Two anglers fish side by side. Each challenges the other to catch the most fish, or the largest. Perhaps they place a small wager on the outcome. Spectators gather to watch the action — and just like that, a fishing tournament is born. And while it’s impossible to list every event, here are just a few offshore fishing tournaments that deserve a second look. There’s a tournament for nearly everyone, so get out there and fish in 2019.
Big Money Offshore Fishing Tournaments
Best Odds Outside the Tournament
Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic
Hosted at the luxurious Golden Nugget Casino Hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Classic is a gambler’s paradise. Hit the tables and then hit the water for a shot at some oversize blue marlin and yellowfin tuna in the fish-rich waters of the upper Gulf of Mexico. The tournament record for blue marlin is a 1,054-pounder caught by Barry Carr on Sea Wolff, so the big blues are ready for you.
Become a Millionaire While Getting a Suntan
Bisbee’s Black and Blue
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
It’s one of the richest events in all of sport fishing, so if you want a shot at the big bucks, be sure to enter as many of the optional jackpots as your wallet will allow. On the plus side, you’ll be wetting a line in one of sport fishing’s greatest destinations, so you’re already a winner the moment you step off the plane in Cabo.
Largest Participating Fleet
White Marlin Open
Ocean City, Maryland
By any measure, the White Marlin Open is a big one. In 2015, 300-plus boats vied for their share of a total purse exceeding $3.9 million. The winning white marlin took home better than $1.1 million, with the second-place white worth just over that magical million-dollar mark as well. The weigh-ins are a tremendous spectator affair the whole town comes out to watch.
Go Big or Stay Home
World Cup Blue Marlin Championship
It’s a one-day shootout occurring every year on July 4: the World Cup. Teams fish for eight hours in their respective time zones for blue marlin in a winner-take-all format with a 500-pound minimum. Since 1985, teams fishing the event have tallied three granders — the biggest being a 1,195-pounder caught off Bermuda — and 11 more blues over 700. Better bring the heavy tackle for this one.
A Great Week of Summer Vacation
Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament
Morehead City, North Carolina
Mark your calendar for a week of summer vacation in the middle of June and head to coastal North Carolina for the Big Rock. The tournament week kicks off with a lady angler shootout and goes right through to the main event, which offers participants a choice of fishing for four of a possible six days. And while the early winners of the billfish tournament took home a child’s red wagon filled with silver dollars, the stakes are now considerably higher: The event’s total purse has topped the $1 million mark for the past 16 years, and the Big Rock celebrates its 58th anniversary in 2016.
Best Shot at a Black Marlin
Lizard Island Black Marlin Tournament
Lizard Island, Australia
If it’s a nice black marlin you’re after, pack the bags and head Down Under for the Lizard Island Black Marlin Tournament. The tournament adopted a catch-and-release format after the 20th anniversary event in 2006, but if you’re fortunate enough to release a fish deemed to be in excess of 1,000 pounds, you’ll have your name engraved on the Lizard Island 1,000 Pound Tag and Release Club perpetual trophy. It’s a bit of a long flight from the States, but the opportunity to fish this tournament is a golden one for any angler.
Family-Friendly Offshore Tournaments
Some Like It Spicy
Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic
Tournament director Steve Thomas believes a great party starts with excellent food, so he goes out of his way to treat the participants of the Cajun Canyons Billfish Classic to some of Louisiana’s best cuisine. A captain’s meeting catered by New Orleans’ famed Acme Oyster House? Count us in. Plus, Venice is the marlin fishing gateway to the entire northern Gulf of Mexico.
The “Rock Star” Weigh-In
Blue Marlin Grand Championship
Orange Beach, Alabama
With two giant Jumbotron displays, a wild light show and a sound system that would make Metallica jealous, the Blue Marlin Grand Championship is truly a sight to behold — and so are its weigh-ins. Add a huge crowd of spectators (over 10,000 turned out for Saturday evening’s weigh-in during the 2015 tournament) and you’ve got the full-on rock-star treatment for this one. The Wharf Entertainment Complex in Orange Beach is also one of the most family-friendly locations for billfish tournaments found anywhere in the world.
A Top Charter Fleet
Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament
Manteo, North Carolina
The lineup of Carolina-built charter boats fishing out of Oregon Inlet is one of the most impressive fleets anywhere. These vessels are designed to fish in unforgiving waters in nearly any sea condition short of a tropical storm, season after season. If you want to charter and fish a tournament, then Pirate’s Cove would be a great choice. And although the event usually has great white marlin fishing, the tournament-record 1,229-pound blue marlin means some very big blues are in the area as well.
Great Awards Brunch
Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic at Sandestin
If the way to a fisherman’s heart is through his stomach, the ECBC should make anyone’s must-fish list this summer. Sunday morning brunches for the awards ceremony are common among Gulf Coast tournaments where the weigh-ins extend well into Saturday evening. These events put on a pretty good spread for their participants, but the ECBC folks really roll out the red carpet. The prize purse has also topped the $1 million mark for the last several years. Great event, great location and a great party — let’s go fishing.
