The countdown has begun. In just a few short hours coffee will be ready in the galley, the docks will be bustling and the rumble of diesel engines will echo across the marina. The 2018 Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament is underway and 81 crews are busy developing game plans for the next four days. With a clean slate there are many facets to consider: What is the week-long marine forecast, which day should be skipped and what is the best strategy, a big splash or racking up points? The kick-off party may be winding down, but the deliberations will continue into the early morning hours for many. With more than $807,000 in overall prize money, nothing is left to chance.
“It’s not too grassy but not much bait either and no real edges,” says Capt. Rich Samuel of Manteo, who is a local ringer working the ‘pit this week aboard Bertram 61, the new factory boat hitting the tournament circuit for the first time. “We’re going to the drop-off, put the baits out and go from there. Someone has a secret that they’ve been holding on to just for this week. So we’ll be prepared and ready to run and gun if need be to find the fish.” Samuel said the most consistent zones have been about 40 miles east/northeast of Oregon Inlet.
“We’re going out there to win this SOB,” added team mate John Walls of West Palm Beach, Florida. Capt. Danny Ford is running the shiny new sportfisher with its team of factory anglers and guests.
Capt. Marty Brill, the voice of Radio Control, has been involved with the PCBT for 25 years as a volunteer and former contestant. The retired charter skipper witnessed many different strategic plans over the years.
“We’re not expected to have premier winds,” he explains. “Capt. Omie Tillet always liked to say an east wind feeds the edge, it pushes the bait and fish in. The forecast is calling for northeast winds, but we’ve seen good numbers of fish caught on similar conditions. If the fish are around, these guys can catch ‘em. This is probably the best combined fleet of billfishermen in the world.”
The PCBT features a modified scoring format. Blue marlin must be 110 inches long (lower jaw to the fork of the tail) or 400 pounds or heavier to weigh. Released blues count for 50 points more than white marlin or sailfish because of the difficulty but must be verified by still or video identification. Multiple simultaneous hook-ups of white marlin or smaller blues are not uncommon, however.
“I expect it will take at least 12 billfish releases to win this thing,” Brill adds. “The key is getting something on the score card every day. You can’t fall too far behind. If you’re behind on Day 3, you pull in the dink baits and put out the big ones and lures and go for that 700-pound blue to maximize the points. It’s a calculated risk.”
At least 20 boats have already declared a mandatory lay day for Tuesday. The rules allow fishing on three of the four days and lines go in the water at 8:30 am. So it’ll be a short night and multiple pots of coffee as the strategy sessions linger on.