Ask long-time sports fishermen about the “good old days” in St. Thomas. They’ll regale you with stories about the thirteen world-record blue marlin catches—including the long standing all-tackle catch of a 1282-pounder by Larry Martin on August 6, 1977—that put the Virgin Islands on the map as one of the best billfishing destinations in the world.
Now, turn around and ask today’s titans of industry, self-made entrepreneurs and those born with a few extra dollars why they continue to put the Virgin Islands on their annual international fishing calendar.
“It’s the number of marlin, sheer size of the fish and aggressiveness of the bite,” says Florida angler Robert Baker who, aboard the Reel Pushy, was one of nearly 100 anglers that fished the 37th Annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin (ABMT) or “Boy Scout” tournament, August 3 to 7.
Miami, Florida angler Rob Ruwitch, owner of Sharky’s Revenge, fishes the sailfish circuit in south Florida, for billfish in other Caribbean islands such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and has been traveling to the Virgin Islands to fish for a long time.
"One of my best fishing days was the lay day of the 1999 Boy Scout Tournament,” Ruwitch says. “We left the dock about 11 a.m. and ultimately saw 11 and released six for nine. It was the best day of the tournament for us."
This year, Sharky’s Revenge angler Albert Castro kicked off the ABMT by catching the first of what were ultimately 159 blue marlin releases for the tournament.
Don Schmidt, from Houston, Texas, had never fished the Virgin Islands’ waters until this year.
“What I look for in a destination is: where are the most fish closest to the shore to really make it worth the effort,” he says, adding that this run is some 160 miles for him off Texas.
Schmidt adds, “When I had the boat (Omi Gosh) built, we started a three year plan. That is, while the kids are still young enough to travel with us, to fish the Pacific, in Costa Rica and Panama, then over to the Atlantic, and see what ocean we like best and where we’ll ultimately stay. We heard the Virgin Islands had the best blue marlin bite in the Atlantic. It’s good, but it’s been slower than we expected. We’re seeing five or six fish a day and catching two or three of them.”
Robbie Browning, from Winter Park, Florida, is another angler who brought his boat, Mr. B. II, to the Virgin Islands for the first time.
“We spent a year and a half in Panama and the last six months in Venezuela. Before that I’ve fished all the hot spots like Costa Rica and Panama,” says Browning. “I’d read about the bite in the Virgin Islands and our captain, Rick Ogle, had been here before and suggested we come. I’ll tell you, eight fish in four days of tournament fishing isn’t bad – and we saw two more the last day of the tournament we didn’t catch.”
Mr. B II took runner up honors to Sam Jennings’ Revenge in the Best Boat category at this year’s ABMT.
Jennings, from Juno Beach, Florida, and his son Jon, with veteran crew, Capt. Mike Lemon, Dean Dunham, Ryan Mertens and Tommy Lynskey, released 12 blue marlin to win the tournament. Jon Jennings captured Top Angler and pocketed a $10,000 cash prize by releasing seven of these marlin.
“Virgin Islands’ waters have one of the most predictable blue marlin bites,” says Lemon, “especially ten days before the full moon. The August moon is usually really good.”
Lemon should know. He was at the helm while the father-and-son team released over 1000 blue marlin—90 percent of these in Virgin Islands’ waters—over the last dozen years since owning the 58’ Revenge.
Perhaps the best way to sum up where the Virgin Islands currently ranks on the global sports fishing scene is to quote veteran photographer, and former Revenge crew member, Scott Kerrigan. “It’s the best spot to find the largest concentration of serious tournament anglers chasing glamorous blue marlin. And, as a photographer, it’s a numbers game to me. Dawn till disk, for every hour of effort, the numbers of blue marlin in the Virgin Islands are great and consistent. If I miss a shot, all I have to do is standby and another opportunity will come along.”
For more information about this tournament, contact Jimmy Loveland, tournament director by phone at 1-888-2-FISHVI (1-888-234-7484) or 340-775-9500; or by email: [email protected]; Results: www.abmt.vi.