As the editor of Marlin magazine and the director of Marlin University, I've enjoyed the privilege of traveling to and fishing in some of the best billfish hot spots on the planet. From Africa to Australia, and just about everywhere in between, I've experienced both the good and not-so-good aspects of overseas travel. And although the good times far outweigh the bad, you never truly know what to expect in some of the newly discovered destinations, and you can easily find yourself in some pretty laughable situations fishing-wise.
I distinctly remember flying for more than 20 hours on one trip and then spending the next four days fishing from private ski boats and converted World War II landing craft. My first Pacific blue ended up swimming into the landing craft's giant exhaust pipe and asphyxiating. (I was even crazy enough to go back and give the place a second try, and they still didn't get it right!)
Ever since Sept. 11 and the resulting security crackdown in our nation's airports, traveling anywhere by plane means getting to the check-in counter at least two hours early and dealing with endless baggage hassles and interminably long lines at security checkpoints. And can anybody tell me why you're required to take your shoes off and your computer out of its case at one airport and not at another? It just doesn't make any sense and seems to get worse on every trip.
But it's not just the security issues that make traveling such a chore these days; the economic crisis over the past few years has sent ticket prices to some of our most popular fishing destinations soaring, and to make ends meet, the airlines keep cutting back on services for its passengers. Who would have thought that you would ever have to pay extra for checking in a bag or bringing a piece of carry-on luggage aboard?
To help you make the most of your billfishing vacation, I've put together a list of my favorite places to wet a line that provide excellent numbers but don't come with an extra side of hassle. Most of these spots are just a two- or three-hour flight from the United States and are listed in no particular order.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
If catching a blue marlin is the next item on your bucket list, no place on earth provides a more consistent blue marlin bite than the famed North Drop off the eastern end of St. Thomas. This incredibly deep portion of the Puerto Rican Trench holds vast quantities of bait that migrating marlin just can't resist.
Anglers fishing for three days the week before or after the full moons of summer (June, July, August, September) will almost certainly come away with a blue marlin capture. We've held a Marlin University session in St. Thomas almost every year since its inception 10 years ago, and I have to say that from my personal experience, the best time to fish in St. Thomas is whenever you can go! At first I used to make sure that we were fishing the right moon phase, but I soon discovered that boats were sometimes hard to come by during those weeks. Being forced to fish off the moon several times - and doing just as well or better than the full-moon trips - convinced me that as long as you go during the summer, you've got a shot at a blue marlin. Fish here average in the 300-pound range, although 500-pounders are not uncommon. St. Thomas even held the all-tackle world record for many years with a 1,282 caught in 1977 by Larry Martin.
As a bonus, you can take a stroll down "A" Dock at American Yacht Harbor and converse with some of the best blue marlin fishermen in the world - and if you go off the moon, you might even be able to convince one of them to take you fishing if the boss isn't around. And since St. Thomas is a U.S. territory, you don't even need a passport to experience some of the best blue marlin fishing the Caribbean has to offer.
Capt. Red Bailey, Abigail III
Capt. Eddie Morrison, Marlin Prince
Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas