Drop. The silt that runs off into the water after a storm hasn’t reached the Drop yet, so there’s the potential for some good fishing over the next few days,” says Capt. Joe Figiel.
This year’s ABMT will be run as a team tournament with IGFA rules only, Loveland says. “We’re testing the possibility of having two divisions in the future. One will be fished traditionally according to the special rules we’ve put in place over the last four decades with Top Angler and Top Boat awards. The other will be like this year, a team tournament with a Top Team or Top Boat trophy.”
On Saturday, ABMT fishing starts right after the Boy Scout Flag Raising Ceremony and Blessing of the Fleet at 6:30 a.m. at the AYH flagpole. Newly minted Eagle Scout, Marcus Norkaitis, will sing the national anthem, while Rev. Jeffrey Neevel, of the St. Thomas Reformed Church, will Bless the Fleet.
ABMT anglers, captains and crews will set their sights on catching and releasing the most blue marlin, while the Wet & Wild competitors will fish for billfish, wahoo and yellowfin tuna on standup tackle. The public can catch the spirit of the sport by walking the docks and watching the vessels come in around 6:30 p.m. and counting the number of marlin release flags flying from the outriggers. Anglers in this conservation-oriented tournament have not boated a blue marlin since 1986. The more flags, the more marlin the boat released. The winner is the one who releases the most blue marlin first.
On land, the public is invited to the Red Hook ‘Jump Up’ on Saturday. This takes place roadside in the AYH parking lot. Activities start with an Arts & Crafts and West Indian Food Fair from Noon to 8 p.m. Tournament T-shirts with beautiful original art by marine artist Jason Mathias, will be for sale. Restaurants compete at the Chowder Challenge from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. The ‘Best of the Fest’ restaurant winner pockets $1,000 cash. Judges of the Chowder Challenge include the Food Network’s Extreme Chef star, Terry French. The evening caps off with a Caribbean-style ‘Jump Up’ show featuring costumed stilt-walking Mocko Jumbies and limbo dancers starting at 8:30 pm.
The ABMT’s final fishing action concludes on Sunday August 30th. The Awards Ceremony takes place later under the Marlin Tent at AYH.
Started by Chuck Senf back in 1972, the ABMT has evolved into one of the most competitive saltwater sports fishing events in the world or the ‘Super Bowl of Sports Fishing’. The ABMT is fished under International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) rules, and is overseen by a professional ‘Board of Captains’ and well-qualified judges.
The ABMT continues its 43 year tradition of benefiting the Boy Scouts of the Virgin Islands. MarlinFest benefits the MVP, which is a locally-registered not-for-profit.