Hitting the docks now— The December issue wraps up 2018 in style! Grab your copy today, available in both print and digital.
Born in South Miami and a third generation native, Kevin spent the last 20 years photographing the world of high fashion and other elegant subject matter. As an avid free diver and lifelong water-sports enthusiast, Kevin has now turned his lens underwater, capturing the beautiful, exciting – and at times dangerous – world that belongs to a vast collection of undersea creatures. Kevin’s new artwork invites the viewer to pause and take a moment to see the silent, yet thrilling, oceanic marvels that few rarely glimpse.
Kevin Dodge’s work has been featured in numerous international magazines and media. His creations are in the collections of Coca Cola, Ford, IBM, Dell, Budweiser, Hyatt Hotels, Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson.
Kevin’s current oceanic art can be seen in a series of limited-edition prints he describes as Ocean Blue, celebrating the mysteries of our oceans and the beauty within this seemingly silent world.
“Creating this art has allowed me to capture the extraordinary moments when I encounter beautiful, yet wild, creatures and share these experiences with others.”
When Kevin is not shooting on location, he works from his studio in Delray Beach, Florida. His first love is spending time with his children and creating lasting memories. He is a staunch advocate for ocean conservation and hopes to share this desire for good stewardship with future generations.
View more of Kevin Dodge’s artwork by visiting:
If you’ve fished in Guatemala in the last 19 years, there is a pretty good chance that you’ve seen Captain Kennedy Hernandez. A true professional of intense fishing skill, Hernandez is a family man who is humble, straightforward and friendly. Kennedy’s rise to the Captain’s chair is a tale of how skill and dedication can pave the way for opportunity.
Growing up in Guatemala, Hernandez started out washing boats at Fins and Feathers. “My dad was a maintenance man there and used to fill the boats with fuel. So, after school I used to help him cleaning the pool or passing the fuel hose to the mates. Seeing the boats every day, I always told myself that one day I would work on one of them. I couldn’t have been happier when the first mate on the Intensity one day asked me if I wanted to help out on the boat. I immediately said yes – I didn’t even ask what my monthly salary would be,” Kennedy recalls. “That’s how I started my career – as a washdown boy, for Captain Rick Ogle, one month before I turned 13.”
While washing boats, it was the late Captain Aaron Valdez on the Magic who first gave Kennedy the opportunity to work as a second mate. This opportunity led to a full time offer for the same position aboard the Pelegian with Captain Brad Philipps. “After five months, I became first mate. I fished with Brad from 2000 through 2016-17 seasons,” recalls Kennedy.
While running Captain Brad Philipps’ cockpit, Kennedy experienced epic fishing. “The most impressive was the 2006 season. We caught nearly 100 blue marlin and nearly 2,000 sailfish. Our best single day ever was 91 sailfish,” Kennedy recalls. “I rigged the ballyhoo and all of the baits, and I’d run the cockpit.” While Kennedy is too humble to provide the total number of sailfish and blue marlin that he caught while fishing with Philipps – both on conventional tackle and fly, it is safe to say that it is a number not seen by many other crewmen. Proof of this statement is the pile of The Billfish Foundation top mate awards he received.
“Brad and I also fished in Cape Verde together in 2012 and 2016. We fished in Costa Rica. He took me to the Seychelles Islands and on safari in Africa, too. I’m really grateful to Brad,” Kennedy says. “All the guys here have helped me (speaking of the captains who fish out of the Pacific coast of Guatemala’s only marina). Brad really taught me a lot about being a captain. He used to let me run the boat in or out. It was very simple, but it was very important to me.”
On some level, anyone who works on a boat benefits from investment generated by sportfishing. For those passionate about life on the water, a captain’s job or a position in the cockpit not only provides a livelihood but a great lifestyle. While this is true for anyone, there is an added level of benefit and profile to a captain’s job in places where it may provide a higher standard of living than might otherwise be possible.
“Sportfishing has done a lot for me. I started when I was really young. A sportfishing job is one of the best in the port. It allows you to make enough money to live really well,” Hernandez explains. “It not only changed my lifestyle but gave the chance to be a sportfisherman instead of a commercial fisherman.”
After having compiled an incredible resume in the cockpit (Kennedy is a wizard of a mate), there was only one place left for Hernandez. “Being a captain, it’s a different feeling. It feels wonderful,” he says. Captain Kennedy runs the Typhoon, a 31-foot Bertram, owned by American Eric Goetz. Captain Kennedy and the Typhoon run charters for Big Buoy Fishing – www.bigbuoyfishing.com.
For a Young Gun who has already achieved a tremendous amount in his career, Kennedy maintains a level head and a wise bit of perspective. A man of faith, Hernandez first credits his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the success he is experiencing. “I am not a guy who wants a lot of credit or lime light. I’m simple. I just want to do my job well and make my clients happy. I’m focused on that when I get to the boat every day.”
In addition to his work running the charter boat in Guatemala, Kennedy also fishes the occasional tournament in other places. “I am going to the White Marlin Open in August. I’ll be fishing with Hank Draper. I will run the boat a bit and help in the cockpit. I fished the tournament last year too – working in the cockpit. It was one of the most fun tournaments I have fished. It was my first time in the US, I was very impressed,” Hernandez says. If the past is any indication, Hernandez future will be a bright one. Success could not have happened to a nicer guy.
Captain Mike Merritt: 50 Years in Fishing and Still Going Strong
by Capt. Dale E. Wills
While at the helm of the 52-foot Irvin Forbes-built Billfisher, Captain Mike Merritt had a young deckhand named Arch Bracher. One day Bracher asked if he could try something different when it came to leader material. Capt. Merritt, in his easy-going style said, “Sure go ahead as long as it doesn’t cost us any fish.”
