By Nichole Osinski
You would be hard pressed to find two tournament wins that happened the exact same way. Between crew dynamic, trusted tackle, coveted fishing grounds and everything in between, the team that wrangles in that sweet prize-winning fish has their own unique story. This rings true for the team aboard the Sushi, a 57’ Island Boat Works, after angler Butch Wright reeled in an 85.5-pound white marlin earning them a first place spot and $3.2 million at the 48th White Marlin Open at the beginning of August.
“It was my first time fishing the White Marlin Open and I couldn’t believe it,” Wright says. “It was just the most exciting thing ever.”
The story of the Sushi’s 2021 win goes back more than 30 years when owner and captain Charley Pereira was around eight years old growing up in Coconut Grove, Florida where several of the fishermen in the area had noticed his affinity for the docks and taken him under their wing to learn more about fishing. They made him a trailer for his bicycle so that he could go to the tackle store and get their ice, occasionally taking him offshore for the day, sparking a lifelong love for sportfishing.
Pereira received his captain’s license in 1999 before purchasing his first boat, which he called the Sushi due to his previous experience catching fish commercially and selling them to sushi restaurants in the D.C. and Baltimore area. In 2003 he graduated to a 50’ Ricky Scarborough before moving to the Outer Banks two years later.
Then in 2011 Pereira bought Island Boat Works, sold the Ricky Scarborough and built the current-day Sushi, completing the build in July of 2013. Three weeks after finishing the boat he won the tuna division at the White Marlin Open, eight days to the year that Sushi would back up into the marina for a second time, this time with a winning white marlin.
The evening before the tournament started the team sat down together to hash out a plan. For Pereira, this is a time to lay out expectations and get back to the basics of sportfishing.
“I demonstrate for them proper techniques and let them know that when I say crank, I want them to crank like their life depends on it,” Pereira says. “I demonstrate the speed at which I expect them to crank and then I let them each have a try at it at the dock and I explain to them the various physics I’ve learned over the years that help us keep the hook in the fish’s mouth and get it to the boat.”
For Wright, this rundown would be vital for his fight later on in the week.
“The biggest thing I took from that was just to stay perfectly squared up with that fish. If that fish is going to the left then I’m turning to the left, if she’s going to the right I’m going to the right. I was really focused on staying square with that fish and keeping calm.”
A total of 444 boats were fishing the tournament and the team had some stiff competition with Fender Bender out of Virginia Beach weighing an 82.5-pound white marlin right off the bat. The fishing on Monday did not go as smoothly for the team when at about 5:15 a.m. roughly 26 miles offshore, the Sushi struck an object in the water. Pereira threw on his wetsuit and dove into the water to check out the damage. The left prop had been bent and the left rudder tiller arm had been broken. The team limped back to Sunset Marina at eight knots to get hauled out. Pereira made a quick call to bring in spare props and set to work on the replacement, wrapping up the job by 7 p.m.
“The whole entire moral of the crew was, ‘we’re not going to be able to fish,’” Wright recalls. “We all thought the worst.” Wright adds that it was mate James Coane, who has fished the Open more than a dozen times in the last 20 years, who told them, “This boat is going to be back in the water at 6 o’clock, we’re fishing tomorrow.”
Sure enough, the work was completed that evening, the boat was put in the water for a sea trial and the team was back at the dock Tuesday morning ready to fish.
By noon on Friday, the team had released two white marlin—one from the second day and another that morning. Pereira had decided to head south to Norfolk Canyon where he’d originally caught his prize-winning big eye tuna in 2013.
“If we couldn’t win white marlin money I was at least going to try to win some tuna money so we went down and had a combination of tuna and white marlin spread.”
At about 12:30 James recalls hearing one of the anglers hollering that he’d seen something.
“I looked up and saw the fish coming in on the left long and was ready for it. The fish ate, I hooked it and handed it to Butch and he did a great job. I knew when the fish jumped the first time that it was a nice fish and when we got close to it and it jumped again there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to try and boat it.”
Previously, the team had all drawn numbers out of a hat and by the luck of the draw Wright was number three in the rotation for when a fish gets on. With a firm grip on the Shimano Talica 25 Two Speed and a rewrapped rod, Wright was ready to go.
“This was my second time on the reel and to have that fish was just icing on the cake,” Wright says. “I just tried to remember to crank and reel, James hooked that fish and handed the rod over to me and it was game on. At one point during the battle he had jumped and went back down and a tiny bit of slack got in the line and I was thinking ‘no’ and reeling as fast as I could and I heard James in the back saying’ he’s still on! He’s still on!’”
James remembers the fish jumping several times before one final jump landed it halfway in the boat in the end.
“I gaffed it, pulled it back into water and then another charter guest put another gaff in and brought it on the deck and that’s when I knew for sure it qualified but we didn’t know what place it would be.”
The entire fight lasted roughly 20 minutes.
The crew wrapped the fish in ice and water, put it in the bag and made the decision to keep fishing until it was lines out.
Finally back at the slip, the crew got their families on board around 7:15 p.m. and called over to the weigh station where they were put last in line. The Sushi team waited for about two hours for their turn. When it was time to weigh their white marlin everyone began to get off the boat save for Pereira.
“I have a practice of not getting off the boat and not standing and watching the scales like the other guys do—I turn away from the scales and I pray,” he says. “I weighed two blue marlins in the tournament, one in ’96 and 2001, and I got off the boat and stared at the scales and the fish did not win both times after that I have made it a practice not to do that, I can’t control it, the best thing for me to do is stay on the boat, look away and pray.”
Pereira says he remembers hearing the crowd go wild before he turned around and asked if they had won. The answer was a confident yes.
“I just jumped off the boat with them and the first thing I did was run to Jimmy Motsko and bear hugged him. I was very happy to be a part of his tournament.”
“It’s a huge victory, we had a great group of guys, that’s key,” James says recalling their win, while Wright adds, “It was just amazing.”