With an approaching full moon, plenty of bait around and roving packs of sailfish, the game plans are already in place. Many of the 72 boats fishing the 33rd annual Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament are hoping to strike fast to rack up release points once fishing gets underway. With all billfish releases scoring equal points, the final outcome could come down to the clock. So an early lead is always an advantage.
“We really need a good nor’easter,” says Capt. Joey Johnson, the veteran skipper running Starflite, a totally refurbished Jarrett Bay. “The fish are around, we just need something to get ‘em going,” the Harkers Island native says. Johnson will have a veteran crew, including Jarrett Bay President Randy Ramsey, aboard this week. He plans to troll mostly naked ballyhoo, plus ballyhoo and mullet dredges, along with pink and green squid chains. Pitch baits for whites and blues will be at the ready as well.
“It’s all a matter of being in the right spot at the right time,” he adds. “The fish are spotty right now. There may be a boat 300 yards away on ‘em, but you won’t get a bite or vice versa. The approaching full moon is good, though. Billfish always seem to bite better the week before and the week after a full moon. You don’t have to have a great day every day, you just can’t have a bad day. If you just keep pecking away, you’ll be good.”
“We pre-fished and the seas were calm, at the most three-footers,” says Capt. Casey Scott, skipper of the 40 Gamefisherman Sea Monkey, based in Virginia Beach and Islamorada. “There was a lot of bait, but the water was dirty, green and 84 degrees. It was downright crappy.” Scott and his team will also be targeting sails and white marlin with rigged ballyhoo and dredges. Pirate’s Cove marks the first tournament for the new-to-them boat and the team is planning on fishing most East Coast events from this point on. “We were here, this is a good tournament, so we decided to fish it,” Scott added.
This year marks the second in a row competing for Pirate’s Cove board member Curtis Colgate and his eighth PCBT overall. The owner of Instigator, a 57 Blackwell, normally competes in up to a dozen big game tournaments per year.
“Our plan is to go out tomorrow and find the fish,” he says. “The sailfish bite is going off, so if that holds there will be a lot of boats trying to load up on points early, before going for the kill. It all depends on the sails, if they stick around. I’m hoping we can do a repeat of last year, especially our first day last year. That would really give us a great head start.”
The Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament operates under a modified release format. Blue and white marlin, sailfish, swordfish and spearfish earn 100 points per successful release. Captured blue marlin between 400 and 699.9 pounds earn one point per pound while blues over 700 pounds score two points per pound. If no blue marlin are weighed, the scoring reverts back to release points. Game fish prizes—tuna, wahoo and dolphin—are determined by weight. The 72 boats will fish three out of four days this week. The lay day must be declared beforehand and with release points based on time, the decision as to which day to stay at the dock could be decisive.
Fishing begins at 8:30 Tuesday morning and concludes at 3 p.m. each day. Will one team strike quickly and score an insurmountable lead? Or will the leaderboard shift faster than a wahoo after a hardtail? Only time—and the fish—can tell us for sure. Either way it promises to be a fun and exciting week here on the Outer Banks.