Aug. 19, 2002 – Internationally competitive sportfishing enthusiasts mark their calendars each year for the three days before the August full moon and one day after and their maps for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The days fall on Aug. 18-23 for 2002. That's right now — and the Super Bowl of sportfishing contests, the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, is under way in the waters off St. Thomas.
"Last year's event was a huge success, with 88 marlin being released by 34 boats in four days of fishing," longtime tournament director Jimmy Loveland said. "That's an average of 2.6 fish per boat, all on 50-pound test." He said about the same number of boats was expected for this year's event.
One of the returning anglers is Michigan resident Allan Bates, who last year won the $10,000 cash prize for top angler for the second time. Bates fishes aboard his 72-foot Rybovitch, named Cutting Edge.
Started by the late avid V.I. fisherman Chuck Senf back in 1972, the event has always been known as "the Boy Scout Tournament" because a portion of the proceeds have always benefitted the VI Council of the Boy Scouts of America, one of Senf's favorite charities.
The USVI Open /ABMT has evolved into one of the most competitive saltwater sportfishing events in the world. It's a part of Bisbee's World Billfish Series and is a qualifier for the Rolex-IGFA Invitational "Tournament of Champions" to be fished in the spring of 2003 in Cabo San Lucas.
From the start, Loveland as mover and shaker has built quality and prestige into the event. "To construct a tournament that the Florida, as well as local, fishermen would be sufficiently enticed to enter necessitated a precise set of rules," he says. In addition to the basic International Game Fishing Association rules, he explains, "we had to write a special set of regulations which would tighten and expand on those."
These regulations include an observer program (most of the observers are professional anglers themselves) and a board of captains and have made the event the first with a 400-pound minimum to become a catch-and-release event.
This year is the 30th anniversary tournament and it marks the 15th year since a blue marlin was boated or killed. Anglers earn points for releasing a fish, and it is the number of fish released and who releases that number first that determines the who wins the tournament. "We attribute this release success to the trust established in our observer program and the desire of the anglers to let the fish go," Loveland says.
An enduring testament to the tournament's success is its contribution to charity. Last year, it raised more than $140,000 for the local Boy Scouts program.
True to the champion character of the event, the tournament is putting up a $1 million insurance policy for the angler who reels in the first blue marlin weighing at least 1,000 pounds. Virgin Islands waters have yielded four such fish over the last three decades.
The USVI Open is not only a top international fishing competition but also a local community event. The first activity on the tournament schedule was the Innovative Wireless Handline Tournament for youngsters up to the age of 17 on Sunday. More than 200 children and teen-agers with handlines and squid bait in hand fished along the docks at American Yacht Harbor, then enjoyed pizza, cold drinks and the awarding of prizes.
Sunday night, the sportfishermen gathered at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Beach Club and Resort for the "It Pays to Play" kickoff party.
After a 6:45 a.m. flag-raising ceremony conducted by a Boy Scout Color Guard and blessing of the fleet, it was lines in the water at 8:30 a.m. as anglers, captains and crew staked out their good-luck locations on the North Drop. Monday's evening social event was "Outback Night" under a huge tent at American Yacht Harbor, where the public was invited to purchase a dinner of grilled strip steaks, chops, ribs and all the trimmings.
On Tuesday, there'll be fishing again by day and a dock party for the tournament participants by night with food and drink served under tents at both American Yacht Harbor and Sapphire Beach Resort and Marina.
Wednesday will be a third day of fishing, with "Caribbean Night" festivities back on shore. Calypso musicians and mocko jumbie dancers will entertain and Boy Scouts will be cooking "Cheeseburgers in Paradise" for tournament participants.
Thursday is a "lay day" with no fishing. "The downtown shops are looking forward to our first shopping/island tour by fishermen," Loveland says. At night, the Ritz Carlton St. Thomas Resort is hosting an informal "full moon beach party" for the anglers, observers and crews.
Friday is the last day for fishing. At 4:30 p.m., the fleet will make a mad dash for shore in the traditional "Jim Smith Race from the Edge." According to Loveland, "Spectators can sip cocktails and witness the race to the finish line at Sapphire's pool bar." The tournament winners will be recognized that evening at the awards banquet to be held at the Renaissance Grand Beach Hotel.
For more information about the tournament, call (888) 234-7484, e-mail to Jimmy Loveland, see last year's preview, "It's blue marlin Boy Scouts tournament time" and/or visit the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Web site.
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