Fishermen tagged a total of 1,656 dolphin in 2015, making it the fifth-best [Read more…]
Fishermen tagged a total of 1,656 dolphin in 2015, making it the fifth-best [Read more…]
Banner Year for Tagging
What started out as a good year for tagging dolphin has turned into an exceptional year. The number of dolphin reported tagged through August 31, 2014, is 1,771fish. This exceeds the number tagged in 2010, 1,754, which was the second-highest number of fish tagged in the program in one year. Current fishing reports have good numbers of small dolphin showing up early off Antigua, the Virgin Islands, and the western end of Puerto Rico, which could indicate a banner tagging season is coming to the tropics. It is doubtful that 2014 will challenge the record number set [Read more…]
As of June 11th, 2018, 656 dolphinfish have been tagged and released throughout our tagging zones by 66 captains in 170 outings. Of those releases, 8 are recaptures recorded along the U.S. East Coast, 2 are return migrants from fish released last August, and 4 are satellite tags movements. In the first week of June alone, the Killin’ Time IIFishing Team, led by Captain Don Gates, tagged and released 207 dolphin, 5 of which have been recaptured (as of 6/11). This effort alone represents a 2.4% recapture rate. To read more about movements of dolphin along the U.S. East Coast over the past few months, click here.
Courtesy of Dolphin Research Program
April 2016 Newsletter: Variations in the Annual Abundance of Sargassum
In the last newsletter we looked at the importance of Sargassum in catching dolphinfish, using the tagging records reported by recreational anglers. Anglers reported catching more than 66 percent of all fish tagged from 2006 through 2015 in association with Sargassum, showing the strong affinity dolphin have for the oceanic algae. Data from the different regions showed variations in the importance of Sargassum to catching dolphin. Now we will look at the fluctuations in the abundance of Sargassum from year to year.
Three main supply lines bring Sargassum to the U.S. Atlantic coast: the Loop Current from the Gulf of Mexico, the Old Bahamas Channel between the Bahamas Bank and the northern Caribbean Islands, and the Antilles Current that flows northward along the eastern side of the Bahamas and joins the Gulf Stream Current east of Fort Pierce, Florida. The grass that comes out of the Caribbean and through the Gulf of Mexico is the primary supply line for the Florida Keys. The algae coming out of the Old Bahamas Channel supplement those coming from the Gulf but most likely remain out of reach of most U.S. boats until reaching Key Largo, Florida. Anglers from Miami, Florida, northward are the primary beneficiaries of the second source of Sargassum and the dolphin that it brings with it. While the Antilles Current may intersect the Gulf Stream east of Fort Pierce, the benefits it brings are most likely first enjoyed by anglers off Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is the Antilles Current that most likely resupplies the Gulf Stream with big dolphin for the Carolinas, replacing the fish removed by the heavy fishing pressure that occurs off Florida’s east coast.
The frequency with which dolphin were caught around Sargassum from year to year could be an indirect measure of the relative abundance of Sargassum annually. To use the tagging data to gauge the macroalgae’s abundance, we need to accept the premise that, given the opportunity, dolphin will associate with Sargassum, and with more of the floating algae available there would be an increase in the percent of “capture locations” where the weed was present. To examine this hypothesis, the tagging activity in zone 2, the Straits of Florida, was chosen because more fish were tagged in this region (5,757) than any other region, and it had one of the highest numbers of tagging days (560) of any region. It also is at the origin of a major source of Sargassum for the East Coast, the Loop Current’s exit from the Gulf of Mexico.
For our purpose capture locations were defined as any unique date-specific location where a dolphin was captured for tagging. This did not take into account whether a single boat captured fish at multiple locations on a single day or whether a different vessel was involved with every capture site on a specific day. The number of fish captured at any one location was not a consideration in determining Sargassum abundance, but it is used to characterize the dolphin’s affinity for Sargassum.
