The InTheBite Captain of the Year Cup is the championship of sportfishing. The Cup is the world’s only quantifiable way to recognize the tournament success of professional sportfishermen. Comprised of 90-sanctioned events that span the world, there is nothing else like it. Winning an InTheBite Captain of the Year Award is a major achievement. From the winners to the Cup’s origin, it is an interesting tale.
Origins of the Cup
InTheBite Magazine started in 2003. Since its conception, the magazine has focused on providing useful, entertaining content for professional sportfishing crews. InTheBite’s publisher and founder, Dale Wills, was the son of a captain and himself ran a sportfisher in Venezuela during the fishery’s heyday. Over the course of covering the sportfishing landscape in the magazine’s formative years, Wills began to notice that something was missing.
“We began realizing that each year as we covered the magazine that certain teams would get on winning streaks. There was no award for them at the time and we wanted to recognize guys for doing well, so we created the Captain of the Year,” Wills recalls. “There was nothing for crews that consistently placed in tournaments. The owners would get checks, but we wanted to do more. We wanted to recognize the crews and the success of our readership.”
The first-ever InTheBite Captain of the Year was VJ Bell in 2003. It was Bell’s dominance that spurred the decision to act. “That year we watched VJ Bell cleaning everyone’s clock and we wanted to recognize him.”
In 2014, The Captain of the Year Cup took on its current multidivisional format. From 2003-2013, a single captain won the award based on voting by past winners. In 2014, to recognize the regional variations in the sportfishing landscape, the Captain of the Year Cup expanded to five divisions: East Coast Division, the Florida Division, Gulf, Hawaii and the International Division. Each division is comprised of sanctioned tournaments, the results of which produce points for the COTY scoring.
Sanctioned events must meet a 12-boat minimum. Scoring is accumulated in the catch and release divisions of billfish tournaments: 500-points for first place, 300-points for second, 100-points for third place. For tournaments that include a heaviest marlin division, there is an additional 500-points awarded to the winning captain. The heaviest marlin points are in addition to and separate from the points awarded for the release divisions. In this way, a captain could theoretically win 1,000 points in the same tournament (by weighing the heaviest marlin and winning the release division). In tournaments that award top boat prizes through combined weighed fish and released fish, Captain of the Year points are awarded to the winner of the release division. An additional 250-points is awarded to captains who win series crowns in tournament circuits (Gulf Coast Triple Crown, the Los Sueños Triple Crown, etc.).
The point tallies follow the captain, rather than the boat. It is common for charter captains, especially in the Florida Division, to tally points on two or sometimes three boats in the course of the year. Not only do some captains score on multiple boats, some captains tally points in different divisions through the year. Multi-divisional tallies were the key to the top two finishers in 2016’s World Wide Rankings—Captains Jon Duffie and Tommy Lynskey (each of whom scored in both the International and East Coast divisions).
What Does it Mean to Win Captain of the Year?
Winning an ITB Captain of the Year Award is a big deal. From the early days of the award, when a single winner was chosen to the point-based divisional system of today, to win requires skill, consistency and dedication (nobody will turn down a little luck, either). Winning a Captain of the Year award requires a sizeable investment in tournament fishing by boat owners, skill and proficiency of mates, and anglers who are consistently ready when the bite happens. While all of these things must be present, it is the captain whose decision-making keeps winning boats on the fish.
“It was awesome. I think it’s a pretty cool idea. With all of the new categories and areas, it has changed quite a bit since I won it,” says Captain Travis Butters the 2008 Captain of the Year. “The award was a great idea for the industry. It gives everyone something to strive for aside from just winning tournaments.”
When describing his winning year of 2008, Butters recalls, “First we won something in Key West. Then we won the Custom Boat Shootout and won a couple in Bermuda, and the Triple Crown. It was just one of those years when everything went your way.”
Captain Devin Potts was the 2016 Gulf Division Captain of the Year. Potts, who runs the Sea Mixer, a 66-foot Spencer, says “There are a lot of good, good fishermen here. Winning this is a huge career milestone for me. It has been a humbling experience.”
Captain Victor Julio Lopez runs the Tranquilo, a 57-foot Spencer. Lopez was the first Costa Rican-born captain to win the award, winning the 2016 International Division. “The success of my efforts may be attributed to the blessing of God and the effort of our team and our anglers. My mate Daniel Arrieta has been here giving his best to keep us in this position. My wife Tania is by my side and has always been my good luck charm,” says Lopez describing his success. “It’s taken a great effort day to day to be in the position and it is a great honor to the first Costa Rican captain to be named Captain of the Year.”
