By Mark B. Hatter
“We know more about the moon than we know about the habits of billfish.”
Brad Philipps, captain, owner and operator of the charter boat Decisive and Guatemala Billfishing Adventures, introspectively remarked as we sipped whisky and smoked Cuban cigars on the rooftop of his Casa Philipps in Antigua, this January. It had been a VERY slow week, yet under the uncharacteristic circumstances, we raised and released more sailfish using fly tackle than any other boat in the fleet.
So, I am not so sure about Philipp’s moon and billfish remark.
In November, I rode along with Philipps on the Decisive during the three-day charity No Sancocho tournament sponsored by Casa Vieja Lodge in Puerto San Jose. It was a remarkable tournament played out under a variety of conditions, from glassy calm to stacked waves from the “Papagayo,” which blew hard on the third day. Yet, under the changing conditions, one thing was abundantly clear: Brad Philipps knows more about billfish than science knows about the moon!
By the end of the tournament, the competitors were, well, in a word, crushed! Philipps and his team racked-up an amazing 55 sailfish releases (including three triples) and an unprecedented eight blue marlin releases, including four on the last day. All on light tackle!
I have been to Guatemala many times in the last 15 years and have fished with several captains. Yet, until last November, I was only familiar with Philipps though his peers, where his reputation preceded him. Invariably, his name invoked admiration with, perhaps, a tinge of envy.
And why not? In his 20 years fishing Guatemala he has amassed a plethora of trophies and accolades from every blue-water organization on the planet. On November 30, 2015, Philipps released his 30,000th billfish. He is getting close to exceeding 40K by now, his wife and business partner, Cindy, has been nagging him to give her the current update so she can post it on their website.
Considering that the Guatemala fishing season runs October through May, when you do the math, it deduces to an amazing average of 16 sailfish releases per day. No wonder why his crew rigs at least one hundred ballyhoo for a day’s charter and why he carries and, more importantly, may deploy dozens of different plastic teasers out of his arsenal of more than 100 in a day’s outing.
When I came back to fish with Philipps in early January, guess what I carried with me? More new, custom teaser heads and sheets of plastic skirts he’d ordered from the states!
Philipps is humble and will downplay his successes, explaining that his formula is simple: consummate preparation will reward you when opportunity presents itself. This was self-evident in November during the No Sancocho tournament and again in January where Philipps found agreeable sailfish for the fly rod when the bite was virtually nonexistent.
“I wish I could at least see a F*#king sailfish!” one captain quipped over the radio as we had yet raised another aggressive fish in our spread on our last day.
The next time I hope to sip whisky with Captain Brad Philipps, I will remind him of our January starlight cocktail conversation. Then I will offer him the following corollary: “We know more about the moon than perhaps most know about the habits of billfish.”
And I know just who that exception is.
As we near the end of our fishing season in the Texas Gulf, I began to reflect back on the incredible marlin fishing our tournament fleet has experienced in the previous few years. This year, on the other hand, has been a little off in comparison. While the bulk of the season hasn’t lived up to the previous few years, it seems to picking up here towards the end.
Last year at this time, this column described the Hoover/Diana Spar producing over 45 blue marlin in a five week period. These catches and releases were all reported between the Poco Bueno tournament in July and the Texas Legends tournament in August. Were the numbers not enough, many of them being solid fish and a few in the 600- and 700-pound class.
The Diana bite never really happened this summer. In fact, if you were to combine the action from all season in all of our normal tournament target areas that it would have matched last year’s bite from the Hoover/Diana Spar alone. What accounts for the difference in fishing results? For starters, the favorable current and bait conditions that produced the bite last year have not been present at Hoover/Diana in 2019.
While the overall number may have been down, there were a few boats that did have epic trips throughout the summer. In early June the Hook N Bull released six blues on an overnight trip to Diana. These early results had many thinking that the bite was about to go off again this year… but not much really happened at Diana thereafter.
In the Texas Billfish Classic, our tournament season starter this year, there was a really good bite at the shelf rigs for about a week. This area produced the majority of the 22 blues for the 26 boat fleet fishing the tournament. Of these 22 blue ones, the Bali Ha’i caught four and took home second place in the release division. The Done Deal, who won the release division, also picked up the last couple of their blues in the same area. Their total for the tournament was six blues and one white.
