By Rachel Chesnes
Last year’s Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament was one for the books. The fleet of 30 boats caught and released a tournament record 969 sailfish in three out of four fishing days. The event also set records for the daily total boat catch and daily fleet catch of 712.
And for four consecutive years, Capt. David Grubbs has come out on top. The 2019 Pelican was special for the Grand Slam from the start—breaking the tournament daily record on day one with 38 fish (it would be broken with 41 on day two). Grubbs and company would finish in first place with a tournament record 73 sailfish.
Growing up and fishing in New Smyrna, Grubbs has only seen this kind of wide-open fishing a few of times. “We used to see this more often. This year was some good fishing, but years prior we really haven’t had that good of fishing. Even down south where they have it really good, I don’t think they have it this good all that often.”
While being fairly new to the tournament circuit, Grubbs continues to produce success for his team. Prior to running the newest Grand Slam, Grubbs started his tournament career fishing with owner/angler Wallis Higginbotham on the 50-foot Forbes boat in his first year of the Pelican.
Higginbotham sold that boat and bought the Paul Mann in Costa Rica that spring. “We got it back really quick and fished the Custom Boat Shootout and ended up winning a big daily. We’ve been very pleased with the boat,” the captain says.
Joining the team are anglers Larry Gross, Adam White and Jeff Wright – fulltime mates Skylar Hribar and Jesse Rudolph (the Pelican being his first tournament on the boat). “A few of the guys on the team have not really done much of this stuff before. When you have people like that, you tend to train them the way you like doing things – it seems to work out pretty good,” Grubbs says. The crew also gets a lot of practice traveling to Isla Mujeres every year and doing some stuff in the Bahamas.
“Our group of guys, we’re all a bunch of buddies. Wallis is ten years younger than me, but I’ve known him here in Daytona my whole life.” Wallis happened to ride out with Grubbs on his charter boat one day back in early 2000s where they caught 41 sails. Ever since then, they’ve been fishing and doing all the tournaments together.
For the Pelican, Grand Slam’s spread was pretty standard for dead bait trolling. “When you’ve got something that’s working good you just stick with it, you know?” Grubbs says. In preparation for the tournament, the team headed down a few weeks earlier to pre-fish and do some scouting. “We weren’t seeing a whole lot. We ended up fishing before the tournament way north and ended up staying in New Smyrna a couple nights. We’ve had some good fishing close to home.”
With that in mind, Grubbs believed the group of fish that they were on were probably that same group of fish that finally worked their way towards the south. “Trying to be in the right spot is key. Everything has to come together – the bait, the water conditions, etc,” Grubbs says after asked what the biggest challenges are when it comes to sailfishing.
“Thinking back to this whole deal when I started with Wallis, he always wanted to fish the Pelican on his own boat. For us to come down and win it four years in a row, it’s a little overwhelming really – fishing against the caliber of guys I’m fishing against down there with my crew, that’s pretty cool.”