St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The bite proved red hot for the anglers and crew aboard the 68′ Paul Mann, Jichi. The Miami, Florida-based team released a whopping 7 blue marlin on the first day of fishing in the 42nd USVI Open Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT), to the lead the 22-boat fleet.
“It was an epic day,” says team leader, Ernie Portuondo. “We pulled the hook on the first fish, and after that it was boom, boom, boom, we had five releases by Noon. Then, it went quiet until 4 pm when the bite picked up again and we released another two, one right after another, the last release six minutes before lines out for the day.”
Jichi‘s anglers – Albert Castro, Luis Isaias, Ricky Querejeta and the boat’s builder, Paul Mann – caught one blue marlin on pitch baits and the remaining six by trolling a variety of colors of lures. They fished off the British Virgin Island of Anegada.
Querejeta released three of Jichi‘s blue marlin, placing him in the lead for Top Angler.
“We have a great team, fish hard and have a lot of fun doing it,” says Portuondo. “It creates a great karma. That’s how we win or place in so many tournaments.”
Jichi finished third in the 2013 ABMT.
The San Juan, Puerto Rico-based team aboard the 56′ Viking, Reel Affair, finished second by releasing four blue marlin. Reef Affair angler, Michael LaPorte, caught the team’s first blue marlin, which was also the first fish released for the tournament.
“We had good luck today,” says Reel Affair‘s owner/angler, Carlos Ramirez.
Rounding out the top three boats on the ABMT’S leaderboard was Casca Dura, a Brazilian-based 80′ Merritt whose anglers released two blue marlin.
Fourteen of the 22-boat fleet gained a foothold on the scoreboard by catching one or more of the first day’s collective 25 blue marlin releases. One of these was 2013 Top Boat defending champion, Wave Paver, a 61-foot Garlington owned by Port Canaveral, Florida’s Jr. Davis.
“We saw two fish today and released one,” says Davis. “The bite is picking up and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
On Day 2, Jichi went fishless yet held the lead with seven fish while Reel Affair‘s anglers keep the pressure on by releasing two more blues for six total. Meanwhile, Port Canaveral, Florida’s Jr. Davis’ and his team on his 61′ Garlington jumped into third with three releases or four overall.
Reel Affair took over the lead from_ Jichi_ by Noon on Day 3 and one upped its main competitor by releasing a last minute fourth blue marlin for the day to score 10 blues total. The Jichi team rebounded with the release of two blue marlin for nine total and a second place. Wave Paver kept up its pursuit with another two blues for six overall and a firm footing on third place.
On Day 4, Reel Affair‘s Colberg kicked off a successful home stretch by releasing a blue marlin 1 minute before Jichi‘s anglers. Two more releases by Reel Affair, the last in the final 30 minutes of the tournament, secured the Puerto Rican team’s win with 13 blue marlin. Jichi finished second with 11 blue marlin and Wave Paver third with 10 releases.
The Top Local Boat title went to Mixed Bag, Capt. Rob Richard’s Luhrs 40 Open Express, with five blue marlin.
In angler awards, Wave Paver‘s Steve Davis earned the $10,000 top prize by catching five blue marlin.
“I was unable to make the tournament last year, this year was such a cool experience,” says Davis, whose father Jr. Davis, finished second scoring five blue marlin releases right after his son. “Stay focused, not miss a bite and work as a team. That was the plan today and it worked, but I was on the seat of my chair all afternoon listening to see if another angler would catch their sixth marlin and take the lead away from me.”
The Top Female Angler prize went to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida’s Jody Lewis, who fished aboard her and husband, Steve, Viking 64, Freebie.
“I caught what I saw,” says Lewis, who has fished the ABMT many times, yet wins this title for the first time.
Rounding out the awards was Top Junior, won by 17-year-old Tristan Lambert, of Hillsboro Inlet, Florida, with the release of two blue marlin aboard his family’s 80-foot Merritt,_ Reel Tight_.
A total of 99 blue marlin were released by the 22 boat fleet in 4 days of fishing.