Weeks later the Billfisher was steadily doing just a little better than the remainder of the Oregon Inlet charter fleet. It was evident something was going on when one day as they approached the marina. “I’ll be behind your boat when we get in,” radioed Capt. Bull Tolson. That evening when the Billfisher backed into its slip at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, Capt. John Bayliss helped with one stern line and Tolson helped tie up the other. The impromptu meeting and the tackle inspection that ensued changed white marlin fishing to this day. The year was 1988.
Prior to the Billfisher’s experiment, the entire North Carolina fleet used wire leader with ballyhoo. Bracher’s decision to use mono leader and dink ballyhoo baits, similar to his Mexico sailfishing spread, brought about change in the fleet. Bracher’s eagerness to catch more fish and Capt. Mike’s willingness to change is one of many contributions Merritt and his crews have developed for the sportfishing industry.
A Life Spent on the Water
Capt. Mike “Bubble Gum” Merritt, is 50-year fishing professional. Growing up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, he was destined to live a working life mostly on the water. “At the age of six, I had a bicycle and a fishing pole and every day I could, I would ride down to the water and fish. One day a thunderstorm blew in and my mother got real worried and hopped in her car and came looking for me. When she found me, I was unphased by the storm and continued to fish. From that day on, my mother would tell anyone who listened, ‘That boy is going to be a fisherman when he grows up.’”
In 1968, fresh out of high school, Capt. Merritt’s first full-time job came as a mate on a 48-foot Manteo-built boat named Germel with Capt. Dan Lewark. “I made $90.00 a day for an offshore trip,” says Merritt. After seven years as a mate, in 1976, Merritt stepped up to the bridge on his own 40-foot Warren O’Neil, the Billfisher. “I only had a VHF radio, a compass and a Flasher for electronics. We would use landmarks for navigation. Upon returning to port from offshore, at the first sight of land, if we saw cottages, a water tower and/or a lighthouse, we were five or ten miles north of Oregon Inlet. If we just saw beaches, we were south of the inlet,” recalls Merritt. From 1976 through 1991, Merritt was a fixture in the Oregon Inlet Charter fleet along with the Billfisher boat name. Boat builders, such as Sheldon Midget, Billy Holton and Irvin Forbes each had a Billfisher name on the transom through the years. “The 52-foot Irvin Forbes was my first twin motor boat in the late 80s,” says Merritt.
“One day in 1991, while getting fuel for my charter boat, a man asked me to run his boat. At that point, I wanted to give the private gig a try. It didn’t take long before I was traveling the world. I fished Bermuda, St. Thomas, Mexico (Puerto Aventuras) and the Bahamas.” Asked about his biggest catches, Merritt reflects on some large fish. “We weighed in a 958-pound marlin in Oregon Inlet, released a bigger blue in St. Thomas and a big one in Venezuela. I’ve seen a lot of big fish in my career,” says Merritt, humbly.
When asked about his role models, Merritt reflects, “Tony and Omie Tillett come to mind, but I have just too many to name.” It turns out that the fishing is only one of the things Merritt cherishes from a life on the water. “It’s been the dock comradery and the people who make up the fishing community which have made my career so blessed. I’ve had some great times around the dock.” In a chuckle Merritt says, “The Oregon Inlet Charter Fleet is home to some of biggest pranksters you’ll find anywhere. I could go on and on about the stuff we would pull on each other.” Here is one of Merritt’s favorites.
“In the early 90s, we were fishing a tournament when a small outboard decided to try to drive through the middle of the fleet. As luck would have it, the outboard hooked up with a nice marlin. It didn’t take long before the outboard gets on the radio telling everyone how big his marlin is.”
“As time passed any boat remotely pointed in the outboard’s direction was given instructions to deviate course. The outboard continued drifting with the current and miles from where it first hooked up when the situation took on another dynamic. The captain began desperately trying to communicate with a big Japanese tanker ship.”
“’Japanese tanker, this is the outboard with the twin motors, please alter your course, we are fighting a marlin….Please turn left.’ After failed attempts to reach the ship, the desperate outboard called anyone asking if they knew what channel the tanker was on. ‘You have to use channel 13’, I responded.”
“Seconds later, with the entire charter fleet tuned in… ‘Japanese tanker, this is the twin outboard, can you please turn, you are going to run over my fish. Merritt, in his best broken accent responded, “‘Ahhhhh, twin outboard, no can turn ship.” In disgust, the outboard radioed one of buddies saying “I can’t believe he won’t turn and every one of my radios onboard were made in Japan.” Eventually, the tanker passed, and I’m not sure if the outboard ever caught the fish, but us charter captains sure had a good laugh after that,” says Merritt.
Today, Capt. Merritt has returned to the charter business and can be found at Pirate’s Cove running the Sandra D. When asked about the difference of captains and crew compared to days gone by, Merritt says candidly, “Electronics and dredges.” So what advice would you give a future captain or mate? “Choose this industry because you love meeting people and you love fishing. It takes a certain character trait to do what we do as a career. I’ve never thought about doing anything else.”
You can charter Merritt by visiting www.sandradsportfishing.com or call 252-305-2825
by Elliott Stark
Live baiting is founded on a very simple biological concept. Since the very first time two fish swam in the ocean, the big ones have been trying to eat the little ones. In spite of the simplicity of the precept, live bait fishermen represent one of fishing’s most secret of societies. Fine tuning their presentations, crafting marlin bites that are as intimate as they are spectacular, the captains who have perfected the fine art of live baiting have long been viewed as secretive and mysterious.
Their craft—catching big marlin using live bait—has been passed along from person to person in much the same way that Aristotle or Socrates advanced their philosophies. Originating from such exotic ports as Hawaii and Panama, taught from captain to mate in the cockpit of some suspiciously slow-trolling vessel, live baiting has taken the marlin tournament scene by storm. The introduction of live baiting to the Gulf of Mexico has turned the 800-pound blue marlin from a fish of a lifetime to something you need to hang in order to be in the conversation for winning a tournament on any given weekend in the summer.
