By Capt. Dave Lear
August 11, 2020; Manteo, North Carolina:
So what will it be, feast or slim pickings? With a slower marlin year than normal, against the backdrop of a national pandemic, will the 2020 Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament action be red hot or luke warm? The next four days will tell the story as the 83 boats entered begin the hunt along the Gulf Stream. The stakes? More than $850,000 in prize money.
On one hand, several boats found fish and capitalized during the 31st annual Alice Kelly Memorial Ladies Only Billfish Tournament with multiple releases. Grand Slam 2 scored six whites on Monday to capture the top boat trophy in the charity event. Other boats had a big fat goose egg. But isn’t that typical offshore fishing? And aren’t these some of the best light-tackle white marlin anglers competing in the world? Darn right, they are. So here are the factors.
Sharks have been a big problem this year, often taking chunks out of tuna before they are boated. Anecdotal reports from the charter fleet show fish scattered from 50 to 500 fathoms with no discernible pattern. Bait is thick in places, although it’s not producing any scalding hot strike zones just yet. Those conditions are leaving the locals scratching their heads and the visiting boats wondering what to do.
“It was calm Sunday during the Alice Kelly with clear green water,” says Capt. Wade Frickling, skipper of The General from Morehead City. “I marked lots of bait below the surface and thought it would produce more bites. At 30 fathoms it was thick, just big blobs on the sonar. But the bite was scattered. I fished around the 200 Line mostly. We saw a lot of life like pilot whales. But few marlin.”
Frickling is going with a novice Pirate’s Cove team, although ones he’s fished regularly in the Big Rock Tournament.
“My guys are experienced anglers, so we’ll see what happens. Hopefully there will be some fish around,” Frickling says. “Based on the current conditions, four or five fish may win the daily. But a couple of blue marlin would really help out.”
The marine forecast looks favorable with lighter winds from the south/southwest and seas expected at three to four feet. Boats are allowed to fish three of four days, with the choice of which day to stay on-shore.
Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament uses a modified release format. Blue and white marlin, sailfish, spearfish and swordfish successfully set loose earn 100 points each. Smaller blue marlin that are verified by photographic proof earn an extra 150 points. If a boat finds the desired bait and billfish, double and even triple hook-ups are not unusual so points can add up quick.
Larger blue marlin may be weighed and the scoring is adjusted according to size. The minimum is 400 pounds or 110 inches, which is measured from the tip of the lower jaw to the fork of the tail. Blues meeting that criteria and weighing 400 to 699.9 pounds score one point per pound. Fish exceeding 700 pounds earn two points per pound of overall weight. So a single fish could vault a team atop the leaderboard in a hurry. There are separate divisions for weighed dolphin, tuna and wahoo.
The action begins each day at 8:30 am and lines must be out by 3 pm. So will this week’s omen be one of bounty or disappointment? Only the fish gods know for sure.