So Now You’ve Won Captain of the Year… Now What?
It is standard practice that Captains of the Year host a party along with the presentation of the award. Just as there have been many different personalities who have won, the parties in the past have ranged far and wide. Captain Wink Doerzbacher won the 2013 Captain of the Year and the Florida Division Award in 2014. He celebrated in style with a reception at the Sailfish Point Clubhouse in Stuart, Florida. Captain John Dudas’ 2009 celebration was a catered affair at the legendary Miami Beach Rod and Gun Club. When Captain Ronnie Fields won it in 2010, the party was an epic affair hosted by Big Oh owner Gray Ingram at his home. The reception for Captain Victor Julio Lopez included a friends and family affair on the cockpit of the Tranquilo after day 1 of a Los Sueños tournament and a formal presentation at the tournament’s award ceremony. Captain Russell Sinclair’s reception was held at the Ocean Club Marina in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Some parties include pig roasts with guest chefs—like Captain Travis Butters (master of the pig roast), and some are a bit more low key. Compare this the bright lights and cocktail hours of some captains with the approach of back-to-back Hawaii Division Captain of the Year Kerwin Masunaga. Captain Kerwin prefers to live bait during tournaments and keep his head down. He lets his fishing do the talking for him. All of the diversity of approach is part of what makes the Cup so interesting.
Last year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the celebrations were quieter, with plaques handed out in person at tournaments or mailed to the winners from afar. But despite the lack of physical fanfare, the achievments made by those 2020 winners was no less memorable.
“It’s pretty cool to be a part of winning the Cup and I look forward to doing it again,” said 2020 East Coast Division champion, Capt. Russell Sinclair of the Wave Paver.
The Sanctioned Events
The Cup consists of more than 80 sanctioned events. The largest division by number is the Release Marine International Division with almost 30 tournaments. The Hawaii Division consists of 13. While the award is meant to recognize the achievement of captains, the setup of the structure benefits a wide variety of those with an interest in sportfishing. Tournaments are chief among them.
Randy Bright, chairman of the Houston Big Game Club’s Lone Star Shootout. “We’ve been part of it since it started. I think it’s a great program. Captains love to compete and to compare themselves with other guys that they’re fishing with,” says the industry veteran. “It’s a great benefit to the professional tournament captains. Anything we can do to create a tie between tournament and tournament is a good thing. Captains really like the idea of being part of it. It also helps the tournament because it encourages captains to encourage their owners to fish multiple events.”
Amy Dukes is the Tournament Director for the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series. The five events that comprise the series—this year marks the 53rd anniversary of the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament— are pivotal to the East Coast Division race. “It’s an honor to have captains that fish the South Carolina Governor’s Cup to be included in such a prestigious award,” says Duke. “The last couple of years we’ve had a great representation in the Captain of the Year standings. Captain Harvey Shiflet, the 2016 East Coast Captain of the Year, won two of our events last year. Before that, Captain Gary Richardson on the Reel Passion, turned success in the Governor’s Cup into a Captain of the Year Award in 2015. Captain Bobby Garmany on the Sportin’ Life placed well, too.”
The Cup Now
InTheBite.com is the source for current standings and the latest cup news. In the eighth year of its divisional format, the InTheBite Captain of the Year Cup is coming into its own. As the races heat up, the phone lines at the office ring with anticipation. “Who is winning?” “How am I doing?” “Do I need to fish any more events to keep my lead safe?” This is what makes tournament fishing fun and we’re honored to be able to recognize those who consistently produce.
The Captain of the Year has also laid the foundation for a new InTheBite tournament, the Champion’s Cup. New for 2021, the Champion’s Cup is an optional paid entry with a winner-takes-all prize format for teams who want to up the stakes in each division utilizing our longstanding tournament scoring formula. This is an optional paid entry winner-takes-all prize(s) for the following categories: heaviest marlin overall, heaviest “Division” marlin, *heaviest white marlin, most division points and most single day sailfish releases in Florida. To be eligible each registered team must compete in a minimum of one InTheBite approved “sanctioned” tournament.
Winning a coveted Captain of the Year Cup is a longstanding InTheBite tradition that will still be presented independently of the Champion’s Cup. This is a completely new format for the sportfishing industry where geographic regions can compete on a regional and global scale.