He started fresh water fishing as a boy in Buckinghamshire, England. Today, Gary Clifford, owner of True Blue Sportfishing, based out of the Port Louis Marina, in St. George’s, Grenada, is a professional captain with several impressive catches to his credit. What’s more, Clifford has worked to advance the sport in the Southern Caribbean, running the Budget Marine Spice Island Billfish Tournament for a number of years as well as serving as an avid proponent of billfish conservation.
“My uncle gave me a rod when I was eight-years-old. I started coarse fishing, graduated to carp (biggest catch was a 22-pounder) and then barbels (best weighed 12lb 15oz),” says Clifford. “Later, I was working in London as a factory chemist for Nestle, met my Grenadian-born wife and moved to the island in 1996.”
Luck put Clifford in the right place at the right time to launch a sport fishing career. More specifically, he bought a house next to Grenadian Cliff Wardally, who owned and fished the impressive 1988-built 31-foot vessel, Yes Aye. Mr. Wardally bought the boat from American fisherman Jim Edmiston of El Zorro fame. Edmiston circled the globe twice on his 100-foot mother ship with the smaller fishing tender (then named El Zorro II) onboard in what proved to be an unsuccessful effort to catch a 2000-pound blue marlin. Clifford fished with Wardally several times. When Wardally moved to Miami, Clifford purchased the Innovator, kept the vessel’s name, Yes Aye, and started True Blue Sportfishing in 1998. Since then he’s become one of the leading sport fishing charter boats in Grenada.
Clifford’s luckiest catch was a 100-pound-plus yellowfin tuna. Bad luck started when after fighting the fish for a half hour, his line became entangled in no less than three leaders on the line of a local commercial fisherman nearby. The fishermen, who was aboard a 15-foot single-engine boat 12 miles offshore, motored over and started disentangling the bird’s nest of a mess. Meanwhile, Clifford’s line with his whopper tuna at the other end started rubbing against the commercial fisherman’s boat with the possibility of breaking at any time. Good luck intervened when the fishermen successfully unraveled the lines and Clifford was able to reel in his prized tuna.
“Shallow water wahoo fishing can be fun, but I much prefer angling offshore for yellowfin tuna and billfish. Blue Marlin are my favorite species because of the sheer awesome size and power of these fish. Grenada lies at the southern end of a billfish migration route. From here the current takes them off west towards La Guairá, Venezuela, which is a known spawning ground, plus we have other spawning areas to the east as well.”
Clifford has enjoyed much success in his career. He caught Grenada’s record yellowfin tuna, a 220-pounder for a charter client on a half day trip. He tagged and released a sailfish that was recaptured four months later off Key West, Florida. He also won the Budget Marine Spice Island Billfish Tournament (BMSIBT) for charter clients in 2003, releasing up to three blue marlin in one day of the four-day competition. Two years later, Clifford was one of the key tournament committee members when the the BMSIBT moved to a conservation-conscious release format for billfish.
“I’m strongly in favor of billfish conservation,” says Clifford, who is a member of both the International Game Fish Association and The Billfish Foundation. “We tag and release all billfish and often return other species to the sea as well.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.