Celebrating 20 Years at the Custom Shootout

A Bahamas standout is still going strong

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An aerial view of Abaco Beach Resort Marina.
Returning to the newly rebuilt Abaco Beach Resort, the Custom Shootout celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2022. Courtesy Debra Todd Photography

It feels really special to celebrate such an accomplishment as a 20-year anniversary with the charity billfish tournament known simply as the Custom Shootout.

Starting with just a few boats in the beginning to being sold out the past several years, and then surviving economic recessions, bad weather, pandemics, fuel shortages, and many other unforeseen events, it’s been an incredible journey. Just getting the boats to run a couple hundred miles from Florida to the Bahamas each year is a challenge in itself.

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Running this event has taught me so much over the years. From the challenges of operating a tournament in a not-so-foreign country; to giving back to other charities and to others needier than ourselves; to shipping ­pallets of T-shirts, hats, trophies, sponsor gifts and tons more—it really is a labor of love.

The planning of the food is very important to me. One longtime Bahamas tournament angler told me that he has sampled the food at many tournaments over the decades, but the food at our event was the best he ever had. It was a great compliment because we were feeding more than 400 fishermen that night: prime rib, stone crab, shrimp and even paella, just to mention a few items on the menu. Then there is the open bar, which always makes everyone feel better after a day of ­fishing—good or bad!

I enjoy the challenge of working with the artists who use their considerable talents to design the best tournament-­shirt designs, ironing out the details of choosing the trophies, setting up the tent, hanging banners, assigning docks and sponsor tables, and at least a hundred other things it takes to run an event of this scale.

One of the other highlights is watching everyone at the kickoff party enjoying one another’s company and seeing their friends again. Some nights you can’t even get them to come in the tent for dinner because they all are having too much fun on the docks. That’s saying something.

It’s been so special ­gaining the trust and loyalty of our sponsors over the years as well. There are a few who have been with us from the beginning, and others who have been on board for almost as long; to them all I offer a heartfelt thank-you for your continued support. We couldn’t do it without you.

On Friday night of the ­tournament, we have a dinner to honor the boatbuilders—a dozen or so of the top custom builders in the sport take a few days off to support their owners and crews. It’s incredible to witness firsthand.

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The hardest part of the job is saying no to so many boats that want to fish in the tournament. We have only so many docks that can accommodate these larger boats, and only 94 rooms in the hotel and a few condos to rent out. The good news is that after Hurricane Dorian, the hotel and marina at Abaco Beach Resort were quickly rebuilt, and the best part for me is the new restaurant with a five-star chef and a truly amazing menu.

Just when you thought it was safe to have a ­COVID-free tournament on a partly recovered hurricane-damaged island, now we are dealing with a war in Europe, high fuel prices, and inflation on the goods we ship to and buy in the Bahamas. It never seems to end, but I know it won’t stop the custom-boat ­owners from coming back to the Bahamas to compete against the best of the best. We’ll have an open bar for them too. Here’s to 20 more years of the Custom Shootout!

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