Given its incredible popularity—increasingly tournament teams need to be proficient live baiters in order to have a chance in kill tournaments, a discussion of when, where and how to live bait effectively may be in order. Far from being a one size fits all proposition, live bait aficionados from different regions illustrate the many nuances to its practice. From Panama to Hawaii to the Gulf Coast, when properly deployed, live baiting is an incredibly effective and efficient way to target large marlin.
The Theory of Live Baiting
While there may be captains who are exclusively “lure guys,” there are few who avow to only live bait fish. The reason for this is simple: live bait fishing is best applied to situations of opportunity. When imagining when and where to empty the tuna tubes, you must think like a fish. Live baiting works best in places that are most likely to hold fish. Regions of the world associated with a tradition of live baiting all have one thing in common—structure.
It is the structure that holds bait and attracts marlin that make live baiting successful. From Panama—the Zane Grey Reef, Hannibal Bank and the shelf, to Hawaii and its ledges, to the Gulf Coast’s oil rigs, natural or manmade focal points in the ocean provide the live baiter’s bread and butter. Even when fishing structure, live baiting is generally reserved for times when the conditions are right.
Captain McGrew Rice, a veteran Kona charter captain, is recognized as one of Hawaii’s authorities on the fine art. “We have a lot of natural ledges here. Certain currents push lots of bait onto the ledges. When this happens, we go inside to catch bait and bring it outside to work the ledges. We then wait for the fish to show up,” Rice describes. Captain of the Ihu Nui, a 45-foot Monterrey, Rice has been fishing these waters since his father bought his first charter boat in 1968. Since 1986 he has averaged between 200-250 days fishing per year.
McGrew’s largest live bait-caught blue weighed in at 1,019. His experience and perspective is intensely valuable in how he determines when to deploy the bridle rigs. “We can live bait year round. When we do it really depends on the current and when the bait shows up. You want bait at 60-100 fathoms to know that the current is working right, you know. You don’t want it at 200-300 fathoms,” Rice explains.
Live baiting is about precision and thoroughness. The art can be conceptualized as methodically working an area that you are certain holds fish. Thinking about fishing in terms of three speeds is helpful. If the water is not what you are looking for, you pick up and cruise away at 30 knots. If the water is promising, but you haven’t located a focal point, lure fishing at 8 knots or so allows you to cover ground while trying to raise fish.
When you come upon the location that has everything you are looking for—bait, clarity, water temperature and maybe even some structure (a floating tree in Panama, for instance)- it’s time to toss the small tuna. Depending on region and approach, live baits are fished somewhere between “in and out of gear” to around three or four knots on the trolling valves. In this approach you are not trying to drive over sticknose, you’ve found the dining room and are waiting for him to take a seat at the dinner table.
Captain Jeff Fay, another authority on Hawaiian live baiting, illustrates the nuance of the theory. Fay, who runs his 37-foot Rybovich Humdinger, has been running charters since 1966. “I’m not really sure who started live baiting in Hawaii. I learned it from a commercial fisherman, Olney Roy. He’d been doing it for years, and that was in the 60s,” Fay describes his introduction to the art. “I live bait on structure—usually at the grounds around the 100 fathom mark. I fish bottom structure on the deep side of the 100-200 fathom mark. I fish the up current side of the structure. On the other side, you’ll get more sharks and less marlin.”
Fay’s best live bait-caught marlin are a 967-pound blue and a black of 953. As for bait preference, Fay prefers an aku—or oceanic bonito. While there are extravagantly appointed modern sportfishers that use swimming pool pumps to circulate a dozen tuna tubes, Fay’s approach is straight forward. “We run a big Ruhl pump. When we need more bait we catch it, because we generally only live bait when bait is available.” Rather than catching bait and running, he generally catches it and deploys it in the same spot. Situation is key.
While most tournament-winning captains guard the secrets of their hook sets and leader dimensions as closely as the KFC original recipe, generally speaking there are some parameters for what to use and how. While Captain Wade Richardson may be too humble to tell you of his incredible skill in the live bait department, his pile of top black marlin release captain awards from TBF and a 2011 payday at Poco Bueno betray his secret. Wade recently concluded a 15-year stint running The Hooker in Panama, splitting time between Piñas Bay, the Pearl Islands and Coiba.
“Unless I’m tournament fishing, I prefer light leader—300-pound fluoro. We snell our hooks, instead of crimping them, because they’ll run straight on the bait. Crimps can roll over and hook the side of the bait. We also use a section of chafe tubing (where the leader meets the hook) if we’re going to kill a fish. You can control them better that way,” Wade explains.
Richardson also described how light leaders without chafe tubing make for an easy way to release fish. In addition to the wear on the leader from the bill, under pressure a weak spot is created in the line where it meets the eye of the hook. Light leaders without chafe tubing permit mates to pop fish off at the hook when exerting pressure on the leader, without worrying about the line breaking prematurely from the drag. For this reason, Richardson doesn’t exert full strength when locking in the snell before fishing.
Richardson carries an abundance of premade leaders in two or three sizes. The leader size is matched to the hook size. The largest is reserved for the biggest baits, with smaller bonito bridled on intermediate leaders and hooks. Matching the hooks to the size of the bait keeps them alive (and not helicoptering) longer.
When it comes to bridling the bait, Richardson prefers a snug fit without space between the bait’s forehead and the shaft of the hook. “You can control the baits better that way,” he says. To keep unruly baits in line, there are a couple of tricks. “If your rigger baits keep crossing, try poking the inside eyes out. They will then keep to the outside. For larger baits that pull out of the clip, you can cut their tail a bit.” This can also make it easier for the marlin to catch the bait, rather than it jumping out of the water or popping out of the clip before the bite.
