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The South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2023 with four unique tournaments: the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament, the 55th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament, the Carolina Billfish Classic and the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament. Although weather conditions off the coast of South Carolina proved to be challenging throughout the summer fishing season, the quality of fishing that the competitors experienced helped make up for those frustrations. It was a season marked by record-breaking catches and close finishes, making it a real nail-biter.
Participants broke several series records throughout the competitive summer, starting with a red-hot blue marlin bite in early May. Of the 80 billfish released by the fleet of 33 boats fishing the Bohicket tournament, 52 were blue marlin, setting a new record for the number of blues caught during a single series tournament. Several seasoned captains, including Capt. Mike Glaesner, who has been fishing off the coast of South Carolina since the 1970s, noted that it was some of the best blue marlin fishing they’d ever experienced in the state. Glaesner capitalized on that stellar bite while at the helm of Sportin’ Life, a 59-foot Spencer owned by Graham Eubank. He and the Sportin’ Life team won the tournament after releasing five blue marlin, one white marlin and two sailfish, taking an early lead in the series.
Weeks later, over Memorial Day weekend, crews aboard the 42 participating boats in Georgetown contended with tropical-storm conditions. Although tournament staff managed to push the event back a few days, only one would be fishable. Fishing was slow that day, but a Georgetown-based boat was able to take advantage of the limited opportunities. Ed Holder’s Miss Wy, a 53-foot Scarborough captained by Matt Wilkinson, won her hometown tournament with one blue marlin release and one sailfish release. With half the tournaments now complete, Sportin’ Life still held first place in the series standings.
Much like the Georgetown tournament, the Carolina Billfish Classic hosted out of Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina was plagued by poor weather conditions and reduced to just one day of competition. That said, the fishing was excellent for the fleet of 47 boats. A total of nine blue marlin and 53 sailfish were released during the one-day shootout. Capt. Geno Sauers led Ben Wall’s Trash Man right to the blues, and the team aboard the 64-foot Weaver won the tournament with four blue marlin releases, an impressive feat in a single day of fishing anywhere, but especially off South Carolina.
After already finishing in second place at Bohicket, Trash Man’s catch at the Carolina Billfish Classic was enough to take over the lead in the series. With several extremely accomplished sport-fishing teams just a couple hundred points behind them, they’d have to fight to hold their championship standing through to the very end.
Teams in contention have a lot on the line during the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament, the final event of the year. The 38 boats participating ultimately released 74 sailfish and one blue marlin. Bench Mark, a 57-foot Spencer owned by Stephen Davis and captained by Jordan Parker, broke a series record for the greatest number of releases in a single day of competition after racking up 11 sailfish on the first day of fishing.
The Trash Man team unfortunately did not have a similar experience on that first day of the tournament. The seasoned crew had shared a slow and frustrating eight hours on the water. They still had the lead in the series but by an ever-narrowing margin. Both Sportin’ Life and Sweet Spot, a 62-foot Spencer owned by Sweet Spot Marine and captained by Chris Kubik, were just a fish or two away from catching up to them.
Because Sweet Spot had a great first day in Edisto, releasing eight sailfish, Kubik chose to keep the momentum and fish again the next morning. Meanwhile, most of the other crews, including Trash Man and Sportin’ Life, opted to lay.
Catch reports funneled in, and the crew on Trash Man watched their lead dwindle as the hours passed. Sweet Spot released a blue marlin and three sailfish, not only sliding into first place in the tournament, but also taking the top overall spot in the Governor’s Cup series.
On the last morning of competition, Sweet Spot’s crew took their turn at the dock with their mandatory lay day, anxiously waiting to see what the day would bring for their competitors. Trash Man and Sportin’ Life had some ground to cover to catch up to them in series points, but it could be done, especially with the great fishing available and the caliber of captains and crews aboard those two accomplished boats.
Although the final day of the tournament boasted a great billfish bite, Sweet Spot maintained their lead in the tournament, taking home a well-earned win. Their series lead, however, was almost immediately at risk as lines hit the water. Trash Man started in early, releasing a sailfish within 15 minutes. Sportin’ Life followed up with a blue marlin shortly afterward, catapulting them into first place.
As the hours ticked down toward the lines-out call, the two boats slugged it out fish for fish, surpassing each other with each release. But eventually, with an afternoon blue marlin and several extra sails to their credit, Sauers and the Trash Man team clawed their way back to the top of the series leaderboard.
Trash Man had held the lead, lost it and won it back again. The boat’s team of anglers could finally take their hard-fought place as champions of the 35th anniversary South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series with eight blue marlin releases and 11 sailfish releases. Fittingly, Sportin’ Life and Sweet Spot finished in second and third place, respectively.
Several other overall series titles were awarded to individual anglers for their achievements throughout the season. After winning the top female angler award at every 2023 series tournament, Sweet Spot’s Holly McAlhany broke the series record for total release points by a lady angler after releasing five blue marlin and 12 sailfish. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Sidney Thomas took home the top youth angler award after releasing nine sailfish while fishing aboard Sea Fix, owned by Harry and Fran Johnson. Perry Peace’s 50.7-pound dolphin caught aboard Robert and Bo Mason’s Callisto earned the award for the year’s heaviest dolphin. While fishing aboard Bryant Stuart’s Reel Steel, Jenny Mangum landed a 23.9-pound blackfin, which went on to win the series award for the heaviest tuna. Jay Thompson won the top prize for the heaviest wahoo after landing a 63.6-pound fish aboard Wade Harper’s Run-A-Wade.
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A total of 96 boats released 286 billfish during the 2023 series, including 69 blue marlin, three white marlin, one spearfish and 213 sailfish. Although the series does offer awards for landed blue marlin that meet its conservative length requirements, all billfish were released this year, a fitting way to celebrate 35 years of competition and conservation.
As the participants look ahead to their 2024 season, they can expect an even bigger and better series. The 36th South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series will comprise five tournament events with the newest addition of the HMY Lowcountry Cup. The tournament, which first debuted in 2023, will be held in Charleston over the Fourth of July weekend.