One of the most notable features about the ocean current flowing through the Florida Straits northward to Fort Pierce, Florida, is that it is basically confined in a ditch, roughly 50 miles wide created by the U.S. continental shelf and the Bahamas Bank. This feature acts to increase the concentration of Sargassum into well-formed lines and mats by reducing the area that the grass has to spread out over. This should increase the likelihood that fishermen would be able to find grass lines if they are present.
The number of days when fish were tagged each year (days sampled) varied from a low of 38 in 2007 to a high of 72 in 2015; see following figure. Over the ten-year period, 90 percent of the days sampled occurred from April through August. This sets the time period that this Sargassum abundance assessment applies. The number of sampling days (days when fish were tagged) averaged 55 days per year over the course of this study. The linear trend line in the figure shows the average annual sampling rose from 50 days in the beginning to 60 days by the end.
On each sampling day there were from one to ten capture locations recorded. A combined total of 1,359 catch locations, were noted during the study period off the Florida Keys. The following figure tracks the prevalence of Sargassum catch sites over the years. It shows a gradual decline in the grass sites in 2008 and 2009, an average of 74.6 percent of the locations, from the previous two years which averaged 80.1 percent. This was followed by a precipitous decline in 2010, where Sargassum catch sites reached an all-time low of 50.6 percent of the recorded locations. The oceanic algae quickly rebounded, accounting for 84.6 percent of the catch sites in 2011 and 2012. Fishermen noted a drop in catch sites with grass in 2013, when 76 percent of the locations were noted having grass. The most recent years of 2014 and 2015, saw some of the highest incidences of catch sites having macroalgae recorded, averaging 86 percent of the catch locations.
Over the duration of the study, catch locations where Sargassum was present accounted for 77.9 percent of all catch sites off the Keys. The trend line in the following figure indicates that the incidence of dolphin being caught in association with Sargassum was on the rise during the study period, increasing roughly 10 percent.
This data suggests that abundance of Sargassum in the Straits of Florida has been on the increase since its lowest point in 2010. This follows along with the reports of massive amounts of Sargassum invading the Caribbean in 2011, 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, no reports are known that documented years with exceptionally low levels of Sargassum entering the Caribbean.
From the fishermen’s perspective, the important question is whether increased amounts of this lure-grabbing weed will bring more dolphin with it. The answer seems to be not necessarily. The following figure shows the estimated annual recreational harvest of dolphinfish from the east coast of Florida as reported by NOAA Fisheries from 2006 through 2015. While the low point in catch locations with Sargassum in 2010 does coincide with the lowest harvest level of dolphin according to NOAA Fisheries, this is where similarities end. According to the NOAA data from 2006 through 2010, east coast Florida anglers averaged harvesting 448,499 fish annually. The harvest dropped to an annual average of 382,861 fish from 2011 through 2015. This is a 15 percent decline in fish harvested during the same period that saw an 11 percent increase in catch locations associated with Sargassum.
Unfortunately, the tagging data show similarities with the NOAA harvest data, when you look at the average number of fish tagged annually at locations in the Straits of Florida where Sargassum was present. See the following figure. While there are several small differences, such as the fewest fish tagged per site occurred in 2011 and the largest number tagged per site was in 2007, the major point is shown by the linear trend line that shows a steady decline over time in the number of fish captured per site having Sargassum.
Information from the tagging of dolphin does appear to indicate an annual fluctuation in the abundance of Sargassum in the Florida Straits. The years where there was an increase in the frequency of catch locations associated with Sargassum did not match up with years that NOAA data noted increased harvests of dolphin. Additionally, examining the yearly average number of dolphin tagged per catch site with Sargassum shows a steady decline over time similar to that shown by NOAA data for the harvest of dolphinfish. These latter two indicators suggest a decrease in the abundance of fish, during years with an increased abundance of Sargassum.
In case you are wondering whether more fish are tagged in years when more fish were harvested as indicated by the NOAA report, the answer is yes and no. There must be enough fish present for anglers to catch enough to satisfy their freezer needs, but after that point the decision to tag is a matter of personal whim. We know that the peak in tagging activity follows the actual peak in fish abundance. When you compare the annual tagging activity in the Florida Keys (see figure below) to the NOAA figure of dolphin harvested or the figure of the annual number of fish tagged per Sargassum catch location, there is little to no correlation. In the end, the decision to tag is largely independent of fish abundance, and more related to the individual’s dedication to conservation.
