We aren’t talking about the 1992 U.S. basketball team made up of Jordan, Johnson, Bird and the many other magicians of the court. We’re talking about the crews that famously won tournament after tournament by catching billfish and monster tuna. These teams filled the International Game Fish Association record books with long battles and heavyweight fish, and some even reside in the IGFA Hall of Fame.
Here are some of the crews that made history and some that are still adding to it.
Gray Ingram and Ronnie Fields
[2007-Present] Big Oh; Jupiter, Florida
There’s a good chance this crew is out on the ocean as you read this. In fact, Big Oh has tallied 1,500 blue marlin in 2017.
This relationship of owner Gray Ingram and Capt. Ronnie Fields has run for almost 20 years, but it manifested into a true team when Big Oh hit the water in 2007. Fields started as one of the mates, while his father, Capt. Alan Fields, ran the boat. The younger Fields soon graduated to the bridge. Traveling from place to place keeps him on the run, but in a good way. “We’ve sent the boat everywhere, from Cape Verde to Venezuela to Costa Rica,” he says. “One of the reasons I love working with this team is that we’re always out in great places to fish.”
- Won first place overall in back-to-back Venezuelan Fishing Shootout and International Super Slam tournaments
- One of the only teams that has won on multiple boats in the Los Sueños Signature Billfish Series, 2010 (Big Oh), 2011 (Bandolera on first leg of series; Contendress on the second leg)
- Caught 291 blue marlin during a four month period, 2013
Dave Fields and John Bayliss
[1996-1999] Hatterascal; New Bern, North Carolina
These two fished nonstop, so much so that Hatterascal didn’t have a home. For the most part, the boat slept out on the ocean. This crew had similar backgrounds in the charter-fishing industry out of Oregon Inlet in North Carolina — some of the best training grounds in the United States, from mackerel to marlin.
Dave Fields and John Bayliss lived fishing for 23 hours a day, from rigging bait to heading back into port. They kept it competitive even as a team, but the friendly rivalry between the two didn’t stop at the transom.
“We were extremely competitive with each other,” Fields says. “When we would fish out of Mexico, we would even play basketball against other crews before heading out for the day. ” When most of the equipment was stowed away for the trip back, Fields and Bayliss would not stop fishing, always keeping their options open for just one more bite.
“We would always leave one bait out,” Fields says. “We did that for 30 days; not until the last day did we get one hooked. It was a sail, but when I reeled in, all we got back was the head of the bait. To this day, John still reminds me of it.”
- Second place in the team division of the Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament, 1997
- Most white marlin at the Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament in Manteo, North Carolina, 1997
- First place in the release division at the Mid- Atlantic $500,000 in Cape May, New Jersey, 1997
Randy Baker and Trevor Cockle
[1990-1998] The Madam and The Hooker; Houston, Texas
On one of their best days, this crew wrote quite a few IGFA billfish records — 22 of them in fact, including several on fly. The owners of this mothership operation, Jerry and Deborah Dunaway, were in it as much as the crew. With the collaboration of the owners and Trevor Cockle as captain and Randy Baker as first mate, this team went at fishing with full force.
“Our team was good because we had a hard-core attitude about wanting to be the best we could be and wanting to catch more than anyone else,” Baker says. “We had the ultimate operation of the time — the best tackle available, fishing remote locales with the chance to pioneer some of them, and we got to fish a lot.”
In fact, they fished 11 months on for eight years straight. Cockle says that they worked very hard together, doing their best to perfect what they could control in the cockpit, since there are many things they couldn’t control on the water.
“Randy’s attention to detail allowed us to go 19 for 20 on billfish at Cocos Island in one day,” Cockle says. “We caught a quadruple slam consisting of 11 stripes, four blues and four sails in one day — on a day when the fish weren’t biting very well for the other boats out there. The last sail came in the pitch-black darkness with the spreader lights on after Randy suggested we give it a try. I was thinking about it when he mentioned it. We thought a lot alike — a huge bonus when working as a team.”
- Most Atlantic blue marlin caught in a day (20 for 28 bites), Cape Verde, June 1997
- 638-pound swordfish, Azores, Portugal, July 1997
- World’s first quadruple grand slam: four Pacific blue marlin, 11 striped marlin and four sailfish, Costa Rica, August 1995
Allen and Franklin “Buddy” Merritt
[1948-1971] The Caliban Fleet
These two lived a rags-to-riches story. They are the history of fishing personified, with their lifetime dedication to the sport and fearless attitudes. According to the IGFA, the brothers started fishing full-time in their teens. In 1948, their father, Roy, opened Merritt’s Boat and Engine Works in Pompano Beach, Florida. The company started out as just a dock and repair service, but within five years, the family was building boats. The Merritt brothers were the Edison and Einstein of the sport, constantly innovating to propel the sport to what we know today.
Before the first tuna tower was built, Buddy Merritt added a seat and rope controls to a sailboat mast to help maneuver the boat on the tuna. Just like with any pair of brothers, there was competition. But despite being on separate boats throughout their careers, they would share information for the betterment of their own skills. The IGFA notes that, “When Allen [Merritt] was puzzled by all the wahoo Buddy was bringing in, a rare catch in the late 1940s, Buddy let on he was fishing a line way back off the bridge. The method worked for Allen too, but the line tangled in the rigger baits, so he ran the line from a Calcutta pole, perfecting the technique and creating the center outrigger.”