Few captains have benefitted more in the past few years from the ability to live bait than Captain Jimmy Crochet. Crochet, who runs the 61-foot Viking the Conundrum, won The Billfish Foundation’s first ever Top Captain Award for the Gulf of Mexico in 2014. Based in Orange Beach, Alabama the Conundrum is a staple on leader boards of the Gulf’s biggest tournaments. Crochet credits his induction into the fine art to Captain John Holley of Destin, whom he fished with as an up and coming mate.
“We live bait a good bit while tournament fishing. Generally, we start at about 4 am, jigging to fill up the tubes. At daylight we bridle two baits straight from the jigs so that we start fishing with a full supply of bait. Our normal spread is four baits,” Crochet explains. “We run one close behind the boat (they generally hold this rod or rubber band the line to the reel handle). We put two baits in the riggers and put one out of the center rigger. We put our biggest bait closest to the boat. Sometimes we’ll pull a teaser with a live bait on the end of it too.”
Crochet’s favorite bait for marlin is a blackfin tuna in the 15-pound range, with a firm bridle. As the Conundrum fishes larger baits, they also tend to feed the marlin longer. Crochet estimates that they will average between 25-50 seconds before putting the reel into gear. “Every fish is different. It really depends on what the fish is doing and how big the bait is, but generally the longer you can feed the fish the better,” he says.
Captain McGrew Rice’s Kona spread generally includes two baits. “We fish one on the surface, about 40 fathoms behind the boat. We fish the other on a down rigger at 150 feet, about 100 feet deep after the angle,” Rice says. For the downrigger, he prefers a rubber band attaching the line to the clip. “Our premium baits are two to five-pound skip jacks,” McGrew describes. “Yellowfin are good, but they have scales. Lots of times a fish will slip on the scales and get tangled up in the leader.” Once bit, Rice generally gives the fish 10-15 seconds, but says “they generally have it down pretty quick.” Rice also favors a snug bridle.
The Fine Art Demystified
Once considered practitioners of a secret, potent form of fishing magic, the wizardry that is well-executed live bait fishing is taking the marlin world by storm. Witnessing a captain and crew that are experts in the fine art is a sight to behold. Sure, big fish have been trying to eat little fish since there were fish in the ocean. Live baiting, however, is more than just exploiting a biological imperative. When executed correctly, it is a fine art.
Pulling Tricks: Five Pros Share Dredge Fishing Tactics
By Ric Burnley
The first time I saw a marlin dredge I had two thoughts. First: that looks ridiculous. Second: that looks awesome! At first, 40 rigged mullet dangling from a web-work of bars and leader looks like a cluster FUBAR waiting to happen. Put the dredge in the water, and dozens of swirling and flashing baits look like a school of bait on the run. Fish cannot resist.
Many anglers had the same experience when they first saw a dredge. We caught up with five pros to find out how they use dredges now, and how they plan to use them in the future.
Captain John Bayliss, Tarheel
When Captain John Bayliss first saw a dredge he knew he had to have one. “I was fishing in Mexico and getting sacked up,” he laughs. Then he spotted the mate on the other boat pull in a four bar single dredge rigged with jumbo mullet. “It was super simple,” he recalls, “that was before building dredges became a nuclear arms race.”
In 20 years fishing with dredges all over the world and at home on the Outer Banks, Captain Bayliss has gone full circle. “We had a dredge we called the Space Shuttle,” he chuckles. The four-level dredge was followed by spreader bars and two chains. “The chains looked like booster rockets,” he jokes.
Now he has settled on a dredge system that is simple and effective. “A good dredge is double or triple bars,” he says. He adds a skirt to every other bait for more body and flash. Bayliss has found that adding artificial rubber fish or Marlin Mudflaps gives the dredge more density. Mudflaps are rubber fish silhouettes that mimic a fleeing tuna. Color of artificials and skirts depends on location and conditions. On the East Coast, Bayliss likes blues and blacks, in the Pacific he uses bright pink and red. He especially likes artificials on blue marlin dredges. “Blue marlin move so fast, they are just looking for something with mass.”
Bayliss fishes small ballyhoo on circle hooks from the long riggers and flat lines and pulls two squid chains and two dredges. He positions the flat line in front of the dredge. “That way the fish gets on the dredge and moves to the flat line,” he explains. If that’s not working, he’ll experiment by moving the flat line back or dropping the squid chains farther back. “I want the fish to leave the dredge and move onto the teaser or flat line,” he explains. He stresses the importance of choosing the correct lead weight to control the depth of the dredge.
When he raises a white or sail on the teaser or dredge, Bayliss instructs the crew to get the teaser out of the water. Then, with the fish hooked, he makes a turn towards the escaping marlin and eases the teasers back in the water. He leaves the teasers in the water until the fish is close enough to back down. After he lands the fish, he puts the dredge back, first. “Whites and sails rarely travel alone,” he says, “I want to hook his buddy, too.”
Blue marlin, on the other hand, move fast. “We clear the dredge as soon as the fish is hooked,” he says, “so we can get him before he dives deep.” He is constantly changing the arrangement and make-up of the dredge until he hits on what the fish seem to prefer. “When I put the dredge in the water I want my confidence high.”
Captain Joe Birbeck, You Never Know
Dredge fishing started in Mexico almost 20 years ago. That’s when Captain Joe Birbeck first saw one of these contraptions. “I saw a guy on the dock with a dredge and I went right out and got the stuff to make one,” he says.
Since then, Birbeck has fished dredges from the Atlantic to the Pacific and at home on the Gulf Coast. In that time, he’s seen dredge technology change. “It’s hard to believe old-school guys still use floss to rig their dredge baits,” he shakes his head. The invention of reusable pin rigs has made it easier to rig natural baits.
Birbeck has also seen more artificial baits in his dredge. “I know old-school guys might not agree,” he admits, “but adding Marlin Mudflaps and Fire Tailz saves time and money.” Fire Tailz are jointed fish silhouettes made out of fabric. Supplementing some of the natural baits with artificial baits gives the dredge more lift. Adding artificials to the dredge also helps level the dredge so it swims parallel to the surface.