While having more Sargassum offshore may not bring more dolphin, it will certainly increase the odds of finding fish. It will also provide more nursery habitat for larval and juvenile dolphin to hide from predators. This should help to increase their survival rate, ensuring a healthy population of dolphin for next year’s fishing.
On February 28, 2016 the first dolphin tagged for the Dolphinfish Research Program in Cuban waters were released off La Boca, Cuba. Fishing about 30 miles west of Havana and 1.5 miles off the beach, the crew of the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, boat Jabez, owned by Carl Ulm tagged two of the six dolphin they caught that day.
They were able to fish four days during their visit to Cuba, with their best day being one where they received a permit to fish in a restricted area, where they caught eight wahoo and numerous bonitos. Capt. Ben Polk reported that they passed numerous longlines every day and saw men in 12-foot long rowboats fishing in 2,000 feet of water. There was even one man fishing from a sheet of Styrofoam.
We know that Cuba and the U.S. share the same stock of dolphin because of three earlier tag recoveries of dolphin released off the U.S. East Coast. The DRP needs dolphin tagged along the entire northshore of Cuba to learn their dispersal patterns from these previously forbidden waters. Since most Cuban fishermen are subsistence fishermen, the tagging will have to be done by U.S. anglers visiting our neighbor to the south.
For More Information, Contact
Dolphinfish Research Program
Cooperative Science Services, LLC
961 Anchor Rd., Charleston, SC 29412
Telephone – FAX (843) 795-7524
Web site www.dolphintagging.com
Cooperative Science Services, LLC
Dolphin Research Program March 2016 Newsletter
Sargassum’s Relation to Dolphinfish
Blue water fishermen view a line or mat of Sargassum as an oasis for fish in the vast sameness of the open ocean. Seasoned offshore fishermen know that dolphin love Sargassum, the floating brown macroalgae that occur in warm and temperate oceans throughout the world. Dolphinfish can be found in schools numbering in the hundreds in the shadows of the floating mats.
These masses of algae teem with life. Schools of juvenile fish, such as filefish, jacks, flying fish, ballyhoo, and even billfish, tuna and dolphin swim among the dangling forest, seeking shelter from the many predators that search the shadows for their next meal. Among the interwoven branches many species of crabs, shrimp, pipe fish and seahorses make their home, riding the drifting vegetation as it is carried by the ocean’s currents.
Each floating mat can be viewed as a mobile nursery. With the shelter it offers small animals to avoid predators and the great abundance of life that serves as a banquet table, it is easy to understand the nature of its attraction for marine life.
While fishermen as well as scientists recognize the attraction the Sargassum community offers dolphin, science has not documented the importance of this ocean plant to the occurrence of dolphin. The Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP) has collected information on the presence or absence of Sargassum in the capture of each fish tagged from 2006 through 2015, in an attempt to shed light on this plant’s role in the occurrence of dolphin. Over the past ten years this information has been collected on the 15,949 dolphinfish that have been tagged. These fish were tagged off the U.S. Atlantic Coast, Bahamas, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
The net results showed that 10,547 fish were caught,547 fish were caught with Sargassum in the area (66 percent of all fish tagged), while 4,379 fish (27 percent) were caught in waters where it was absent. There were an additional 1,023 fish tagged where no information on Sargassum was provided. Discounting the unknown records, more than twice as many dolphin were caught where Sargassum occurred than in open water or around flotsam. Mass taggings of 40 or more fish in a single school did take place in open water, but more commonly in areas where Sargassum was present. Information from different regions suggests that there could be variations in the percent of dolphin caught in association with Sargassum. Tagging reports from the Bahamas, zone 1, and the Mid-Atlantic Bight, zones 9 and 10, indicated that more fish were caught in areas where Sargassum was absent. The Caribbean Sea also shows a high level of fish caught in open water, especially if the unknown records are considered with the absent records. The Florida Straits, Key West to Key Largo, zone 2, exhibits the strongest association of dolphin with Sargassum, 78 percent of fish tagged. Surprisingly, the next region downstream, south Florida, Key Largo to Jupiter Inlet, zone 3, had an association level of just 63 percent of the fish being caught near Sargassum. Then in the next region downstream of south Florida, the mid-Florida Atlantic coast, Jupiter Inlet to St. Augustine, the level of fish caught in the presence of Sargassum rose to 75 percent, near the level shown in the Florida Keys. This fluctuation of dolphin being found around Sargassum could be related to how the Florida current transports the oceanic weed from the Keys to this area. It could be moving it farther to the east, and fishermen fishing the Miami to West Palm area tend to fish closer to shore than their counterparts along the mid-coast of Florida. Anglers from St. Augustine, Florida, through South Carolina, zones 5 and 6, relied heavily on Sargassum, catching 61 percent of their fish around the floating weed.
