By Elliott Stark
It’s hard to imagine a more colorful character on the fishing landscape than Captain Paul Ivey. Looking back on a career that spanned Florida, the Bahamas, St. Thomas, Venezuela and the Galapagos, Ivey’s recollections are delivered with characteristic New York flair. If you’re lucky enough to catch up with the old captain over the phone, you might as well be talking on the bridge of an old Bertram fishing Venezuela’s La Guaira Bank in 1988.
Ivey grew up on Long Island and spent his childhood chasing bass in freshwater. He made a couple of trips to Florida as a teen when he fished with a charter captain out of Castaway’s Marina in Miami Beach. “The mates intrigued me. I was fascinated by how they could get baits to look tasty enough for a wild animal to eat it when it was rigged on piano wire.”
In 1971, Ivey moved to Florida. “I went out and bought a 16’ aluminum boat with a 40 hp motor. One day someone told me that mackerel were biting just offshore of Hillsboro Inlet. I left the Everglades, where you could catch 13-pound bass routinely if you could get past the moccasins,” Paul recalls. “I went out with two rods with Clark spoons with one-ounce sinkers – rigged like a jackass… I about sank the boat with mackerel.”
“My cousin had the bright idea to sell these things. ‘Do you know how many bars there are between here and Hillsboro Inlet?’ he said. He wanted to sell the mackerel to bars for $2 apiece. I said, ‘If we’re going to sell them to bars we ought to sell them for $4.’ We sold so many that we had to take orders! The boat never saw freshwater again…”
Soon Ivey got to know Pompano charter Captain Joe Mott. “Joe used to hang out with Roy and Allen Merritt. He taught me how to rig ballyhoo. I fished with him a couple of times and I used to pick his brain,” Ivey recalls. Ivey then got a job as a mate out of Deerfield as he accumulated the sea time necessary to gain his captain’s license. Next, he bought an old, beat up 38’ Pace Maker that would require a year of work at Merritt’s Boat Yard to become seaworthy.
“I set out to be a charter captain,” he says. At the time most offshore charter captains working out of Hillsboro fished the edge of the Gulf Stream. ”Too many guys were fishing inshore. Offshore interested me – blues, whites, sails, dolphin and tuna – at the time they were all available. I wanted to make a living offshore. You can’t be good at everything, but you can excel at certain things if you spend the time.”
Charter fishing produced for Ivey and his different approach to the scene resulted in steady catches and happy clients. “A guy noticed me and all of the fish I was hanging. He asked me if I would like to run his 48’ Pace Maker for a weekend.” After trying to get out of the gig, Ivey relented. “He was used to running 17 miles offshore. I told him we’d run to 25. At 21 miles we found a giant weedline that was loaded with dolphin. We caught 160 of them. We stuffed them everywhere you could fit them. We ended up going up and down the canals in Lighthouse Point yelling ‘Fish! Fish!’ over the hailer. We were throwing dolphin onto people’s lawns. They loved it!”
“The guy then told me, ‘I want you to work for me. I’ll sell your boat for you.’ And he did. He made it worth my while and got me more for the boat than I paid for it. Friends of his would also hire me to run their boats. We spent time in Chub and Walker’s.” Over the course of his time in Walker’s, Ivey began dating a girl whose father owned an 84’ Berger yacht.
“Her brother and I were great friends. We’d stand on the swim platform of the Berger and tie ourselves to the boat so that we wouldn’t fall in. We’d troll lures and get bites. The captain would have to stop the boat so that we could fight the fish, he thought we’d lost our minds,” Ivey recalls. “We wound up winning the tagging division in Walker’s off a Berger Yacht!”
Around this time, Ivey made the acquaintance of Hal Prewitt, a man who owned a 46’ Post. One thing led to another and Ivey signed up to run the Post for the Bahamas Billfish Championship. The first tournament was in Walker’s Cay. As the mates on the boat were inexperienced (they may not have known ballyhoo from great danes), Ivey insisted that the crew pull his rigged lures.
The approach worked. Ivey and company boated a 368 on the first day and a 400-pounder on the last day. “The boat had no tuna door or gin pole, it took four of us to drag this half-dead blue over the gunnel!” They won the event by nine pounds. “We won $128,000. I won another $30k in the captain’s bet. They gave us a pillowcase full of money. Hal dumped it on us in the salon of the Post… I was bit by the marlin bug worse than anyone ever was…”
After placing in the Bimini and Treasure legs of the BBC, Ivey and company won the Bahamas Billfish Championship for the year – 1987 or 1988 he says. “Hal had always said that if we won the BBC, we’d go to St. Thomas. That was the Mecca.”
