Some of the finest sports fishermen in the world mark their calendars each year for the three days before the August full moon and one day after – August 3 to 7, 2009 – when the “Super Bowl of Sports Fishing Tournaments,” namely the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (USVI Open/ABMT), takes place in Virgin Islands waters.
Tournament director Jimmy Loveland says, “Last year’s event was a huge success, with the fleet of 29 boats collectively releasing 125 blue marlin over the four days of fishing. That’s a catch rate of over four fish per boat, something you see in few other destinations around the world.”
Loveland adds, “All releases were on relatively lightweight 50-pound test line. This requires adept angling skill and hopefully makes for a quick release that doesn’t tire out the fish. We’re proud to say a blue marlin hasn’t been boated in nearly 20 years. The ABMT was the first blue marlin tournament in the world to have special rules that call for the release of blue marlin.”
In 2008, Richard Rice, fishing aboard the April Michelle, scored the prestigious Top Angler prize and pocketed $10,000 cash, with the release of six blue marlin. Meanwhile, the husband and wife team of Luis and Jennifer Bacardi, angling off the Rum Bum, collectively released 10 blue marlin to take the Top Boat title. These two feats are what many in this year’s fleet will hope to surpass this season.
“We’re expecting over 25 boats to register,” says Loveland. “This year, the economy is holding some boats back, but we have several boats new to the tournament on the way. Last year, fuel prices of up to $5 per gallon were a problem. But last week (early June), fuel was down to $2.80 a gallon.”
The year’s events start with the Kick-Off Party on August 2, from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the newly remodeled Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club in Red Hook. Prior to this, the Innovative Cellular Handline Tournament will take place on the docks at American Yacht Harbor from 9 a.m. until Noon. Over 200 kids are expected to fish. Registration is free. All entrants receive a free T-shirt, pizza lunch and beverage. Handlines and bait are provided.
The first day of fishing gets underway the next day from 8:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., with “Outback Night”, held under the tents at the American Yacht Harbor, starting at 7:30 p.m. Fresh grilled strip steaks, chops and ribs, along with all the trimmings, will be for sale.
Fishing continues August 4 as well as August 5 when the Boy Scouts cook and serve at the Cheese Burgers in Paradise party on the docks starting at 7 p.m. The Caribbean Night Show begins an hour late and features steel pan players and stilt-walking Mocko Jumbies.
Fishermen take a break on the Full Moon Lay Day, then finish up fishing August 7 when the fleet makes a final mad dash for shore at 4:30 p.m. with the Jim Smith ‘Race From The Edge’. Tournament winners are named at the evening Awards Banquet, to be held at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa.
Started by Chuck Senf back in 1972 – and nicknamed The Boy Scout Tournament since a portion of the proceeds have always benefited the VI Council of the Boy Scouts of America, one of Senf’s favorite charities – the ABMT has evolved into the competitive saltwater sports fishing events in the world. It’s a qualifier for the International Game Fish Association’s Offshore World Championship, and the cornerstone event in both the Bermuda Triangle Series and Spanish Main Series.
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.