This is almost three times as many fish as they reported from open water, 21 percent. North Carolina fishermen reported that they caught more than four times more dolphin near Sargassum, 67 percent of the fish they tagged, than in areas where the weed was absent, 14 percent. It should be noted that these two regions had some of the highest levelsof tagging where no information was provided about Sargassum, 19 percent.
Mid-Atlantic Bight anglers, from Virginia through Massachusetts, zones 9 and 10, reported catching almost equal numbers of dolphin in areas where the weed was present as in areas lacking the grass. Dolphin were commonly reported being captured around commercial trap floats.
In the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen reported catching 64 percent of their fish in the presence of Sargassum, with 36 percent of the fish tagged being found in areas void of the floating algae. In the western North Atlantic waters bordering the northern and eastern islands of the Caribbean Sea, anglers caught 65 percent of the fish they tagged in areas with Sargassum and 34 percent of the fish where the weed was absent, levels similar to the Gulf.
Fishermen in the Caribbean Sea reported a slightly different story, indicating that 52 percent of their fish were found in areas with Sargassum, and only 19 percent of the fish came from areas where it was absent. However, these anglers failed to indicate the presence or absence of the weed in 29 percent of the tagging records. If this was their way of saying there was no Sargassum, then there would be a near-even split between dolphin being caught with or without the presence of grass.
The amount of Sargassum present in offshore waters off every region is highly variable not just year to year but from area to area in the same year. The Florida current, which runs from Key West to Cape Hatteras, or Gulf Stream as it is commonly called, begins to spread out and slow down as it passes the northern tip of the Bahamas Bank off Ft. Pierce. With this major change in its flow pattern, subtle variations within the current and the prevailing winds can have significant impact on whether the grass moves along the western side of the current where recreational fishermen are able to access it, or it moves to the east side of the Stream beyond reach of most recreational anglers. Subsequently, the farther north the current travels from Ft. Pierce, the larger the area that the weed lines have to spread out over. This could explain some of the variations in the amount of Sargassum found from one region to the next in a single year.
Looking at Sargassum’s importance of to the catch of dolphin along the U.S. Atlantic coast in five-year periods, we can see a change in the importance of Sargassum in the dolphin catch during the period studied. The first graph below shows the portion of the dolphin tagged in each East Coast zone from 2006 through 2010. While every year showed a wide variability from zone to zone, the overall average proportion of the fish tagged that were caught in association with Sargassum was 59.93 percent.
When the zonal averages for fish caught in the presence of the oceanic weed off the East Coast are plotted out for the period 2011 through 2015, shown in the following graph, there is a noticeable change. During this more recent five-year period, the proportion of fish associated with the macroalgae rose to 71.63 percent of the fish tagged. Surprisingly, the increased catch associated with the grass did not carry into the Mid-Atlantic Bight. When that region is removed from the calculation, the proportion of fish caught in areas with the weed rose to 76.49 percent.
