Abaco Life Magazine

Abaco Life, An Island Magazine


Catches of a lifetime Live to see another day

By Athy Lionikis
Marlin Photos by Lee Stevens

Abaco Beach Resort fishing tournaments

Of all the pelagic fish that roam the seas around Abaco, the blue marlin is perhaps the most powerful, graceful and hardest to catch. But despite writer Ernest Hemingway’s dramatic account of battling the most difficult billfish in the stream, Abaco’s version of this adrenaline-pumping experience is no less exciting, challenging or inspiring, even with environmental considera-tions that did not exist in Hemingway’s day.

blue marlin fishing in Abaco BahamasOver the years, the photos of a huge marlin hanging from weigh scales, with proud anglers displaying unsure smiles,
have evolved into blue marlin flags flying from the rigging of sportfishing boats to signify a successful catch – and live release - of one of these magnificent creatures. These flags, with the silhouette of a blue marlin, have become the boat and angling crew’s “bragging rights,” and are flown high as symbols of fishing prowess and good sportsmanship. The fishing team has not only conquered the marlin, but has allowed the fish to swim away and continue to propagate the species.

There are many ocean-going migratory fish that make their pelagic passage along Abaco shores. Some are considered food fish, while others are prized more as big game sportfish. Tournaments for the latter focus on tuna, Mahi Mahi, wahoo, sailfish, white marlin and the granddaddy of them all, the blue marlin. They are extremely difficult to hook and catch, and their breathtaking jumps and greyhound leaps are spectacular. They can range in size from 200 to more than 1000 pounds, although only the females exceed 500 pounds, making live release all the more important.

My introduction to tournament big game fishing was a “Boy Scout” Blue Marlin Open held in St. Thomas, USVI a few years ago. Lee Stevens, a friend and well-known figure in the sport fishing world with his Marlin Magazine, recruited me as a volunteer. Lee loves to help with charity-based tournaments, especially those focusing on children, and he knew my lifelong career as a middle school teacher made me a sucker for volunteering. It was an exciting and eye-opening experience that left me hooked as an avid follower of the sport from then on.

blue marlin fishing in the abacosThe same motivations, and added enthusiasm, brought me to Marsh Harbour when I volunteered to help with the Abaco Billfish Challenge tournament two years ago. This annual event is held during the first part of June, with much of the proceeds going to the Abaco-based school for exceptional children known as “Every Child Counts.” The ABC Tournament, as it is known, is now in its third year. But while the past two tournaments have been held at the Abaco Beach Resort, the 2009 event will be hosted at Spanish Cay, June 21-24. There are several different formats for big game fishing tournaments, with the ABC catering more towards families rather than hard-nosed competition. It’s also a “boat tournament,” meaning anyone registered on an entered boat can try their hand at bringing in the big ones. It was particularly exciting for me as an ABC guest to watch the owner’s daughter catch her first white marlin, and their teenage son catch a Mahi Mahi. We all stood wide-eyed and slack jawed as the magnificent marlin skyrocketed from the cobalt blue water, trying to shake the lure from its mouth and sending cascades of spray
skywards. The marlin tail-walked for at least two minutes, then leaped like a greyhound along a foaming path 100 yards from boat, literally smoking the 30-pound class fishing reel. The fish’s tail beat the water like an outboard motor propeller. I’m not sure who was more excited, the kids, their parents ­– or me! The marlin was released after a 30 minute fight and, with the biggest grins you have ever witnessed, we hugged and high-fived each other.

Dockside in a big game tournament is fun and exciting. At the Abaco Beach Resort, and at Treasure Cay, visitors walk the docks, talk to the crews about the day’s adventures and soak up the atmosphere.

Just viewing these million dollar fishing machines is enough to take your breath away. Music, dancing, exotic rum-drinks and lots of revelry, sometimes with a “Junkanoo” band, is just icing on the cake.

Big game tournament season in the Abacos is from April through June. Most of the Bahama Billfish Championship Series is held here at the Abaco Beach Resort and at Treasure Cay, along with other very popular big game tournaments. “Abaco will host three BBC tournaments this year, one at Abaco Beach Resort and two at Treasure Cay,” says Mike Sawyer, manager of the Treasure Cay Marina. “We have 150 slips here and while we don’t know how many boats to expect this season, we have had as many as 70 to 75 boats in a tournament.”

blue marlin tournament fishing in the abaco islands of the bahamasTo stimulate participation this year in the 26th Annual Treasure Cay Billfish Tournament June 7-12, officials announced a first-ever guaranteed cash payout, ranging from $10,000 for a minimum of ten boats and up to $50,000 for the participation of 50 boats, plus a two percent fuel discount. Open to the public, the tournament format consists of multiple awards for billfish, plus awards for tuna, dolphin and wahoo. Release point standings are verified by the participant’s own digital and/or video camera with an image that can verify the time and date the photo was taken.

Other annual fishing tournaments this year in Abaco include the 22nd Annual Green Turtle Cay Fishing Tournament June 9-12 in Green Turtle Cay and the Abaco Anglers Fishing Tournament April 16-24 on Elbow Cay. Following is a list of this year’s eight big game fishing events in Abaco: BBC Central Abaco Championship, April 28 - May 2, Treasure Cay; Bertram-Hatteras Shoot Out, May 5-9, Abaco Beach Resort; HMY Billfish Blast, May 25-29, Abaco Beach Resort; BBC Boat Harbour Championship, June 2-5; Annual Treasure Cay Billfish Championship, June 7-12; BBC Treasure Cay Billfish Championship, June 16-19; Abaco Billfish Challenge (ABC) Tournament, June 21-24, Spanish Cay.

For more information, check out the resort websites, see advertisers at www.abacolife.com, or call the Abaco Tourist Office in Marsh Harbour at 242-367-3067.

(Athy Lionikis is a teacher and writer who lives in Topsail Beach, North Carolina. Photographer Lee Stevens is a freelance sport fishing reporter and co-founder of Marlin Magazine).

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