In Mexico, Birbeck uses a double mullet or double ballyhoo dredge. “We’ve fished artificial dredges side-by-side with the natural dredges and raised just as many fish,” he admits. In the Gulf, when he finds the fish, he bumps up to a three-tier dredge. “We do a lot of high-speed trolling to find the marlin,” he explains, “but once we have them cornered we’ll use the dredge.” When he’s live bait fishing, Birbeck deploys a six-arm dredge armed with Mudflaps. “It looks like a school of blackfin tuna,” he explains.
Birbeck likes to dredge behind the flatlines and the squid chain behind the dredge. He starts the day with his go-to colors. “If we’re not raising fish by lunch, we’ll switch up colors and start experimenting.”
Looking into the future, Birbeck expects artificial dredge baits to become more life-like. “It’s amazing how far dredges have come,” he marvels, “from spoons and hook-less Rapalas to rubber shads and fish.” Recently, he’s noticed hard-plastic dredge baits showing up on the dock. “In 25 years, I’ve never stopped experimenting,” he says, “I’m always learning.”
Captain Scott Fawcett, www.offthechainfishing.com
Captain Scott Fawcett started dredge fishing in the mid-nineties while working with Captain BJ Bell on Boneshaker. “My favorite was a four-arm with 11 mullet,” he reminisces. From there, dredges and dredge fishing got bigger. “We ended up using three tier dredges with dozens of baits,” he says, “it got to the point where it was too much money and effort.”
Now he settles on a simpler dredge set-up that he can manage. “When fishing is slow, we add a trailer that the fish can suck on,” he jokes. When the action picks up, he removes the dropper. “I don’t want the fish to pick out a single bait,” he explains, “instead I want it to move off to the flat line or long rigger.” He has also started removing his squid-chain teasers from the water when the fish are skittish. “I’ve found that the teaser can turn them off,” he says.
Dredge fishing is so effective that Fawcett also employs them on his center console. When he’s drifting live baits off South Florida, he likes to sink a Stripteaser. This artificial teaser uses holographic fish on a strip of clear plastic film that undulates in the water. “It’s light and easily affected by the movement of the boat and current.” When the current and wind are too light for drift fishing, he slow trolls at 1.5 to 2.5 knots using two dredges armed with artificial fish. “The sailfish really lock onto the paddletails,” he says.
If he is trolling faster than four knots, Fawcett switches to natural mullet or ballyhoo dredges. However, he still uses artificial shads or rubber fish to control the depth of his dredge. “If the tail is dropping down, I’ll add rubber fish to bring it up.”
Fawcett likes to offset his dredges, running one deeper and one shallow. “I run one dredge six to 20 feet below the surface and the other so shallow I can see the swirls on the surface.” If he marks bait or fish deep, he’ll drop one dredge deeper. “I can prospect with the dredge to pull the fish up.”
On his center console, Fawcett runs the dredges off downriggers. “We installed the downriggers foreword of the flat line rod holders so they don’t get tangled or interfere with the motors.” He even rigs the dredge with the weights inside the arms for a more compact package. “I can troll two dredges and two squid chains without batting an eye.”
To test the effectiveness of his dredges, he watches the fish it attracts. “If the fish is stuck on the dredge, I know it is working,” he explains. He’ll leave a fish on the teasers as long as possible. “Nothing attracts fish better than another fish.” Fawcett loves to watch marlin attack the teasers. “If marlin fishing wasn’t waiting for the pin to snap and yelling, ‘There he is!’ I wouldn’t do it for a living.” He geeks out on the visuals. “The only thing that would be better is if marlin could roar like a lion,” he laughs.
Bill Pino, www.squidnation.com
As owner of Squidnation, Bill Pino has made a study of dredge history and trends. His squid dredges revolutionized teaser technology by adding artificial baits to natural teasers.
“The first time I used a dredge was on Pelican with Captain Arch Bracher,” he remembers. They were fishing a weed line off Hatteras and Bracher deployed a single dredge with large mullet. “We raised a blue marlin, then caught a white and a blue pretty quickly.”
Pino was sold on dredges, but it wasn’t until another captain suggested using his artificial squids on the dredge that Pino saw the full potential. “We fished artificial squid dredges all summer and ended up with the most releases out of Ocean City,” he beams, “when I told people they laughed at me.”
Since then, Pino has continued to experiment and refine his dredges. He went from single droppers to chain style dredges and adjusted leader distance to keep the squids from tangling. “We noticed the fish were on small baits in Costa Rica so we came up with a dredge that uses 108 small squid,” he says, “it looks like a big ass bait ball.”
One advantage he’s noticed is that fish tend to move off of an artificial dredge faster than from natural baits. “The fish hits a natural bait and he’ll keep at it until he gets it off the dredge,” he says. With an artificial dredge, the fish tend to hit the rubber bait once then move off to the squid chain or one of the hook baits.
To learn more about dredge technology and techniques, Pino takes input from anglers and captains. “I see guys dropping dredges back farther and farther,” he says. Improved lead weights that can be adjusted for the perfect presentation make it possible to place the dredge anywhere in the spread. He has seen some crews go to the extreme of adding heat shrink to the dredge arms to deaden the sound.
Pino is always looking for ways to improve his squid dredges. He was hesitant to give details, but he’s working on a new dredge that better imitates a school of bait. “Dredge baits swim in a straight line,” he says, “but a bait ball is a mass of shit all bunched up,” His next invention will feature multiple baits moving in different directions. “That’s all I can say,” he stops.
The Case for Fishing: Guatemala
by Elliott Stark
“Marlin, left teasah!” The man behind the voice is Captain Chris Van Leeuwen. Van Leeuwen is well travelled fisherman, resourceful and full of stories. The fish, a blue of about 400 that would gobble the pitch bait 15-feet off of the transom, had apparently not been informed that Guatemala “is just a sailfish destination.”
