Manteo, North Carolina:
Mother Nature put on quite the show for the participants of the 36th annual Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament Thursday. Sheets of rain, ominous clouds and bolts of lightning were the backdrop for most of the day for those remaining ashore. The fleet had to ease through nasty weather as they got closer to Oregon Inlet. Fortunately, none of the boats were damaged. Unfortunately, the fireworks didn’t ignite a hot bite, as the action was slow overall. Only six blue marlin, 13 sailfish and three white marlin were released by the 71 boats fishing.
Dillion Jones on Skirt Chaser got things started seven minutes after lines in by releasing a sail. Uno Mas, a 77-foot Mark Willis with Capt. Brooks Smith, took top daily honors with two fish, good for 350 points. Fender Bender, a 55-foot Jarrett Bay, was the second top boat with one blue marlin release. Desperado NC padded its overall lead with another sail for 650 points total. Uno Mas is second with 550 points, followed by The General with 450.
“We picked up one sail,” says The General’s skipper, Capt. Wade Fickling, who spent his birthday working the 800 to 900 line before easing back down. “I marked a little bait, but not many fish. The fleet was spread out. There’s a lot of looking being done.
“It’ll take a couple blue ones and plus another sail or white or two for us to win this one,” he adds. “Fishing against this crowd, who knows. Any boat here is capable of a big surge.”
Holton Clifton, the mate on Sandra D, looked soggy and tired while waiting to fuel the 58 Hudson for Friday’s final action. Clifton has been fishing the tournament since 2012.
“It was a long day. We got wet and stayed wet and didn’t see a thing,” he recalled. “The seas were pretty, just a little soggy. This is one of the slowest tournaments I’ve seen, but it’s been slow with billfish all season. We’ll set out tomorrow and go looking. There’s not an eddy or anything we know to go to. So we’ll try to find something. I don’t think anyone is going to catch eight or nine, though.”
Owen Maxwell, who owns Regulator Marine with his wife Joan, didn’t find any billfish, either. But the Maxwells and friends will be dining on fresh tuna, thanks to Owen’s catch. Anne Warrick, a 76 Paul Mann, was trolling north of the point in 100 fathoms when a hefty bigeye ate a naked ballyhoo bait. The fish was hoisted aboard after a 20-minute fight on a Shimano TLD 30 loaded with 30-pound line and 50-pound leader. It tipped the scales at 114.6 pounds.
“We saw a lot of life out there, marked a lot of stuff. But we didn’t see any billfish and had one cut-off we suspect was a wahoo. We were almost idling back in though, it was raining so hard you couldn’t see,” Owen said.
So will the sun be shining and the fish chewin’ on Friday? It could happen. A confirmed release of a blue marlin counts 250 points. A blue marlin weighing more than 700 points counts two points per pound. There’s a good reason the unofficial leaderboard is etched with chalk.