There was no doubt about which boat won the 36th annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT), for an ever-growing crowd of captains, crews, anglers and spectators spontaneously burst into hand-claps and high-fives when Luis Bacardi’s 58’ Bertram, Rum Bum, backed into its slip on A-dock at St. Thomas’ American Yacht Harbor. The two flags flying on the outriggers were what cinched the deal, leading the Florida-based boat to be the first – and only boat of the tournament – to release 10 blue marlin over four days of fishing, August 14 to 17.
“It was great fishing,” says Luis Bacardi, who made five of the releases and finished Second Top Angler, while his wife Jennifer made the other five and ended Third Top Angler and Top Female Angler.
Rum Bum mate, David ‘Pompano’ Wimberly, tells of the excitement and tension during the last day’s fishing. “We tried not to listen to the radio and to what the other boats were catching. Our game plan was to just keep running with the ball and score as many touchdowns as we could. After all, this tournament is known as the Super Bowl of sports fishing. It’s incredible, and trust me, not that easy at all to win.”
It was an exciting and exhausting week of fishing for the 29-boat fleet, with crews and anglers hailing from the U.S. mainland and Caribbean. What would become tropical storm Fay caused a change in lay days as the fleet decided to stay in port while the worst of the rain blew through. Meanwhile, fishing days were up to 12 hours long for much of the fleet that chose to fish off the far east British Virgin Island of Anegada, a good hour or more run from St. Thomas for most boats.
But the marlin bite was on and the fleet tallied 124 releases by the time lines were out the last day. That’s no small feat when you talk about fish the size, strength and spirit of blue marlin.
“All of our catches were in the 350 to 600 pound-plus range, big fish,” says Rum Bum’s Wimberly.
In other awards, Jose Valdes, Jr.’s Mojito earned Second Top Boat, while George Lorton’s Therapy rounded out Third Top Boat. Both boats released nine blue marlin apiece, but Mojito was the first to reach this total.
Richard Rice, from Sedan, Kansas, fishing aboard the April Michelle, earned Top Angler with six blue marlin releases. Rice pockets $10,000 cash and picked up priceless bragging rights.
The ABMT is the third and final tournament in the 4th annual Bermuda Triangle Series, an event with legs in June in the Bahamas and July in Bermuda. Team Rum Bum earned Top Team of the 2008 series and Luis Bacardi Top Series Angler. Bacardi wins a gold hook-shaped pendant inset with a diamond.
The ABMT is also the fourth of the 2nd annual five-leg Spanish Main Series, which sees anglers fish in hot spots such as Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Florida angler Tom Green, fishing from aboard the 73-foot Donzi Somoya, was Top Series Angler for the St. Thomas leg. Green pockets a black coral-encased gold doubloon inset with an emerald created by the late Bernard Passman. The SMS concluded with the Boqueron Open, September 13-14, in Boqueron, Puerto Rico.
The ABMT benefits the Virgin Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
INNOVATIVE WIRELESS HANDLINE TOURNAMENT
Some 60 kids from tots to teens fished in the Innovative Wireless Handline Tournament, held August 17 along the docks at American Yacht Harbor, in St. Thomas. The tournament is always held as an event held in conjunction with the USVI Open/ABMT, also known as the Boy Scout Tournament.
“It’s a great event and the kids had a lot of fun,” says Nathan Clark, the Virgin Islands’ Council of the Boy Scouts of America senior district executive.
The beauty of this event is that complimentary handlines and bait, as well as T-shirts, pizza and cold drinks, are provided to all the young anglers. Staff from the Department of Planning & Natural Resources Fish & Wildlife office is on hand to weigh in the catch.
St. Thomas’ Nicholas Gartner loves to fish, but thought he was going to get skunked – until the last minute, that is. “I caught two little snapper. That’s all. I knew that wasn’t much,” says 12 year-old Gartner. “Then I heard them make the call that there was only five minutes left. I went over by the corner of the dock and saw an eel. He ate my bait as soon as I put it down in the water to him. That’s the big fish that gave me the win.”
In other results, Katherine Phelan and Darren Williams finished in second and third place to Gartner in the Age 11 & Older category. Meanwhile, Greg De’Silva won the Age 10 & Under category, a remarkable feat for a four year-old. Seven year-old Mark Kuslanski and eight year-old Michela Phelan, ended second and third. Finally, Greg De’Silva caught the Biggest Fish – a seven pound-plus blow fish. Shekima Wheatley won the Smallest Fish prize for her four-inch catch. Devante King hauled in the Most Fish, 16 total.