Giving Back: A Community-Oriented Tournament
Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Billfish tournaments as a collective group support a wide variety of charities each year, contributing millions of dollars along the way. The Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament has very deep ties with the local community and a number of charities. It’s also become a standout on the summer billfish circuit on the East Coast due in large part to that support, not to mention the incredibly high level of competition.
Additional Offshore Fishing Tournaments
A Beautiful Custom Fleet
Abaco Beach Resort, the Bahamas
If you enjoy custom sport-fishing boats, then make plans now to visit the Abaco Beach Resort for Skip Smith’s famous Custom Shootout. There’s probably no finer display of these seagoing works of art anywhere in the world. Many of the builders are on hand for the week’s festivities, so you might find yourself rubbing elbows with guys whose last names are as famous as their boats.
Highest Release Totals
Tie: Offshore World Championship and
Los Sueños Signature Triple Crown
When it comes to the highest tournament-release numbers, all signs point to the Pacific paradise of Costa Rica. During the first leg of the Los Sueños Signature Triple Crown in 2015, the 39-boat fleet released 2,154 billfish — a catch ratio of 55.2 billfish per boat for the three-day tournament. Just a few months later, the Offshore World Championship invited a total of 67 participating teams to Quepos, Costa Rica; in four days of fishing, they let go a combined total of 2,840 sailfish and marlin for a catch ratio of 42.3 billfish per boat during the tournament. Both events are world class, so we score this one a draw.
A Highly Competitive Sailfish Series
Quest for the Crest
South Florida’s tournament sailfish anglers are among the most tenacious fishermen anywhere in the world. That’s showcased in the Bluewater Movements’ Quest for the Crest series, where participating teams vie not only for some serious prize money, but the right to wear the crest on the winner’s coat of arms. The faint of heart need not apply for this four-stop series.
Oldest Sailfish Tournament
Silver Sailfish Derby
West Palm Beach, Florida
Established by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club in 1935, the Silver Sailfish Derby is the world’s longest running sailfish tournament. In fact, the only three years lost were from 1943 through 1945 due to World War II. Along the way, the historic tournament became one of the first to promote catch-and-release fishing and the use of red pennant flags to signify a successful release — both concepts still going strong over eight decades later.
Most Challenging International Competition
Offshore World Championship
Quepos, Costa Rica
Walk the docks during the competitive Offshore World Championship, and you’ll likely hear a dozen different languages spoken within the first 50 feet. That’s due to the incredibly diverse international support this event receives. Over 60 fishing teams from far-flung destinations like Brazil, Angola, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand come to Costa Rica in hopes of being named the Offshore World Champion.
Spread the Wealth: Many Ways to Win
Cape May, New Jersey
The MidAtlantic Tournament is a unique event because of the wide variety of categories and optional jackpots aimed to spread the prize money into the hands of more winners. Hedge your bets in the categories you think you’re strongest in, then target billfish, tuna or other qualifying species during the three of five possible days of fishing. The MidAtlantic certainly is a fine choice to have a fantastic time and for a shot at taking home a big check. The hospitality and dock parties are also hard to beat.
Best Chance to See a Blue Marlin
USVI Open Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
We might take some heat for this one, but it is hard to beat the North Drop off St. Thomas during the August moon for your best shot at seeing a blue. Some years are better than others, but it’s the consistency that keeps teams coming back to American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook season after season. And to go head-to-head with other equally marlin-addled teams in the USVI Open is just icing on the cake.
Amazing Scenery (And Big Blue Marlin)
Bermuda Triple Crown
The island nation of Bermuda is certainly among the most picturesque in the world: pink sand beaches, verdant vistas and dramatic ocean scenes. Add to the mix some incredibly competitive marlin fishing and the result is the Bermuda Triple Crown. Come for the beauty, stay for the fishing.
Best Fly-Fishing Tournament
Jake Jordan Invitational Sailfish Fly Tournament
Casa Vieja Lodge, Guatemala
Those who are addicted to the thrill of chasing billfish on the fly rod should definitely pack the rod tubes and head south to Guatemala’s Casa Vieja Lodge for the Jake Jordan Invitational. Combine world-class boats and great fishing with captains and crews well-versed in the art of fly-fishing, throw in some fun parties back ashore, and it’s nirvana for the long-rodder.
Tops in the Dominican Republic
Dominican Billfish Triple Header Series
Over the last few years, there has been an amazing amount of buzz about the fishing down in the Dominican Republic. Thanks in part to the many FADs placed just offshore, the bite can be red hot for a mixed bag of blues, whites and sails alike. The marinas and accommodations are also top-flight, and the DR is just a handful of hours away by air from nearly anywhere in the Southeast U.S. If this sounds at all attractive, then check out Rick Alvarez’s Dominican Billfish Triple Header Tournament Series, with events in both Cap Cana and Casa de Campo.