Fishing finally picked back up on Labor Day weekend with most of the boats reporting at least one blue marlin release. If the wide distribution of action were not enough, the Game Plan set a new Gulf record going 8 for 10 on blue marlin in a single day! Game Plan caught all eight of their blues at the Perdido spar rig using stand up tackle and estimated them all to be between 400- and 600-pounds.
Perdido is the southernmost rig that we fish off the Texas coast. In addition to the new single day Gulf record, the rig has produced many tournament winners in the past. The following weekend, the crew on the Sigsbee Deep headed back to the same spot and went three for four on blues with an extremely big girl that they gave a very conservative estimate of 700 plus pounds.
Before we call 2019 a thing of the past, we still have a little time before hunting season is full on. As long as the weather cooperates, we hope to tack on a couple more good reports.
– That’s the report from Texas.
The 46th White Marlin Open can be considered the most successful tournament yet for a number of reasons: 404 boats fishing for a World Record $6,186,870 in prize money is a good start. The red hot billfishing set a tournament record for the number of billfish caught and released. The prize money paid included two anglers that each won over $1,500,000, a blue marlin won $962,165, a tuna that took $935,915, a dolphin that won $74,900, and a shark that won $231,300.
As impressive as the payouts were, equally remarkable was the huge number of marlin caught & released. By definition nobody saw them at the scales, but the release flags flew all week. The tournament record was 1,358 whites caught in 2016 but the anglers toped that by over 100 fish. The final count was 1,459 whites caught with 1,429 released with the top release boat, “Big Deal” out of Brielle, NJ breaking a 39-year-old record for most billfish releases by boat. The previous record was 26 white taken by the “Escapade” in 1980. In addition to the white marlin, the boats took 47 blue marlin with 46 released, and 13 sailfish were released as were the 2 spearfish caught. The total number of all billfish caught in the 46th Open was a staggering 1,521.
In the money divisions, basically, the big fish in most categories on Thursday held their spots after the last day of fishing. Ocean City, Maryland native Tommy Hinkle weighed a 79.5-pound white marlin on Thursday while fishing aboard the “Fish Whistle out of Indian River DE. The fish took 1st place and netted Tommy $1,504,720. Hinkle had also won the top white marlin in 2008 making Tommy the first angler in tournament history to win the top white marlin twice! The “Backlash” out of VA Beach, VA kept their $1,502,450 for the 73.5-pound white caught on Monday by angler Michael Wagner from La Plata, MD. “Chasing Tails” with angler Nate Walker, both from VA Beach, VA caught their 74-pound white on Monday and earned $135,000 (they were entered in fewer added entry levels than Backlash).
The 465.5-pound blue marlin caught on Tuesday by Craig Dickerson from Pasadena, MD aboard the “Haulin N Ballin” out of Ocean City, MD was the only qualifier in that division and Dickerson won $962,165 for his blue.
The “Crisdel” out of Ocean City, MD weighed in a 201-pound bigeye caught by Russell Garufi from Bishopville, MD on Monday and stayed in first the whole week to kept $935,915. The
“Seakeeper” from Wilmington, DE weighed a 150.5-pound Allison tuna on Friday. The angler was Andrew Semprevivo from Mystic Island, NJ who took 2nd place and won $135,432 for his efforts. Ocean City native Ronnie Fields weighed a 145.5-pound tuna off the “Mjolnir” out of Bay Point, FL on Tuesday and held on to win $128,675.
The 277.5-pound mako shark caught Monday by Greg Robinson aboard the “Polarizer” out of OC, MD was the only shark weighed and held onto $231,300 won from the “Big Fish” pool.
The “Give It Away” out of Jupiter FL took over 1st place in the wahoo division with a monster 91-pound fish caught by Anne Aramandia from New Braufels, TX who won $24,475. Other winners in the wahoo division were the “The Natural,” who won $23,475, “Keepin It Reel” who won $20,475 and the “Nighthawk” out of Brielle, NJ with angler Jay Monteverdi, also from Brielle who won $20,475.
