St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. A last minute catch landed Pescador the Top Boat prize in the 43rd annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT). The team, led by Stephen Deckoff, Sr., the St. John, USVI-based owner/angler of the 60-foot Rybovich, scored five blue marlin releases in the two-day tournament. The team’s final fish, caught by Deckoff’s 16-year-old son, John, kept fighting after the 5:30 p.m. lines out time making for a thrilling finish to this ‘Super Bowl of Sports Fishing’.
“That last blue marlin, the one that won us the tournament, only weighed around 300 pounds, but it was a fighter. We had our fingers crossed that we’d be able to release it and John did after a 1 hour and 20 minute fight,” says Deckoff.
Never Say Never, a 58-foot Merritt owned by Jim Carr of Coral Gables, Florida, led going into the ABMT’s final day with three blue marlin releases. Pescador also scored three releases, but was in second place based on time. Today, Never Say Never maintained its lead by catching a fourth blue right after Noon. Pescador released its fourth fish 7 minutes later, keeping both boats in their same first and second position. The only way for Pescador to win was to release a fifth blue marlin.
“John hooked up his marlin just minutes before lines out,” says Deckoff, who adds that his team was fishing the waters off of Anegada. Tournament rules allow a maximum three hour fight time for any fish hooked up before the event’s end. The Pescador team used this rule to advantage with their tournament-winning catch coming shortly before 6 p.m.
Never Say Never ended second with four releases, while Marlinraptor, a Puerto Rico-based 54-foot Viking with Capt. David Salazar at the helm, rounded out third place with three blue marlin.
In total, the 9 boat tournament fleet released a total of 20 blue marlin in two-days.
The ABMT was run this year as a team tournament under IGFA rules only, without the call for competitors to adhere to additional special tournament rules such as the need for anglers to rotate rods hourly. The event was abbreviated to two days due to Tropical Storm Erika.
No fish were caught by either boat fishing in the first-ever MarlinFest Wet ‘N Wild Center Console Tournament.
“We saw a white marlin yesterday, but didn’t catch it. Today, we didn’t see anything. But, hey, we can say we fished in the first tournament,” says Capt. Rob Olive, aboard the St. Croix, USVI-based 40-foot Deep Impact, Turn and Burn.
Josh Bourg, aboard the St. John, USVI-based 33-foot Viper, No Limit, the other Wet ‘N Wild entry, said his team hooked up a 600-plus-pound blue marlin that ultimately shook the hook before they could catch it. The blue did put on a great display jumping in the vessel’s wake before swimming free.
The Wet N’ Wild is for anglers who enjoy big game fishing for blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna and wahoo on standup tackle.
On land, crowds came out on Saturday to enjoy the 3rd annual MarlinFest Red Hook ‘Jump Up’. Over twenty arts, crafts and food vendors lined the upper parking lot at IGY’s American Yacht Harbor Marina. In the afternoon, seven restaurants competed for the $1000 cash prize in the Chowder Challenge. Fish Tails won ‘Best of the Fest’ for its Mahi Corn & Crab Chowder. Latitude 18 finished second with its Seafood Chowder, while Molly Malone’s came in third with its Conch Chowder. Judges included Marleen Dykhuis, who judged the Chili Cook-Off for many years, Virgin Islands’ Daily News restaurant critic, Lori Abbotts and the Food Network’s Extreme Chef winner, Terry French.
“What I like about being a chef and being involved in events like this is the chance to give back and benefit the community,” says French, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and who is also an avid fisherman.
Proceeds from MarlinFest benefit the Marine Vocational Program, which is a locally-registered not-for profit.
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.