Rolling the Dice

There’s not a casino within 20 miles of Manteo, but that’s not stopping 79 boats from rolling the dice tonight. On the eve of the inaugural day fishing in the 2017 Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament, crews are pouring over satellite charts and chatting quietly among inner circles, trying to come up with game plans on where to go. Conditions have been muddled lately and with the level of competition present, all are hoping to get off to a quick and decisive start. The question is whether the marlin and sailfish have been apprised of these pending developments.

The PCBT is a trolling tournament using dead baits or lures. Blue and white marlin, sailfish and spearfish all score 100 points per release and it usually takes more than a dozen fish to be in contention. Blue marlin may be weighed, but only if they exceed 400 pounds or 110 inches fork length. So the strategy is to find roving packs of billfish, make every presentation count and rack up as many points as quickly as possible. Ties are decided based on time.

“The water has been swirly, if that’s a word,” says Capt. Jordan Croswait, skipper of the 57 Bobby Sullivan Legacy, a local charter boat. Croswait and his crew have been marlin fishing since the beginning of August.

“There’s green water, blue water, muddy water and you’ll run across a rip and the water will be 74 degrees and a mile later it’ll be 76. It’s all kind of crazy and certainly not normal for this time of year. There have been a lot of tuna around, but the billfish bites have been anywhere from none to four or five. It looks like we’re finally getting some pretty water settling in. The fish just haven’t found it yet.”

Croswait says it’ll take a steady two to four releases per day to be near the top of the leaderboard, with at least one day with several fish to pad the lead. And even though he’s a proven local skipper, that doesn’t translate into a major advantage.

“Being local and knowing the waters doesn’t hurt,” he explains. “But with today’s technology and satellite imagery, unlimited expense accounts and the ability to run anywhere at 40 knots, the playing field has gotten pretty level.”

Garett Yarbrough, a seasoned mate working the ‘pit of Trophy Box, an Island Boatworks sport-fisher, confirms the atypical conditions right now off North Carolina’s coast.

“The water has definitely been a little green,” he says. “If you do get a bite, you can usually snag a couple but the fish are scattered. We haven’t found any weed lines and there’s very little color change in the water. It’s a slow ocean right now. So hopefully we’ll be able to capitalize on what we do see and make it work.”

Fishing begins at 8:30 in the morning with the boats required to choose one lay day among the next four. So that noise echoing across the marina at 6 a.m. will be the sound of dice clattering across nearly 80 salon coffee tables.