Van Leeuwen is the owner/operator of the Allure II, a yellow-hulled 40-foot Capps, and a charming, boutique handle-all-the-variables resort known as the Sailfish Oasis. Van Leeuwen is laid back and full of perspective. Since leaving his native New Zealand, he has done it. Van Leeuwen ran a boat for Tim Choate’s operation in the Galapagos, before following Choate to Guatemala. Though he’s been in Guatemala since 2002, the world knows him as “Kiwi.” His mates, brothers Julio and Enio Morales, are highly skilled and adaptable in their ability to relate to clients. In other parts of the world, the lodge’s hospitality would take top billing. In Guatemala, however, nothing compares to the fishing.
The sailfish numbers in Guatemala make daily fishing report numbers sound like snapper fishing off of a chum bag. Raising 31, catching 16 out of 27 bites, could just as likely be catching 73 in a day or the groups that with some regularity catch 300-some odd fish in four days of fishing. The sailfishery here is astronomical. To label Guatemala as simply a sailfish destination, however, may miss the point. The following is a breakdown of the many reasons that constitute the Case for Fishing: Guatemala.
An Ocean Alive
The consistent, well-rounded fishery on the Pacific Coast of Guatemala results from waters teeming with bait. Deep currents interact with bottom topography, to send oxygenated, nutrient-rich water to the surface. These upwellings set the stage for clouds of ballyhoo, bonito all over the place, shoals of squid and generally lots of bait. The bait holds sailfish, blue marlin (with the occasional stripe and black mixed in), dorado and yellowfin tuna. Beyond the creatures taggable and gaffable, there are schools of spinner dolphins swimming with tuna and baleen whales feeding on bait, too. If you’re in to that sort of thing, there are an awful lot of sea turtles floating around as well.
Someone forgot to tell the blue marlin that Guatemala is a sailfish destination. On the second and third day of our trip, we raised six blues and saw a tank of a marlin free jumping. Captain Mike Sheeder turned loose a grand slam fishing near us—adding a blue and a black to a pile of sails. The marlin fishing near shore—eight to ten miles from the marina, is consistent. Unless someone is targeting marlin specifically, the fleet often runs past the marlin grounds to target sails. That said, blue marlin bites are consistent offshore as well, with a reasonable expectation to raise a few on any given three or four day trip.
Brad Philipps runs the Decisive, a 40-foot Gamefisherman. Philipps and his wife Cindy also operate the Billfish Inn in Puerto San Jose and a hotel in Antigua. “Imagine how many more marlin we’d catch if we were targeting them. Remember, any time we spend going backwards on sailfish, we’re not marlin fishing.” How much time might be spent going backwards? In any given year a Guatemala charter operator like Van Leeuwen or Philipps might fish anywhere between 150-200 days. Over the course of a season, depending on such things as the skill of their anglers (or, perhaps as accurately, how many of the anglers let the crew hook the fish for them), high lining captains may release anywhere between 1,600-2,200 sailfish. That’s quite a bit of time with the square side of the boat going forward.
Van Leeuwen’s spread is telling of the consistent presence of creatures with broad shoulders. He runs two swimming ballyhoo out of the riggers, squid chains from the bridge and hookless plugs from the cockpit. If a sail noses around a teaser, it’s fed a ballyhoo on a chugger head. If something in a blue or black suit shows itself, out goes the mackerel. In addition to the one that is ready, there will be two or three more mackerel in the cooler ready for rigging. In a good year when the marlin are around, their marlin release numbers are measured in dozens—all while not specifically targeting them.
Learning how to hook fish from the riggers or feed them off of a teaser can be difficult in many places in the world. In other parts, you troll all day for two or three bites. If a fish does come up, everyone on the boat goes nuts. People jump around, teasers get crossed up, and baits are thrown around like a Chinese fire drill. The stressfulness of the situation is twofold: a. because you’re not likely to get many shots, you need to make the most of them, and; b. because you haven’t had many shots lately, it’s been hard to work up the chemistry for everyone on board to know what they’re supposed to be doing.
How then is a new boat owner or a new addition to the tournament team expected to be able to learn? After all, unless you’ve grown up on the charter docks of Manteo or Islamorada, consistently circle hooking billfish can take some repetition. Enter Guatemala— the land of opportunity.
As Capt. Kiwi puts it, “If you miss one in Guatemala, who cares? You’ll get another shot.” While the number of fish raised and released varies as with every type of fishing, the consistency of double digit days in Guatemala is the cornerstone of the fishery. It is the consistent presence of fish that allows for plenty of all of the necessary backlashing, whiffing, and bird-catching that it takes for a novice or intermediate rodsman to become a confident, competent angler.
The number of shots, in this line of reasoning, offers the following advantages: it decreases stress per opportunity; the repetition slows the process down (a first time angler who only sees a marlin every third trip—each time with the crew hollering like the boat is on fire—will believe that marlin swim 800-miles per hour); feeding fish from the teaser—and seeing the bite—will also help novice and intermediate anglers see the fish as they enter the spread, and; a stress-free environment in which anglers can alternatively miss fish and catch them on their own produces more technically competent anglers, but also more confident ones.
For a tournament fishing operation, a trip to Guatemala, or some other high volume fishery, is a way to hedge your bets. The charter tab becomes a team tune up before the high stakes, high pressure environment where a missed fish can swim away with tens of thousands of dollars. The experience works for everyone on board.
Mates get a chance to see how high volume operations work, the way lines are cleared and how to best manipulate fish on the teasers. Owners and anglers can get their shots on the reel, leaving with a great experience and increased confidence. Captains can come down and see how to run the boat to increase multiple hook up opportunities. For someone with the right body of experience, Van Leeuwen will even let the captain run the boat for the trip to get his team dialed in.