The big winner in the dolphin division was the “Miss-Tress” out of Brielle, NJ with Randy Drozd also from Brielle. The “Miss-Tress” was in the small boat dolphin division and the 38-pound dolphin weighed on Friday won $74,900. The 1st place 41-pounder taken off the “Playmate” out of OC, MD won $20,380 while the 2nd place dolphin was caught off the Stewart, FL boat
“Irene”. Angler Frank Sinito form Jupiter, FL won just $3,000 as the boat was not entered in extra added skill levels.
In the Small Boat Division, it was Tommy Hinkle with the top white which helped his winnings grow to $1,504,720. The heavy fish was taken by the “Reeldiculous” angler Graham Ward who caught a 121-pound yellowfin good for $108,000.
Top Release Anglers
White Marlin Open Grand Champion
Ed Russo from Carlstadt, NJ
Fishing on “Big Deal” out of Brielle, NJ
1,190 points, 17 white marlin released
2nd Place Angler
Robert Wedeking from Princeton, NJ
Fishing on “Override” out of Brielle, NJ
910 points, 13 white marlin released
3rd Place Angler
Victor Roof, Jr.
Fishing on “Game On” out of Charleston, SC
875 points, 10 white marlin and 1 blue marlin released
4th Place Angler
Nicholas Rodriguez from Dover, DE
Fishing on “Par Five” out of Dover, DE
735 points, 8 white marlin and 1 blue marlin released
5th Place Angler
Dante Rodriguez from Egg Harbor, NJ
Fishing on “MJs” out of Cape May, NJ
735 points, 8 white marlin and 1 blue marlin released
Top Release Boats
1st Place Boat
“Big Deal” out of Brielle, NJ
1,960 points, 27 white marlin released*
2nd Place Boat
“Uno Mas” out of Ocean City, MD
1,785 points, 23 white marlin and 1 blue marlin released
3rd Place Boat
“Tar Heel” out of Wanchese, NC
1,750 points, 25 white marlin released
* Broke a 39-year-old Tournament Record for most release points by a boat. The previous record was 1,949 billfish pts. by the “Escapade “ in 1980 which consisted of 24 white marlin released and 2 boated. The “Big Deal” out of Brielle, NJ caught and released 27 white marlin to earn the WMO top release boat ever.
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Middle Canyons Hot and Cape May is Ideal Location!
You could run out of adjectives describing the current billfish bite along the canyons off the mid-Atlantic coast but safe to say “it doesn’t get much better then this!” A combination of cobalt blue water, abundant schools of forage species and ideal weather have produced incredible action with white marlin and blue marlin for those making the run offshore. And, with the 2019 MidAtlantic tournament just days away, this world-class bite couldn’t happen at a better time! That’s right! We’re just a few days away from sportfishing’s “Main Event” on the tournament calendar and preparation for this year’s event has reached a feverish pace. Canyon Club Resort Marina in Cape May, New Jersey put the Mid in MidAtlantic and, as always, will be “home base” for the tournament which is set for its annual run the week of August 18-23. At Canyon Club Resort Marina participants are right smack in the middle of the action enjoying the best access to the fish whether running north to the Hudson Canyon or south to the Norfolk Canyon as well as every canyon in between! In fact, during the recent White Marlin Open, Ed Russo garnered the Top Angler award for the tournament among a field of over 2000 anglers and 400 boats with 17 white marlin released and his boat, Big Deal, won the prestigious Top Boat award for 28 white marlin released during three days of fishing including 15 in one day while sailing from Canyon Club Resort Marina for the event!
Tournament entries have been flowing in at a steady pace and while Canyon Club Resort Marina is filling up, some slips are still available for vessels of various sizes. Join the tournament fleet at Canyon Club Resort Marina along with many of the MidAtlantic’s previous winners who sail from Cape May each year. Besides a world class marina that offers all the amenities to pamper tournament participants, family, crew and friends during the best week on the tournament calendar, you’ll also be at the tournament’s epicenter with access to the “Big Top” tent which includes the “Sponsors Midway” where you’ll find the latest in gear and services offered by MidAtlantic exhibiting sponsors. For dockage information and slip reservations give Paul Hoffman a call at 609-884-0199.
The tournament’s base entry fee of $3000 includes all dockside social activities for up to six people. Proceeds from ten optional calcuttas with fees ranging from $1000 to $6000 provide the prize money for the tournament. Last year well over $3 million was paid out and the MidAtlantic continues to be, boat-for-boat, the richest big gamefishing tournament in the world. The event’s prize structure provides numerous big payouts each year and last year eight winners walked off the awards podium with checks greater than six figures while eight others won $25,000 or more!