This change in the proportion of the fish caught for tagging associated with Sargassum brings up the question of whether there was an increase in the amount of Sargassum or an increase in the number of fish? The period of 2006 through 2010 saw 8,234 fish tagged, while from 2011 through 2015 a total of 7,715 fish were tagged. This is a decline of almost seven percent. Similarly, the National Marine Fisheries Service’s recreational harvest data showed that more than one million more dolphin were caught between 2006 to 2010, than from 2011 through 2015. So there wasn’t a greater abundance of fish in the later period. This would suggest that there may have been more Sargassum present.
The Gulf Coast Research Lab as well as several other research institutions reported that during 2011, massive quantities of pelagic Sargassum occurred throughout the Caribbean, and that a similar event occurred in 2014 and continued through 2015. Understanding that these large masses of Sargassum are transported from area to area by the ocean currents, then it is reasonable to expect that at least some of the macroalgae from the Caribbean would pass along the U.S. East Coast. The major Caribbean ocean current moves from the southeastern Caribbean to the Yucatan Strait in the northwestern corner. Here the Caribbean current serves as the feeder to the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop current which ultimately supplies the energy for the Florida current off the Dry Tortugas below Key West, Florida. Then it is actually the Florida current that travels north along the South Atlantic Bight to Cape Hatteras where its name changes to the Gulf Stream. Knowing the connectivity of these currents, provides us an understanding of the pathway for Sargassum and dolphinfish in the Caribbean Sea to reach the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
The previous figure depicted the years of 2011, 2014 and 2015 as having higher levels of dolphin associating with Sargassum in the South Atlantic Bight but the annual harvest estimates reported by the National Marine Fisheries Service showed anglers to have harvested on average fewer fish in these years than in the period 2006 through 2010. The takeaway here would be that an increase in the amount of Sargassum that the ocean’s constantly moving conveyor system may deliver to the East Coast does not necessarily mean that more dolphin will come with it. One oddity that stands out in the last figure is likely rooted in changing current patterns. A consistent decline is shown in the percent of fish caught in association with Sargassum in the Mid-Atlantic Bight during the years when there was a super-abundance of grass in the Caribbean. It appears that while there was an increased abundance of grass in the South Atlantic Bight, it was not delivered to the Mid-Atlantic Bight within range of the area’s recreational fishermen.
Dolphin have been documented caught every month of the year off South Carolina. However, during the winter months they are normally six to fifteen pounds in size with an occasional 20-pounder. Bulls like this one just are not found off South Carolina at this time of year. Dolphin have been reported being caught in water as cold as 66 oF off the Palmetto State. Mr. Cone reported that his recorder indicated a water temperature of 70oF. This brute is just another example showing the nomadic nature of these great game fish.
How to Increase Your Tag Recovery Rate
There are some ardent dolphin taggers out there who have tagged more than 100 fish and have not had one of their fish reported recovered. Then there are those taggers who have had a recovery after tagging no more than five fish. Chance does play a major role in a tagged dolphin being recovered, but there are many things that anglers can do to enhance the odds of their fish being recovered.
The following lists six steps fishermen should follow to significantly increase the odds that their fish will be recaptured. The first action fishermen should take when starting to fish is locate the tag kit, make sure there is a tag in the applicator, and that you know where the associated card is that matches the tag number. Have these in an easy-to-reach location.
The second action anglers can take to ensure healthy fish for tagging is to use circle hooks. It does take some practice to learn to use these hooks properly, but once you learn, you will lose fewer fish and have few fish deep-hooked or hooked in the gills.
The third action taggers can take is to insert the tag deeply into the fish to provide a secure implant. Shallow tagging is a common problem that results in the tag being shed just days after it is released. The tag should be inserted into the dorsal muscle about one-third the fish’s length behind the head. It should be inserted at a 45o angle toward the head and deep enough so that the barb of the tag passes between the fish’s spines from the backbone. This allows the barb to lock around a spine, securing it in the fish.
The fourth action is simply choosing not to tag seriously injured fish. Fish that remain out of the water for more than one minute, or those that are deeply hooked or bleeding, should not be tagged. While these fish will swim off, they will likely die a short time later (latent mortality).