Lots of Fish and Calm Seas
While a sentence such as this is generally reserved for the opening line of obituaries, it actually applies to Guatemala. According to Van Leeuwen, about 80% of the time Guatemala is calm (not 2-3 or 3-4, but calm). Beyond the generally pleasant proposition this provides, a tranquil sea state also enables the prescribing of very specific fishing applications. Think kids, wife or prospective clients who can’t deal with rough weather.
Guatemala is a great place to introduce kids to the world of bluewater trolling. With short attention spans, the numbers are a great force to counter the I-pad. A calm ride is great for the kids and for that special lady, as nobody really likes to get bounced around. The March 2017 issue of InTheBite contains “Child’s Play: An Expert’s Approach to Fishing with Kids.” The setting for the article was the Rum Line with Captain Chris Sheeder, fishing in Guatemala.
Billfish on the Fly, Light Tackle
Because you generally don’t have to worry about whether you will catch sailfish or marlin in Guatemala, you can get fancy and try to catch them in special ways. Bring out the two-pound and the bug slinger! As it is illegal to kill billfish in Guatemala, there is no record fishing here but it is a great place to get accustomed to catching billfish on alternative tackle. Van Leeuwen, like most of the captains operating here, is accomplished in the art of targeting billfish on the fly.
Anglers wishing to target fish on the fly may do so to catch their first, target their biggest or to search for numbers. The approach involves teasing a fish up close to the boat, placing the boat in neutral and casting the fly in across the boat in front of the fish. The mate then snatches the teaser away and, if all goes according to plan, the fish eats the fly. As there are a number of steps to this process, it works best in high volume fisheries.
In order for it to work, the fish must be aggressive enough to follow the teaser to within casting distance. We switched to the fly for the last afternoon of our trip. When everything came together, Van Leeuwen found two blue marlin that were willing to show us the process. The first was a small one that nosed about, but didn’t eat the fly. The second was a good fish who treated the fly with all of the gentleness that you’d expect from a starving cat jumping on a pigeon. Two hours and 20 minutes later, the fish went nuts—jumping off into the sunset. It left us a video (available on www.inthebite.com) that starts with, “****, it’s huge!”
The Atmosphere—The Dock
There is one marina on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. All of the reports and astounding numbers you read about come from here. All the captains, all the boats, and all of fishing is centered in one location.
There is something quaint and charming about it. Captain Chris Van Leeuwen has been here for 15 years, Captain Brad Philipps arrived in 2000; Captains Chris Sheeder, Jason Brice, Mike Sheeder, David Salazar and others have all fished out of the same marina for years. Joining the retired Captain Ron Hamlin, these active captains are all among the leaders in most billfish caught. In terms of sportfishing history, this unassuming dock is steeped in tradition. Guatemala holds the record for sailfish releases in a day, on both conventional and fly tackle.
The stable of captains here is really incredible. Beyond simply the number of fish caught, it is the perspective and diversity of background that makes the marina here so interesting. Van Leeuwen hails from New Zealand, Philipps is a native of South Africa, the Sheeder brothers are Hawaiian, Brice is American. They are joined by Guatemalan captains, many of whom have grown up as mates. These are headlined by Eddie Baires, who cut his teeth with Ron Hamlin, and Kennedy Hernandez whose cockpit wizardry graced the Decisive for many years. The result is an amalgam of culture and perspective that makes a walk down the dock in itself is a great piece of fishing perspective.
Another charming aspect of the fishery in Guatemala is the relative lack of travelling boats. Compared to other of Central America’s premier destinations, the area is much the same as it was ten years ago. The lack of traveling boats is neither a good or bad thing, but it imparts a sense of intimacy and community to the dock and the men who make their livings fishing here.
It’s Really Fun
In a world that’s increasingly driven by plans made three months ahead of time and by actions that are the result of analyzing lists of pros and cons, the most compelling reason to fish Guatemala is perhaps the simplest. It’s really fun. The people are nice, the lodging is great, the food is good and the fish are more than gracious in their hospitality. There’s a reason it’s a bucket list destination that brings people back over and over. See for yourself.
UPDATED: High Court Confirms White Marlin Open Decision, Ruling ‘No Reversible Error’ Found
As seen in The Dispatch by Shawn Soper
OCEAN CITY — After nearly two years with $2.8 million prize money hanging in limbo, a federal appeals court on Wednesday essentially ruled in favor of the White Marlin Open and the winners in several other categories who stand to gain from the redistribution plan.
Last June, a U.S. District Court judge sided with the White Marlin Open (WMO) and the other named plaintiffs in a federal interpleader case against the supposed winner of the glamorous white marlin division in 2016. During that tournament, angler Phil Heasley and the Kalliannasa out of Naples, Fla. caught the only qualifying white marlin, a 76.5-pounder, and was symbolically awarded a tournament-record $2.8 million.
However, concerns over tournament rule infractions regarding the time of catch and subsequent deceptive polygraph examinations by Heasley and the Kallianassa crew landed the case first in Worcester County Circuit Court and later in U.S. District Court. Last June, after 10 months of legal wrangling and an eight-day trial, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett ruled Heasley and the Kallianassa crew should be disqualified because of the confirmed rules violations and failed polygraph exams and the $2.8 million top prize should be distributed to the other cash winners.
Heasley and the Kallianassa crew then appealed the U.S. District Court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth District seeking to overturn the lower court’s ruling and award the $2.8 million in prize money to them in the 2016 event. However, the U.S. Court of Special Appeals on Wednesday issued a ruling in favor of the WMO and the other named plaintiffs, essentially ending the appeal at that level and bringing closure to the long-standing legal battle.
“We have reviewed the record and find no reversible error,” the opinion reads. “Accordingly, we affirm for the reasons stated by the district court. We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before this court and argument would not aid the decisional process. In accordance with the decision of this court, the judgement of the district court is affirmed.”
