Back to the Future

August 10, 2015; Manteo, North Carolina:
By Capt. Dave Lear

Everyone, it seems, is digging the new changes. The Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament is back for its 32nd year, but 2015 marks a throw-back of sorts. A new non-profit board has made several significant improvements to the focus and rules, yet the biggest is probably re-hiring long-time tournament director Heather Maxwell after a lengthy hiatus. Positive vibes were evident throughout the event pavilion Monday night as boat owners, sponsors and crews laughed and enjoyed the festivities. By the time registration closed, 56 boats had signed up to compete for almost $468,000 in prize money, which represents a significant jump over the preceding years.

“Our main goals were to raise money for charity, have a first-class tournament like it used to be, with lots of perks and everyone having a really good time, and provide an economic boost to Dare County and the North Carolina boat-building industry,” says Sam Peters, president of Release Marine and a member of the PCBT board. “This tournament has always generated a lot of money for the local community and a ton of homeowners in the Pirate’s Cove resort planned their annual vacations around this week. So we wanted to get back to the way it used to be.”

Besides the expansive—and comfortably cooled pavilion—other changes include a free tournament smartphone app with stats and updates, live radio scoring on the tournament web site, live entertainment every night, boat buckets overflowing with goodies and scrumptious food. Participants at the kick-off party were treated to a bounty of culinary delights, including spinach balls stuffed with bacon, egg and cheese and crab bisque from Sugar Creek Restaurant, roasted oysters on the half-shell loaded with goat cheese, bacon and panko bread crumbs and steamed mussels from BlueWater Grill, seared tuna sashimi with rice noodles plus shrimp and grits from Stripers Raw Bar & Grill and seared chicken and beef kabobs, along with soft-shell crab bites with aoli sauce from the Lone Cedar Cafe. All the tapas were quenched with free libations, courtesy of Bacardi Rum and other beverage sponsors. Booths throughout the sprawling compound offered exhibits featuring the newest sport-fishing products, services, accessories and giftware.

The tournament format allows boats to fish three out of four days, with an elective lay day. With the weather forecast predicting rain and windy conditions Tuesday, nearly four dozen boats have already turned in paperwork to remain at the dock. Eligible targets include billfish (blue and white marlin, sailfish, swordfish and spearfish) for optional cash jackpots, plus gamefish (tuna, wahoo and dolphin) for prize packages. Blue marlin must exceed 400 pounds or 110 inches in length (lower jaw, fork length) to be boated. Released billfish score 100 points.

“Blue marlin weighing between 400 to 699 pounds score one point per pound,” explains PCBT Board chairman and custom boat builder John Bayliss. “Fish of a lifetime, those 700 pounds or heavier, will score two points per pound. That way a bunch of white marlin releases won’t outscore a genuine trophy blue. In these days of conservation, that was our intent, to catch fish yet still make it a level playing field.”

Lines go in the water at 8:30 each day and fishing concludes at 3 p.m. The fleet must remain within 75 miles of the Oregon Inlet. Boated fish will be weighed each afternoon and scorecards turned in after the boats return to the Pirate’s Cove Marina in Manteo.

The clock has turned back—and forward. And for the second week in August, on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, everything seems in harmony again.