Participants will select three days to fish during the week of August 19-23 with cash prizes awarded in various ways for white marlin, blue marlin, tuna, dolphin and wahoo weighed as well as billfish released. Minimum weights are 65 pounds for white marlin, 400 pounds for blue marlin and 50 pounds for tuna (big eye, yellowfin or true albacore) to win cash. All boats must fish within 125 miles of the Cape May Sea Buoy regardless of sailing port.
The MidAtlantic gets underway on Sunday, August 18 when late registration, calcutta entries and a cocktail reception will take place from 1 – 4:30 p.m. at Canyon Club Resort Marina and the event’s only satellite venue, Sunset Marina in Ocean City, Maryland. For your convenience registration can also be completed online prior to the tournament at www.themidatlantic.com. You’ll also find complete rules, schedule, calcutta information, points and prize breakdowns and a link to purchase 2019 tournament apparel. For additional tournament information contact Tournament Director Aaron Hoffman at 609-884-0177. Be sure to follow the action via the South Jersey Tournaments App which can be downloaded for free on any IOS or Android device from the Apple App and Google Play stores. Additionally, follow the tournament on Facebook at The MidAtlantic Tournament; on Twitter; @midatl and on Instagram; @themidatlantictournament.
It’s the 2019 MidAtlantic! It’s only a few days away and it’s gonna be another dandy! Come join the fun and perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to join the winners on the podium and be in a photo with a big check!
46tTH ANNUAL WHITE MARLIN OPEN – This is the BIGGEST one yet! There’s a total of 404 boats entered and over $6.1 MILLION in prize money.
World’s Largest & Richest Billfish Tournament
DAY 4 –
Scales just opened up and there’s a new front runner! Fish Whistle with a 79.5 white marlin caught by angler Tom Hinkle. Worth approx 1.4m Let’s see what comes in next!
New Small Boat Tuna Leader!
It was a rainy day at the scale but the fish don’t care! There were several dolphin weighed, with HELLSEA bringing in the heaviest at 22 pounds which took the Daily Dolphin category and $16,000. A 54.5 pound wahoo caught aboard the Nighthawk III took the Daily Wahoo category and will make some delicious dinners. The big story of the day was the 121 pound tuna caught by Graham Ward on Reeldiculous. It is the new leader in the Small Boat Tuna category and took the Daily Tuna prize. It is currently worth $100,000. Check out all of the live action tomorrow streaming live on the MarlinCam!
DAY 1 –
Day 1 Leaderboard:
8/5/19, Chasin Tail, Nathan Walker, 74, $1,450,000.00
8/5/19, Reel Chaos, Brandon Dick-Giordano, 70, $1,500,000.00
8/5/19, Crisdel, Russell Garufi, 201, $940,000.00
8/5/19, Theresa Jean, Chuck Metz, 101, $88,000.00
8/5/19, BAR South, Rob Gothier, 77.5, $36,000.00
8/5/19, Eastbound, Billy Fox, 69, $66,000.00
8/5/19, Priceless, Sean Garry, 64.5, $98,000.00
8/5/19, Game Changer, Rob Howes, 35.5, $18,000.00
8/5/19, Ditchdigger Too, John Albanese III, 30.5, $1,500.00
8/5/19, Top Notch, Jim Kwortnik, 27, $1,000.00
8/5/19, Heatwave, Brett Clarence, 26.5, $75,000.00
8/5/19, The Natural, Kyle McLaughlin, 82, $18,000.00
8/5/19, Caneelin, Sarah Bohlman, 54.5, $2,000.00
8/5/19 Sweetums, Terry Dorris, 50.5, $1,500.00
8/5/19, Polarizer, Greg Robinson, 277.5, $225,000.00
The latest American Custom Yachts 68 is getting her final touches. Look for her to be chasing marlin in the near future!
Team Reel Steel, this year’s Bermuda Triple Crown winner, was dominating throughout the three Bermuda Triple Crown tournaments, scoring 6,600 points from 12 blue marlin and three white marlin releases during nine days of fishing. The 66-foot Hines Farley was consistent in raising fish during all three events.
