The mechanics of running a big prize, open water Billfish tournament are pretty specific. Check-in by 5:45am to pick up the symbol of the day, leave docks at 6:00, lines in at 7:30am, lines out at 3:30pm, call-in every billfish catch, log the catch and sign, plus video the catch/release and make sure the symbol of the day is in the video to mark the release.
The essence is much more dynamic.
The overall purse plus the daily Calcutta put a lot of pressure on the teams. As much as I’ve been on the open water and snagged my share of billfish, this was different.
No fooling around.
The boat gets a share of the winnings, so everyone is in “game time” mode with serious prize money at stake.
Riggers up and six lines out, two sets of gorgeous fish dredges set to tease them, fresh bait, two mates, captain and the competitive team. Two people are responsible for 2 lines each, and 2 others one line, and one assigned on camera.
Once you get a “rise” (billfish surfacing and getting interested in the baits) everything sits with the angler. No one can touch the angler nor the rod. Once the fish hits, gets hooked and brought in, the mate snags the leader line…that’s a formal catch… a few seconds later the fish is released.
The tournament stretched over three days. Up everyday at 4:00 AM, cooked up some breakfast, a few cups of coffee, lots of sunblock, and at the marina about 5:30.
All the competing boats pull out of Marina Pez Vela at the same time and line-up behind the official starter boat.
It’s pretty cool.
A band is playing with the heavy pounding of war drums as we glide out of the channel and take our position in the line-up. The gun fires, everyone powers up and blasts out of the starting area. We run about 40-50 miles out into the Pacific, searching for “the spot”. (usually marked by birds hitting schools of bait fish)
Lines were in at 7:30…and we wait, and wait.
8:40: First sighting. First bite…it’s on! Ooops...20 seconds later, it’s gone. Dang.
Nothing more anxious then getting “the skunk” out of the cooler, or in regular terms…boating the first catch.
9:45: Over two hours…no catch yet. Dang…25% of the day and we’re empty, then…
9:46: Zing! It hits hard and just runs. Hooked it and the fight is on. With the incredible skills of the captain and mates, this fight lasts just a few minutes and we release our first catch. It was intense and seemed like an eternity. Whew!
The day is like that…periods of quiet, then bang, bang...then quiet. We finish the day in 4th place…out of the money, but in spitting distance of making up some ground.
There were some pretty seasoned teams competing. We were rookies at this level of competition. Fishing in a hardcore tournament really does change the dynamic. Everyone is in a competitive mindset, and quite frankly…a little tight.
With that noted, it’s hard to not take in the beauty of the open waters of the Pacific. Being 50 miles out, no land in sight, the ocean is more like a giant lake. Flat as glass, gorgeous deep blue hues, no rolling water, just pure calm. (unlike us)
The rules are straightforward in competitive fishing. No assist on the rod. When the fish rises and gets interested in the bait, it’s like having the ball in your hand with just seconds left on the shot clock. All you.
To frame it with an analogy: Let’s assume you’ve had your share of steak over the years. You taste a piece at a restaurant and if it in the least tastes different, you don’t eat it. Same with these fish…any movement they are not accustomed to and out it comes. The early stage of this dance is very delicate. The fish can’t feel any pressure. It takes the bait (ballyhoo) and starts to move away but not yet hooked, slow at first then zing.
It’s running, the line is flying off the reel and you just need to wait…no sudden or quick movements. Let it run and eat. This may be the most challenging 10 to 20 seconds you’ll ever experience. A 120 pound sailfish just blasting away, maybe that fish is the difference between finishing in the money or not, and you wait and count…1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…then slam!
You snap down the open spool, the fish feels this tremendous pressure and tries to toss the bait. Out of the water it flies, tail dancing and doing whatever it needs to free itself. Then the fight is on. Sometimes it’s all about your skill, sometimes dumb luck, and sometimes the fish just beats you.
Day Two the fish beat us. Can’t explain it, we even watched our video on the ride back in to figure out our flaws. (that’s a little geeky, but true) Even had multiple strike moments. Maybe we were a little quick to lock in, but all-in-all just a day that the fish were a little finicky and got the better of us. We got enough to keep us in the game, but we dropped down to the bottom third.
We needed a big Day Three. Had big days in the past and was sure looking to rocket up the board. We did get our mojo back, had a strong morning and were making our move. The afternoon just went dead. It was like the fish went on siesta. It became just a boat ride...dang it!
We managed to fight our way back up the board to finish exactly in the middle. Out of the money by a few fish, but one heck of an experience.
While it was a unique experience, it really comes down to this. Putting yourself in a gorgeous environment with great people puts life in the right context, no matter what you are doing. Kick it back a few notches, create the setting to think life through and seize whatever each day brings you.
One life to live, and make sure each day counts!