The name of the game is billfish and, really, blue marlin as they are the life and soul of these big money competitions. Perhaps surprisingly, the “little” fish in the form of white marlin, spearfish and sailfish can make a difference as each catch and release of these species earns the team 200 points. A lot less than the 500 points or point per pound for boated fish that blue marlin are worth.
This time last week saw the Reel Lax, skippered by Capt James Barnes, hanging on to the 2,100 points, which gave them a 100-point lead to win the Bermuda Billfish Blast. As it turned out, this was a really close run thing with two boats, the Kanaloa and Fa La Me, mounting charges that got both boats to 2,000 points, just shy of the leader.
The event itself enjoyed great sea conditions and drew 44 teams, both foreign and local. The three days fishing saw 89 billfish caught with all of these being released. The tally comprised 51 blue marlin, 36 white marlin and a pair of spearfish, something never too common in local waters. This sort of fishing gave an average of 0.674 billfish per boat per day — an improvement on the previous year, which only averaged 0.533 fish per boat per day.
It is in recent years that these tournaments have provided some idea of the actual abundance of white marlin in local waters. Often thought to be a strict minority, this was probably the result of a couple of factors. One of these is that most of the whites caught were mixed in with wahoo and other more school-inclined fish encountered by boats trolling along the edge of the drop-offs. When the real big-game fishing came into its own here, local boats concentrated almost solely on the heaviest gear and largest lures and baits, with big blue marlin their target. The arrival of the foreign fleet which was used to catching whites along with blues and, perhaps, with the former being in the majority saw a greater variety of gear used; hence the upswing in the number of white marlin being caught. It did not take too long for many local boats to adopt these techniques which probably accounts for the overall increase in numbers and greater diversity in billfish catches here in Bermuda now.
This brings up the real jewel in the Bermuda Triple Crown, the Bermuda Big Game Classic. This is the signature event that got the whole thing started and put Bermuda permanently on the billfish tournament tour map.
This year’s event has drawn 41 teams, made up of 324 anglers; many of them repeat visitors of the sort that the Tourism Authority must love. With calm seas and clement conditions forecast for the period in which the fishing will take place, this promised to be an exciting event.
As it developed, it was exciting all right, but not in the way that most might have predicted. Following on from the Blast, which had enjoyed fast action, the Classic start was pretty slow with only about a dozen fish caught during the bulk of the first day. What made things exciting was that one of these fish had been boated and weighed in at 871lb, making it very tough to beat by any standard. Angler Mark Woodbury, fishing aboard Capt Bryce Garvey’s Flyer, took just over an hour and a half to catch the big fish.
While bigger fish may swim in the sea, the focus now will be on releasing as many blue marlin as possible to try and rack up increments of 500 points to try and better Flyer’s position. Naturally, Flyer’s crew will not be standing by idly waiting for the opposition to catch up. With some time yet to go in this competitive event, anything can happen; and, in the past, it has.
While not everyone suffers from marlin mania, there are sufficient diversions for those wishing to wet less frenetic lines. The inshore harbours and bays are hosting large numbers of jacks, which although the focus of the net fishermen’s attentions, can offer lots of fun to anglers trolling small silvery lures as they meander through the islands on their way up to the various picnicking grounds that come in for so much attention from casual boaters at this time of the year.
In the channels, the white-water snappers are coming into their own and many an angler will slip out after work to enjoy the cooler part of the evening and try to bag a limit of these rather tasty snappers.
Down on the Banks, it is high summer and chumming should raise all sorts of fish: the so-called nuisances like barracuda and mackerel which everyone catches and beyond utilisation as bait, few know what to do with. Robins which offer myriad possibilities as live baits and then, there are the more desirables like blackfin and yellowfin tuna and yellowtail snapper. Wahoo aren’t above putting in an appearance; neither are ambers and bonitas, so when a rod screams off while chumming, it is always a bit of a surprise to find out just what is on the other end of those Tight Lines!