Utilizing a team effort, Reel Steel won two of the three legs of the Bermuda Triple Crown, including the Bermuda Billfish Blast and Sea Horse Anglers Club Billfish Tournament. They finished second place in the team division of the Bermuda Big Game Classic. The team consisted of owner Mike Verzaleno, Captain Jason Parker, mate Drake Cropper, John Cantiverii, Charles Coats, Kayla Verzaleno and Marc Verzaleno.
Runner-up Team Flyer, an 86-foot Merritt, scored 6,000 points in the Bermuda Triple Crown from 12 blue marlin releases. Team Flyer won the 2019 Bermuda Big Game Classic and was neck and neck with Reel Steel going into the third leg of the Bermuda Triple Crown. The team consisted of owners Kevin and Teresa Jaffe, Captain Bryce Garvey, mate Mike Overton, mate Mike Tarmey, Greg Axton, Dylan Jaffe, Gotzon Otxoa and Mark Woodbury.
Third place went to Team Big Deal, a 75-foot Spencer, scoring 3,700 points from seven blue marlin and one white marlin release. Big Deal had two top-10 finishes in the Bermuda Triple Crown to jump ahead of Team Pescador with 3,600 points. Team Big Deal consisted of owner Ed Russo, Captain Brian Rabbit, mate Ben Zafir, mate Sergio Vargas, Matthew Russo, Bill Pembroke, Kim Pembroke and Mike Pembroke.
All three teams entered the new Bermuda Triple Crown Jackpot at the beginning of the series, so each team received a check for their performances.
- First Place, Reel Steel, $58,500
- Second Place, Flyer, $35,100
- Third Place, Big Deal, $23,400
This is the first time Team Reel Steel won the Bermuda Triple Crown, although it’s not their first time competing in the tournaments. Mike and Marc Verzaleno handled the angling duties, catching all the billfish for the team. The team picked up $293,760 in total winnings on their way to the Bermuda Triple Crown series win. For their series win, Reel Steel was awarded VanMark custom rings, King Sailfish Mounts trophy, Garmin Quatix watches, Bacardi Special Edition Rum, Costa sunglasses, Grundens boots, AFTCO Championship apparel, Soundview Millworks trophy, and Steve Goione limited-edition Bermuda Triple Crown print. The boat also received a Release Marine custom trophy, YETI cooler, AFTCO harness, AFTCO gaff, AFTCO belt, Lucas Oil products, Baitmasters of South Florida gift certificate, and custom Big T Lures.
The big fish of the season was caught during the Bermuda Big Game Classic on day three by angler Jason Friedman, aboard the boat Overproof, captained by Peter Rans. Back at the scales, the fish weighed 697 pounds. For their fish, the team won the Day-Three Largest Marlin Jackpot and Winner-Take-All Largest Marlin Jackpot. This is almost a repeat of 2018, when Freidman landed a 930-pound blue marlin on day three of the Bermuda Big Game Classic.
The other two top marlin weighed this year were by Blank Check and American Beauty. On day two of the Sea Horse Anglers Club Billfish Tournament, Blank Check, captained by Danny Hearn, landed a 666-pound blue marlin caught by angler Steven Walker. The blue marlin won Blank Check all three days of the Largest Marlin Jackpot and the Winner-Take-All Largest Marlin Jackpot. On day two of the Bermuda Big Game Classic, American Beauty, captained by Travis Rolan, landed a 616-pound blue marlin caught by angler Aaron Fenn. The blue marlin won American Beauty the day two Largest Marlin Jackpot for the tournament.
In total, 9 qualifying fish over the 500-pound minimum were landed during the 2019 Bermuda Triple Crown with one from the Bermuda Billfish Blast, seven from the Bermuda Big Game Classic, and one from the Sea Horse Anglers Club Billfish Tournament. None of the top three teams in the Bermuda Triple Crown weighed a marlin.
Many of the participants continued to support the Costa IGFA Great Marlin Race Pop-up Satellite Archival Tag (PSAT) program. Before the tournament season began, Costa Sunglasses and the IGFA fished aboard Team Fa-La-Me to target and tag blue marlin. A sponsored tag was also deployed by teams Reel Steel, Fa-La-Me and Waste Knot during the series.