Catch and release 15 blue marlin in three days of fishing to win $25,000. This is the new top prize at the 54th July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT), hosted by the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club (VIGFC), July 6 to 8.
Sports fishermen from the Caribbean and U.S. mainland are expected to fish this longest held annual angling contest in the V.I. It is renowned as the tournament that put the V.I. on the world’s bill-fishing map in 1968 with Elliot Fishman’s all-tackle world record 845-pound blue marlin. Up for grabs too are cash prizes and exquisite hand-carved marlin head trophies by famous marine artist David A. Wirth for the top three boat teams as well as top adult, female and junior anglers.
“There has been great marlin fishing here already in May and June and it’s got the captains talking,” said VIGFC manager Lori Bailey. “Word has spread to St. Croix, Puerto Rico and up to the U.S. mainland, and we expect a wonderful summer season.”
Some of the well-recognized visiting sports fishing boats already in the U.S. Virgin Islands include Sodium, Gulf Rascal, Reel Tight, De Bait, Blue View, Lay Day, Legal Drug, AIA, Betsy and 2016 defending top boat champion Never Say Never.
Last year, the team aboard Never Say Never, a 58-foot Merritt, earned Top Boat with the release of six blue marlin in three days. Zachary “Zac” Murck, a 14-year-old from Florida, released all the Florida-based team’s blues to earn the prestigious “Give Him Line” award for Top Angler.
Catching and releasing the highest number of blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish first are what anglers will set their sights on to win cash and prizes. The JOBT is an all-release tournament. No fish will be boated or brought to the dock for weigh-in. A sport fishing team will receive SD cards to document and verify all catches and releases by camera.
Final registration and the tournament Kick-Off Party will take place from 7-10 p.m. at the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Clubhouse in Red Hook on Wednesday, July 5. A new rule this year allows mates to register as anglers. All registered anglers receive complimentary UV-protective shirts with Carey Chen artwork, hats, Yeti-brand cups and coolers, calendars and pens. This will be the same venue for the Awards Banquet on July 8. Winners will receive hand-carved hook trophies by artist David A. Wirth.
Lines go in the water at 8:30 a.m. and out at 5 p.m. on July 6 and 7, except on the final day of the three-day tournament, July 8, when lines out will be at 4 p.m.
The public is invited to greet the fleet as the boats come back to the dock around sunset. The number of flags flying on the outriggers indicates how many billfish the boat’s anglers caught and released for the day.
Past winners of the prestigious Capt. Johnny Harms “Give Him Line” Trophy read like a Who’s Who of blue marlin sport fishing. Angler Elliot Fishman’s winning 845-pound catch in 1968 set an all-tackle world record. Only two anglers have reeled in this honor two times – the late Howard Crouse in 1965 and 1988, and Puerto Rico’s late legendary angler Ralph Christiansen in 1973 and 1984.
Profits from the VIGFC tournaments, which received 501 C (3) status this year, will benefit the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Marine Vocation Program and local veterans. Tournament sponsorship and donations are tax deductible.
Sponsors include IGY’s American Yacht Harbor, Fish Tails Bar & Grill, Southern Glazer’s Wines & Spirits (distributor of Mount Gay Rum), and Yeti.
For more information or to register, visit: www.vigfc.com or call (340) 775-9144.