“We took the Post over after I asked him what boat we were going to charter over there. I thought we’d get killed if we took the Post. We got to South Caicos in one piece, but things were starting to break on the interior of the boat – the fridge door fell off and furniture broke.”
From South Caicos, it was on to St. Thomas. “When we tried to cross the Mona Passage it was blowing 25-knots. Against my better judgment, we tried it. Fifty-three hours later, we arrived at Club Nautico in San Juan. We looked like dogs that had been beaten to death – it obviously wasn’t my time to die… It got so bad that one of the cabinets flew open in the galley and two glass jars of Ragu fell and broke. The rubber on the hatch gave way and water got everywhere. The mirror in the stateroom fell and broke all over his bed.”
“We got into Club Nautico at 2 am – it was full of all these beautiful new Bertrams and Hatterases. We tied up the boat and all slept in the salon… The salon window had cracked in half. After we got the boat put back together, we got into St. Thomas on the 4th of July. There was no slip for us at American Yacht Harbour.” The party responsible for making the slip reservation forgot to call.
“So we went over to Sapphire Beach Marina. They were just building it. There were no docks and the electricity was only hooked up for the office. There were no bulkheads – no nothing! We anchored (on one side) and tied off to a palm tree. We routed electricity through a field,” Ivey recalls. “I had to follow other boats because I didn’t know where the North Drop was. I had to use radar to follow boats — they all passed us. On our first day of fishing on the North Drop, we hooked up a blue marlin almost immediately.” Ivey and the Megabyte never went back to the Bahamas.
“We fished St. Thomas and had a ball,” Ivey says. Hal Prewitt would eventually purchase a 61’ Jim Smith. “Bobby Brown and some other guys started talking about Venezuela.” Ivey soon flew down to check it out. It made an immediate impression. “Venezuela was the place. I thought I was in heaven. The first time I fished there, I saw nine whites in the spread at one time. Something on every line, two on the teasers.”
“Venezuela was where God created fish. Never had I seen 45 or 50 whites in my spread, I never could have dreamed it. In Venezuela in the 1980s if you didn’t see 70 whites in a day, you hadn’t left the dock. Bait was plentiful and compact then, schools of bait would stretch 100 miles. It’s not like that now.”
Ivey’s approach to fishing was an analytical one. The logs he kept were the stuff of legend. He tried to observe what he saw and where fish and bait were headed. “The logs I kept in Venezuela taught me not how to fish, but how to find fish. I had 78-85 locked in, permanently stored waypoints. At any time of year, I could visit points and see what I expected to see.” Ivey’s logs and observations provided him with patterns. “Recaptured tagged fish really helped me – proved that fish follow the same pattern I thought they would.” Ivey recaptured an incredible 50-odd tagged fish.
Beyond the fishing exploits, Venezuela provided Ivey with many relationships. It was Ivey who told Capt. Dave Noling to, “Get your ass out of Mexico and come down here to Venezuela.” An animal lover, Ivey would bring scraps from a chicken restaurant to street dogs and cats every Wednesday and Friday. One special dog, named Hobo II, flew home to America with one of Ivey’s friends, “She bought her a seat on the plane and everything!” he says with a laugh. “The first thing it did when she brought it home to Jupiter? It ate her cockatoo!”
Hal Prewitt would sell the Megabyte in 1996. Over eight years, Ivey and crew put 13,000 hours on the engine. Ivey next leased a series of boats in Venezuela which he would run for charter. After 26 years, Ivey was forced to move on. “Venezuela got too dicey. Wives got nervous and wouldn’t let their husbands fish there anymore.”
Ivey turned his attention southward and headed for the Galapagos Islands. “The Galapagos was like Venezuela in 1988 except for with striped marlin instead of whites. Stripes are like white marlin on steroids… and crack cocaine. Striped marlin fishing might be the most fun you can have with your clothes on. We would see 40 stripes some days. It’s no longer like that.” Ivey’s first trip to the Galapagos was in 2008.
These days Captain Paul Ivey is semiretired hanging out with his family in New York. He teaches Cub Scouts how to tie knots, “They can fish anywhere in the world if they know these knots.” At 72, he has accumulated more (and better stories) than have most people three times his age.