The fifth action fishermen need to take is to handle the fish gently. I know that is saying to be gentle with a fish that is trying to beat the tar out of you. Grasping the fish in its gut region or gill area and forcefully holding it there will likely inflict significant damage to its organs or its gills. Either way it will be dead a short time later. It is best to throw a wet towel over the eyes of a fish that has escaped into the cockpit. Once the fish’s eyes are covered it will normally calm down. Also tags should never be placed near or in the gut cavity, gills, or the head. Tags in these areas will also lead to an early death.
The sixth action anglers can take to maximize recovery chances is to use a dipnet to lift the fish out of the water. Using a net reduces the chance of injuring the lower throat area, which has many blood vessels that supply blood to the gills, critical to the fish’s breathing. Once in the net the fish has little chance of escaping into the cockpit, which is a big plus. This shortens the time that the fish is out of the water.
A dipnet offers other advatages in controling the fish. It allows the angler to easily tag the fish and remove the hook. Small school fish can even be measured without being removed. This all adds up to a quicker return to the water for the fish. A dipnet with rubber webbing is the most fish-friendly and easiest to get the hooks out of.
None of these actions involve rocket science, nor do they require much additional effort on the part of the fisherman. Just a little bit of planning and preparation will make tagging dolphin easier and more fun while producing a healthier fish for science.
Do Dolphin Anglers Support Fishery Welfare?
If asked, I would have to say that they do. Waiting for government to get around to studying a stock of fish is fishery welfare. The lack of private financial support for the DRP from the vast number the offshore anglers who fish for dolphin suggests that they are content with the government’s management of the sport fisheries.
In 2014 the DRP received financial support from only 55 individuals, clubs, businesses, and foundations. Donations last year were at an all-time low, and yet the program’s discoveries about dolphinfish, along with the number of fish tagged, were at one of its highest points. Last month we revealed the first documented migration route for a dolphin traveling from the East Coast to the Caribbean.
Every offshore boat owner who fishes for dolphin should donate $100 to support this important research each year. Today, two quality offshore lures rigged out cost that much. I would think that fishermen would place a much higher value on being able to catch fish that they can bring home. Dolphinfish has long been those fish.
Donations to the DRP are fully tax deductible, thanks to the Hilton Head Reef Foundation, a registered 501 (c ) 3 organization that works with the study receiving donations for the program. To make a donation, the check should be made out to the Reef Foundation/Dolphin Study and sent to the address at the end of this newsletter.
How important is catching dolphin to you?
For More Information, Contact
Dolphinfish Research Program
Cooperative Science Services, LLC
961 Anchor Rd., Charleston, SC 29412
Telephone – FAX (843) 795-7524
Web site www.dolphintagging.com
2014 Tagging Award Winners
The 2014 dolphinfish tagging activity was surprisingly strong. Anglers tagged an amazing 2,096 fish during 2014. This is the second-highest number tagged in a single year and comes just two years after the Dolphinfish Research Program (DRP) experienced its lowest tagging activity, in 2012. The increase in the number of fish tagged is [Read more…]
The Dolphinfish Research Program had a most successful year in 2014. The program is closing in on 2,100 fish tagged as late tagging reports are received. There have been 49 reports of tags being recovered and we’ll likely see more 2014 fish show up in 2015. Two satellite tags deployed off Charleston, SC, showed the two extremes encountered when using these expensive instruments on dolphinfish. One fish carried the instrument for only 36 hours before being eaten [Read more…]
The Plight of Dolphin Carrying PSATs
Any time a prey species alters its basic movement patterns or appearance, it will be noticed by a predator. Most times a large dolphin can either out-swim or out-maneuver its predators, like sharks, marlin, or toothed whales, but there are always some times when they don’t. Large predators have to eat, too.
Unfortunately, you cannot place a pop-off satellite archival tag (PSAT) on a dolphin without altering its appearance and possibly its swimming behavior. Changes in either of these will draw the immediate attention of predators. You might as well place a bull’s-eye on the fish. After tagging, it [Read more…]
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.