In 1960, on my first visit to St. Thomas, I spent the summer between my junior and senior year in high school crewing on a boat and cruising the British Virgin Islands. The hordes of blue marlin that forage along the now-famous North Drop had not yet been discovered. With Capt. Steve Smith on Chantyman, I helped tourists catch small game and one day helped Capt. Johnny Harms on board Bob Maytag's Bimini Babe change a bent shaft. I don't think anybody caught a blue marlin there that summer.
But in the early 1960s, both Tommy Gifford and Harms moved to St. Thomas. Harms' and Gifford's blue marlin catches soon made the island of St. Thomas world famous as a blue marlin mecca. When John Battles caught his world-record 814-pound blue marlin in 1964, the rush of anglers to St. Thomas began in earnest. Soon, catches of five blues in a single day became unexceptional.
In the early 1980s, Larry Martin caught a 1,282-pound blue on Xiphias with Jimmy Unrath while running the boat on a "crew day." With no charter and the boss out of town, the captain, Bark Garnsey, had taken the day off!
On another crew/fun day, less than a week later, with Garnsey at the helm this time, the crew hooked and lost another fish that Martin says was bigger than his record. Garnsey, who has caught numerous granders in Australia and Madeira, says the fish was more than the magic 1,000-pound mark.
St. Thomas also hosts the prestigious U.S.V.I. Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, most widely known as The Boy Scout. This prestigious competition began in an effort to raise funds for the local Boy Scout troop more than 36 years ago. Over time the event evolved into an all-release tournament using 50-pound-test line. The lone exception to the all-release rule is that if the crew takes a world-record fish, it can be boated and counted toward their total score. This is one of the very few billfish tournaments in the world where skill rather than luck determines the winner.
"Some of the best, most legendary captains in the world have fished here," says Boy Scout tournament director Jimmy Loveland. "O.B. O'Brien, Bark Garnsey, Skip Smith, Ronnie Hamlin; there's a long list of guys. Most of them still come here. And don't forget that Maudi Lopez's 1,073 is still the women's all-tackle record."
Seasons - Conventional wisdom says the weeks before and after each full moon of June, July, August and September, but I've caught them just as well on the dark of the moon.
Capt. Red Bailey - Abigail III
Home 340-775-6147; cell 340-775-6024
Capt. Eddie Morrison - Marlin Prince 340-693-5929