Just the name Bermuda conjures exotic images of pink-sand beaches, unbelievably clear water and enormous blue marlin. Each summer, anglers from all over the world converge on Bermuda in the hopes of catching the elusive grander blue marlin and/or to compete in a series of exciting, big-fish tournaments. This small landmass in the middle of the Atlantic — the closest landfall is Hatteras, North Carolina, 640 miles away — is a lot like other islands out in the middle of deep water in that it attracts a host of pelagic species ... and big marlin.
I’ve been fortunate enough to fish in Bermuda on several occasions, and even operated the scale/crane for a few of the July tournaments years back, so I’m pretty familiar with the size and numbers of blue marlin that can find their way to the back of your transom. But the fish don’t limit their time here to just one month, so here’s a bit about the island nation of Bermuda that might just spur a visit any time of the year.
A Brief History
The first European to see Bermuda from a ship was the Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez, in 1503. The islands ended up bearing his name, and he claimed the apparently uninhabited islands for the Spanish Empire. Bermudez actually visited the islands on two separate occasions but never set foot on them due to his fear of crossing the dangerous barrier reef that surrounds the chain. The islands were first settled in 1609 after a ship making the crossing from England to Virginia was wrecked on the reef.
After a few private companies oversaw its administration, Bermuda became a British colony following the 1707 unification of the parliaments of Scotland and England, which created the Kingdom of Great Britain. It’s now the oldest and most populous of all the British overseas territories. Even during Victorian times, Europeans would seek refuge from the harsh European winters in Bermuda — and Americans including Mark Twain thoroughly enjoyed visiting Bermuda. While tourism plays a huge role in the island’s economy today, it does its main business as a major offshore financial center. For those of us visiting for the fishing aspect, all you need to know is that the island is incredibly friendly, safe and a joy to visit in all respects.
Capt. James Robinson, on the local charter boat Wound Up, a 37-foot Duffy, won the World Cup here in 2009 with an 865-pounder, and has probably won more tournament money than just about anyone here over the past several years. A native of Bermuda, Robinson grew up fishing these waters, so his success comes from years of practice catching big fish. “If you look at the tournament stats, I think you’ll find that the local boats catch more of the big fish because that’s all we fish for,” Robinson says. “But I also think that the big-fish playing field is starting to level itself out as more of the visiting boats start to learn.” The high heat of the Bermuda summer marks the best time to fish for blues in Bermuda, and the bite usually peaks during the month of July. Consequently, that’s when most of the blue marlin tournaments occur. Card says that the season runs from June 15 to the middle of August, but they’ve caught them as early as April by accident. “We expect to see them on a daily basis from June 15 on to the end of August,” he says, “so if you want to catch a blue, you should come during those three months.”
Robinson likes the tournament fishing in July as well, but says it gets a little congested. “July is the most consistent for sure,” he says, “but I really like fishing in August, since we have a bit less pressure after the tournaments end. June is good too, but sometimes they show up earlier and leave later. We seem to catch more in August now, since we don’t have to compete with a bunch of boats every day.”
Banks and More
The main attractions here, besides the island itself, are the Challenger and Argus banks that rise out of the deep just 12 miles off the southwest edge of the island. “Each covers about 20 square miles, and they are just 4 miles apart,” says Card. The banks rise up from depths of more than 600 -fathoms to within just 30 fathoms of the surface. This huge change in depth creates the nutrient-rich upwellings that start the circle of life that attracts both the bait and its predators.
“We are on an island,” says Card, “so we can fish 360 degrees. While most of the fishing takes place down to the south and to the west, that’s just because that’s where most of the guys live, and they don’t want to make a run. Fuel is pretty expensive here.” Card also says that there’s usually not much current, and that there’s no rhyme or reason to it when it does show up. “We’ve been trying to figure out the current situation for years, but since they seem to completely reverse course in the space of an hour at times, we haven’t be able to discern any patterns. Our water temp varies very little as well. You might see a change of a tenth of degree or something, but we don’t have any wild temperature breaks. We had two weeks of absolute flat calm last year, and they were snapping. I tell people to just go when they can go.”
Robinson says he doesn’t feel like the moon plays much of a role here either. “It’s certainly not like St. Thomas,” he says. “We seem to catch them here no matter what the moon phase happens to be.” Robinson also feels that a lot of people focus too much on the banks. “I like to fish off by myself a lot, and the banks can get a bit crowded. I feel that the more boats you see, the fewer bites per boat you are going to get. I like to get away from the crowd, so the magnet of the bank isn’t as strong as it used to be for me. Instead of wandering around, jumping from bank to bank, when you find an area you like, stay there and fish. Not everybody heads straight to the banks anymore; the edge of the island holds fish as well. If the current is pushing the plankton and plant life up against the island, you are going to find fish on that side. Queen of Hearts likes to fish right on the island on the south shore, and [its -captain] won the World Cup fishing there when the current is running to the north.”
Big Fish, Big Gear
Since there’s always a chance of seeing a true sea monster during blue marlin season, crews here prefer to pull lures on 130-pound tackle. Card says that lures are made to catch fishermen first and that he doesn’t favor any particular lure. “If it looks good, we will pull it. Occasionally we do some live-bait fishing, but you can’t cover ground with a live bait, and they aren’t always readily available anyway.” Card likes to use a moderate
18 pounds of drag at the strike. He says that’s enough heat to stick a fish, and his anglers can easily hold that much drag as they move from the covering board to the chair. “Once we get them to the chair, we can put it up a bit,” he says. “We can go up to 30 pounds with a novice angler, and even more with someone who knows what he is doing.”
Robinson pulls a typical spread consisting of four lures trolled on 130s, two teasers and a 50-pound pitch rod rigged with an all-black “ting-em” lure to drop back to smaller fish. Even so, crews in this part of the world end up missing quite a few white marlin bites. “Usually the whites show up earlier in the summer at the same time that the really big blues are here,” Robinson says. “The visiting guys can do all right on the whites, since a lot of them are pulling double dredges and switching with little ballyhoo. I could go 2-for-5 on blues on one day, and then go 2-for-10 on whites the next. Whites are more of a nuisance to the local guys. As soon as we turn around and start to target whitey, you know what’s going to happen … a giant one is going to come up and eat a little bait.”
And that’s pretty much what lures most people to the beautiful island of Bermuda — you never know when that big girl is going to make an appearance in your spread.