White Marlin Open officials on Wednesday praised the appeals court’s ruling and expressed pleasure in being able to move on from the protracted legal battle and gain some closure moving forward.
“We have remained confident in Judge Bennett’s ruling regarding the 2016 White Marlin Open tournament results and we are glad that his decision was upheld,” said WMO officials in a statement. “We’re excited to put the 2016 tournament behind us and are looking forward to our 45th annual tournament this year which will be held Aug. 6th through Aug. 10th. This year’s event will be one for the record books, as we’re expecting our biggest payout to date of more than $5 million to this year’s winners.”
Heasley’s appeal focused on two key areas of the district court’s ruling including the assumption the Kallianassa put fishing lines in the water prior to the official 8:30 a.m. start time. Another area of focus in the appeal asserts the court made its ruling largely on the post-tournament polygraph tests, which are generally not admissible in federal court because they are often unreliable.
In terms of the timing of the catch, the district court opinion was clear the evidence, largely in the form of data collected from the Kallianassa’s sophisticated computer and GPS equipment illustrated the boat could not have had it lines in the water after 8:30 a.m. per tournament rules and have fought and boated the 76-pound-plus white marlin by 8:58 a.m., or a difference of about 28 minutes.
Heasley and the Kallianassa crew contended the vessel’s onboard computers and GPS systems and even pictures of the winning fish taken with the captain’s cell phone clearly illustrate the marlin was caught within the time constraints spelled out in the rules. The defendants alleged the Kallianassa’s computer systems show the boat did not leave the dock until 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 9 and traveled at cruising speed from 4:40 a.m. to at least 8:04 a.m. when it reached the fishing grounds 80 miles offshore. The onboard computers track “waypoints,” or plots on a chart, that appear to show the Kallianassa began maneuvering consistent with fighting a fish at 8:50 a.m. and the maneuvering stopped at 8:58 a.m. when the winning white marlin was allegedly boated. The captain’s cell phone pictures of the winning white were taken at 9:05 a.m.
Heasley’s appeal also went into great detail about the judge’s reliance on the post-tournament polygraph exams. Per tournament rules, any angler who catches a fish earning more than $50,000 in prize money is subjected to polygraph examinations.
In this case, Heasley and the Kallianassa crew were reportedly deceptive on their answers during the initial polygraph exams and subsequent exams, but the appeal asserted the entire process was flawed. For example, it was pointed out the polygraph exams used were different than those spelled out in the tournament rules, one lie-detector administrator admitted he was not familiar with WMO or International Game Fish Association (IGFA) rules and asked questions so broad that they did not even apply to catching a winning fish.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday essentially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and upheld the district court’s ruling in the case. As a result, the 2016 WMO prize money totaling $2.8 million will now likely be distributed to the winners in several other categories.
Following the district court’s ruling last summer, the WMO and the winners in all of the other 2016 tournament categories submitted a final status report outlining the division of the attorney fees and other expenses involved in litigating the case and the proposed distribution of the $2.8 million in prize money. Essentially, the other plaintiffs, or the winners in other categories, agreed to pay $340,000 of the WMO’s cost to litigate the case, with the lion’s share paid by the plaintiffs who stand to gain the most from the trial outcome.
For example, the first-place tuna, a 236-pounder caught by angler Richard Kosztyu aboard the Hubris, has essentially agreed to pay a $287,000 contribution to the WMO’s legal fees associated with the case. However, Kosztyu and the Hubris stand to gain the most from the redistribution of the prize money. The Hubris already received $767,000 for the first-place tuna, but with the anticipated $2.025 million more in redistributed prize money, Kosztyu and the Hubris crew now stand to win roughly $2.8 million for the first-place tuna.
Angler Jim Conway on the Get Reel, who caught the first-place blue marlin, a 790-pounder, already received $259,000 in prize money and is expected to receive $233,000 more, bringing its total for the first-place blue marlin to $492,000.
Angler Mark Hutchinson on the Magic Moment also contributed a significant amount to the legal fees associated with litigating the case at $17,447. However, the Magic Moment crew already received $132,000 for the second-place tuna, a 233-pounder, and is expected to receive $123,000 more, for a new total prize of $255,000.
The next biggest agreed-upon contributions to the legal fees among the remaining plaintiffs come from the two anglers and boats that tied for third-place in the tuna division. Angler Pat Horning and the Fish Whistle crew and angler David Arnold and the crew on the American Lady each tied for third in the tuna division with 71-pounders and each will contribute $5,859 to the legal fees under the final status report.
However, each stands to gain a significant amount of prize money from the final settlement. For example, the Fish Whistle was initially awarded $5,626 in prize money, but it will receive $41,330 more according to the status report, bringing its total to $46,956. The American Lady was awarded $52,126 initially, but with its additional $41,330, its total prize jumps to $93,456.
For the remaining eight place-winners in various categories, their contributions to the legal fees were very small by comparison at around $264 each, but their share of the redistributed prize money is equally small at $1,861 each, which does not significantly impact their total prize after redistribution.
Leg three featured 43 boats. For the third leg, the Gunsmoke (3800 points) out dueled the Geaux Fly (3700), catching the winning sailfish with 20 minutes of fishing remaining. The Geaux Fly’s second place finish was highlighted by a grandslam on day two– a black, two blues and a pair of sails. The Jaruco, the new 90′ Jarrett Bay, rounded out the top three with 2800 points.
Leg three also decided the Triple Crown winner for 2018. With all said and done, it was Tarheel (10,600 points) with Captain John Bayliss taking home top honors. The Agitator and Capt. Jon Duffie, 2016 and 2017 series champions, fell a sail and a marlin short of a third straight crown, with 10,100 points. Geaux Fly wins third place honors in the series with 10,000 even.
InTheBite congratulates the winners. Please enjoy the following photos and videos from the 2018 Triple Crown.