By Carol Bareuther, RD
Sports fishermen are drawn to the Virgin Islands like fish to water. That's because there are over 500 species of fish that swim in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the north and Caribbean Sea to the south. This bounty includes everything from world-record-setting fierce-fighting blue marlin to good-eating wahoo, tuna and dolphin (mahi-mahi). Summer is an especially good time to fish because its tournament time. Reel in a whopper, or the greatest number of fish, and you'll likely catch some cool cash and prizes as well!
Anglers who like to fish inshore and take their friends and families along should sign-up for the Annual Bastille Day Kingfish Tournament. This one-day event held as part of St. Thomas' Bastille Day celebrations offers a $2000 cash prize to the angler who can reel in the largest kingfish. There's also a real booty of other prizes ranging from cash to gifts and dinners at local restaurants for anglers who catch the top weight of other species of fish such as jack, barracuda, bonito and mackerel. Junior anglers, those ages 8 to 16, are eligible for special prizes. Fishing takes place from 5:30 a.m. until Noon, when the weigh-in and party start at Hull Bay Hideaway. There's live music, good food and lots of fun that lasts right through the Awards Ceremony, which starts at 8 p.m.
The full moons in the months of July and August are when the Virgin Islands' two biggest blue marlin tournaments take place. Scientists and sports fishermen alike aren't sure why, but the fish catching really peaks in the three days before and day after the full moon. Actually, the fish catching means releasing for billfish like blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish. Conservation-oriented tournament organizers have made these two events 'all-release' meaning that no fish are boated or brought to the dock for weigh-in. The goal, then, is to see who can catch-and-release the most billfish by the end of the tournament. Spectators can join in the fun by walking the docks at night to see which boats have the most marlin flags for the day flying on their outriggers. Don't be surprised to see three, four, five and even more flags. Virgin Islands' waters are some of the most productive in the world for blue marlin.
The July Open Billfish Tournament, which takes over the July full moon, is the longest annually held angling contest in the Virgin Islands and boasts a nearly 50-year tradition. The late Capt. Johnny Harms, who explored the local waters' potential for blue marlin fishing for Laurence Rockefeller's guests at the Caneel Bay Resort on St. John, started this tournament. Past winners of the prestigious top prize, the Give'M Line Trophy, reads like a Who's Who of blue marlin sport fishing starting with Elliot Fishman's winning 845-pound catch in 1968 that set an all-tackle world record. Proceeds from the JOBT benefit the Boys & Girls Club of the Virgin Islands.
The August full moon is when the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, nicknamed the 'Super Bowl of Sports Fishing' happens out on the Virgin Islands' famous North Drop. In 2009, anglers aboard 37-boats set an all-time record by catching and releasing 207 blue marlin in four day of fishing. The event is also known as the 'Boy Scout' tournament, due to its chief beneficiary. The Scouts and scout leaders definitely do their part by hosting nightly dock parties complete with burgers, live music and entertainment such as stilt-walking Mocko Jumbies.
For more information, call 340-998-0854 for the Bastille Day Kingfish Tournament. Or, visit www.vigfc.com for the July Open Billfish Tournament or www.abmt.vi for the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament.