The Great Equalizer

The pace is fast in the Gulf Stream. Bait follows current, billfish follow bait and when the skilled crews fishing the 33rd annual Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament find those billfish, double and triple fireworks often follow. Which is exactly what happened on Wednesday, the second leg in this week-long event, as the 53 boats fishing (19 took a lay day) released a total of 122 billfish, including 73 sails, 43 whites and six blue marlin. Local charter boat Rigged Up, a 54 Omie Tillet, racked up the top daily score.

“We drilled a hole in that place today,” says Capt. Charles Hayward, “and we tore ‘em up. We had a triple at 9:06 this morning and got all three. We picked up a few singles and then caught another double and single. We stayed in the same area within a two-mile circle and never left.” Rigged Up tallied eight sailfish for the day. Hayward said they were using ballyhoo, KP Mullet and a mackerel pitch bait. Rigged Up’s crew includes 10-year mate Graham Alexander and tournament ringer Garrett Holden. The Wednesday team also included a good luck charm in the form of 13-year-old Madeline Daniels, who landed her first billfish.

“It was tough, but I still did it,” the petite junior said afterwards. “I love fishing and I’m definitely hooked now.” Mr. Daniels added that Madeline’s new love was going to cost him a lot of money, while Mrs. Daniels said her daughter would take her obligatory first-billfish swim in the pool. Mother knows best.

Desperado, a 56-foot Taylor Made sportfisher run by Capt. Rob Barker and based at Pirate’s Cove, was Wednesday’s second top boat. The team released six sailfish and the combined total from the two days put them solidly in third place with 1,200 points. Legacy, Tuesday’s leader, added another sail for 1,300 points, good for second place. Rigged Up is now in fourth with 1,100 points based on time, while Bi-Op-Sea is fifth, also with 1,100 points. Uno Mas is the current leader with 1,300 points, also on time. The 68 Jarrett Bay with Capt. Tom Lynsey on the wheel, released three whites and a blue one on Wednesday. Sean Gallagher has been mating on the boat for five years.

“We’ve not been in the same area where they’re catching the sails,” he explained while brining a big tray of baits. “We’re just looking to catch whatever will bite and for us, most of those have been whites. Capt. Tom is a phenomenal fisherman who always puts us on the fish and we have a lot of luck catching them.” Uno Mas has a regular team, which really helps the catch rate, Gallagher feels. The fish today were not very aggressive, though.

“That first fish this morning showed up on the flat line but wasn’t very interested. We had to sink the bait a little to get him to eat. With the exception of the blue that was fired up, most of the fish today were lethargic. We really had to jack ‘em up to get them to bite.” Gallagher’s spread consists of ballyhoo and dredges, the “same shxx everyone else is pulling,” he added.

The wahoo leaderboard stayed the same, but two new entries were logged in the tuna and dolphin categories. Eric Bush boated a 72.3-pound yellowfin aboard Reel Rodeo, a 70 Jarrett Bay, while Ross Parker brought a 33.3-pound gaffer yellowfin to the scales. Parker was fishing on My Three Sons, a 63 Garlington.

With a front expected overnight bringing increasing winds on top of the full moon, many of the 72-boat fleet are planning to take their mandatory lay day on Thursday. That sets up a final day/Friday showdown, where anything can happen. And as is often the case here on the Outer Banks, it will.