For two decades, the Merritt brothers were the separate kings of Cat Cay. Buddy gained notoriety from captains and guides when he arrived in Tuna Alley with Miss Belair, the Merritt’s first sport-fisher. He went on to win both the Cat Cay and Bimini tuna tournaments in 1963 and won the Bimini tournament again in 1968.
Allen fished with Bill Carpenter at the 1951 Cat Cay tuna tournament and won it eight times, more than any captain in history. The Merritts introduced new techniques, rewrote the record books and piled on tournament wins. Even though they were captains on different boats and working for other people, they started as a team. They set the example of what a dream team could be — family at its finest.
- Allen/Carpenter caught 400 bluefin tuna over 10 years
- Allen Merritt caught 15 bluefin in one day, 1968
- Buddy Merritt caught 16 bluefin in one day, 1969 (a little brother rivalry doesn’t hurt)
Peter B. Wright, Stewart Campbell, Gary Stuve, Charles Perry, Charlie Hayden
[One day in 1995] Raptor
That’s right. A one-day dream team. Much like an all-star baseball game, these players came together from across the country for a one-day game. It was a full boat of IGFA legends: Capt. Peter B. Wright behind the wheel, Capt. Gary Stuve and Charles Perry wiring, Charlie Hayden as the photographer (also a legend when it comes to rigging baits) and Stewart Campbell as the angler. Before the sun was out of its slumber, this crew was already catching in the early morning.
“We were headed to a wreck off Ocracoke Island, [North Carolina], that was in 20 fathoms [120 feet] of water that had been the hot spot for the bluefins for a couple of weeks,” Perry says. “Stewart got in the chair around daylight and had caught at least four before the sun came over the horizon.” It was nonstop action for the crew and keeping up was part of the challenge.
“We were soon catching double-headers with just Stewart angling,” Perry says. “As soon as one of us would get a double wrap on the leader, the other wireman would unsnap that leader and the next leader would be snapped on and the bait thrown. Stewart said a few times, ‘Boys, we are catching them faster than we can string them.’ ”
And that was correct. The results of that day make other fishing crews scratch their heads. Campbell and the crew caught 73 bluefin, and he was in that chair for almost half a day. With those stats, he caught a bluefin every 9½ minutes. The average size was 350 pounds, with a couple of 500-pounders.
- All team members were honored in either the IGFA Legendary Captains and Crew or IGFA Hall of Fame
Dan Doyle Sr., Dan Doyle Jr., Danny Hearn and Jake “Jinxey” Gaylord
[1996-Present] Blank Check; Palm Beach, Florida
Danny Hearn started out as a mate for the Doyle family in the mid ’90s, and is now the captain of their 77-foot Jarrett Bay Blank Check. Hearn grew up with the father-son duo of the Doyles, and since he was a similar age with Dan Doyle Jr., he felt like this was more than just a crew. “Senior treats me like a son, and Junior is more like a brother,” Hearn says. “I’ve known them for more than 20 years.”
Hearn says that the Doyles are all about high-pressure situations in tournaments -— no fun fishing required for this team. Even on lay days, they are out raring to go and practicing. “We are always on the run, always fishing — even on the off days. And I love it that way,” Hearn says. “They immediately return home to work and families to allow more time away for the next tournament. The Doyles provide me with the best tools and vessels. It’s a dream job, a job for life.”
- Won the Blue Marlin World Cup with a 668-pound blue marlin, 2013
- First place at the Billfish Release Cup, 2013
Robbie Moore and Frank Rodriguez
[2002-Present] Fa-La-Me; Jupiter, Florida
This crew is still out on the ocean fighting. And on Fa-La-Me, they catch giants.
Capt. Robbie Moore and owner/angler Frank Rodriguez had quite the big day out in the Bahamas. They might have been trolling for blue marlin, but they caught tuna. And not just any old tuna — a Bahamian record bluefin of 1,058 pounds. Their relationship was born out of a regular interview process, but it became so much more. It became history in the making.
“I interviewed with Frank, and ever since, we have been working together,” Moore says. “Frank and his wife, Mary Ellen, have such a love for fishing and the boat. They let me do my job with no drama on the boat. Over time, Frank showed interest in tournaments, so we fun fished as much as we could. Now, we travel all over and try to be competitive every day we fish, tournament or not.”
Rodriguez started out looking for a captain of his then-65 Viking. They graduated to a 70-foot Viking and now campaign a Viking 92 Enclosed Flybridge. He wasn’t looking for a pirate of a captain who would sling back booze and stay out late hours. He found his fit with Moore.
“He’s a real person, an upright citizen,” Rodriguez says. “Not a partier but a family man. We learned a lot from each other over the years, and we have a great mutual respect for one another.”
- Won the Bermuda Big-Game Classic and Bermuda Triple Crown in 2012
- Single biggest day in Bahamas: six white marlin, five sailfish and one blue marlin
- Won the Bahamas Billfish Championship, 2012; Finished in the top five the last five times fishing the Championship: 2004 — 4th, 2005 — 3rd, 2006 — 5th, 2007 — 2nd, 2012 — 1st