USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament 2016
Story by: Art McDonald
43rd Annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament – AKA: Boy Scout Tournament
August 26 – 30, 2015
St Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Story by IGFTO Observer Art McDonald
Historically, few Blue Marlin places in the world can compare to the August moon on the legendary “North Drop” some 20 miles from the Red Hook region of St. Thomas…… and the USVI Open Tournament (referred to as “The Boy Scout Tournament) has been steering anglers and crews there for 43 consecutive years. This year’s event homed in on the front and slight back side of the moon between August 26-30th. Fishing was pegged to be fantastic, as there was a decent bite leading up to the moon phase and anglers and crews were pumped…….. That was the way it was SUPPOSED to happen.
Strange things go on in the sub-tropics this time of year…. One always wonders if the Hurricane gods will be good to the fishermen…… and, it seems, this year, the gods unleashed a goodly amount of fury on St. Thomas. Anglers, Crews, and Observers were on keen alert the weekend before the Tournament, as Hurricane Danny rolled off the coast of Africa and drew a dead-on bead at St. Thomas. Many of us thought the Island would be hit on the Monday we were all flying, thereby cancelling flights to St Thomas, but the gods relented with some favorable conditions that rendered the previously declared Category 3 hurricane to a mere depression. Most everyone arrived on the Monday originally as scheduled. Problematic, was the threat of Hurricane Danny drove some boats from the Island, and conditions were such that the first day of fishing was called off in advance. Instead, it was decided that fishing would start on Thursday (as opposed to Wednesday), and continue for 4 days straight, thereby eliminating the previously declared Saturday Lay-Day.
OOPS….. it turns out right behind Hurricane Danny loomed Tropical Storm Erika…. Literally, following the EXACT course Danny had followed…. and, again, projected to attack St. Thomas on Thursday. Tournament Director Jimmy Loveland was in a panic, as he decided that, in everyone’s best interests, to declare no fishing on Thursday and Friday – and make the event a 2 day shootout on Saturday and Sunday. In order to ease some of the individual restrictions (commonly known as “Jimmy’s Rules”) it was decided that, instead of having the emphasis on an individual angler Tournament, it would become a “Team Tournament” without restrictions as to number of anglers, number of lines in the water, no rotations, etc… simply abide by IGFA rules – Identify the Fish – note the swivel hitting the rod tip, and the time. This made life a lot simpler on the Observers, 5 of which were IFGTO members (Kim Hermanoski, Liz Sizemore, Derwood Roberts, Ray Williams & Art McDonald). Sadly, with the weather problems, many boats had left St. Thomas for safer anchorages, and when the smoke cleared, only 9 boats were participants (several owners had flown out – and when they learned of the new rules and “tournament a go” jumped on their private planes to return).
The good news is that there was definitely “a bite” – as 9 eager boats hit the North Drop (or ran another 15 miles to Anegada in the BVI’s) for an 8:30 lines-in-the water call on Saturday, August 29. Wave Paver, a 61’ Garlington (who had just won the July Open in St. Thomas with 7 fish in 3 days), drew first blood at 9:13 and throughout the day there were numerous reports of hook-ups (a few pulled hooks). At lines out at 5:30, 13 fish had been released and later, dockside chatter, indicated all boats had had multiple “shots.” Day 2 loomed – and the fun continued…. Lots of shots… lots of hook-ups (a wrong species or two (damn White Marlin)), and at the end…… Pescador had tallied 5 releases to take first place; Never Say Never took second place with 4 releases, and MarlinRaptor took 3rd on time with 3 releases. All-in-all there were a total of 21 Blue Marlin released for an average of 2.33 per boat, or 1.16 per day per boat. I’m happy to report that ALL boats released at least one fish. Extrapolate those numbers to a 20-boat field, over the standard 4-day period, and there would have been over 92 fish released with countless other “shots.”
The Full Moon Party was held at the Ritz Carlton (who housed the Observers) on Saturday night, and the Awards Banquet was held in the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club, directly across from American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook, where the presentations took place. Legendary captain, Brad Simmons (who has been anointed as the innovator of the “pitch bait” method) was honored and in attendance. Lots and lots of fantastic awards were presented.