Monday, May 26, 2008

The final day of the sportfishing comp.

After we got back to the dock we were not in good spirits even though we had released two blue marlin and were currently in the lead. Earlier in the day, I told my crew that two blue marlin releases were no big achievement in a tournament and that we needed to do much better. Those words seemed to echo in our ears now that we were back at the dock after having the messup with the last marlin. Friends and family came down to the weigh in and we even had friends from the Antigua News Group who had come down all the way from the usa. (thanks for the photos). Although Tony did a great job of smiling, he was hurting inside and told me a few days later that our losing the marlin cost him two nights sleep. As you can see from Donna's photos, Tony did a better job of smiling than i did:

It was a lucky thing that the Antigua Sport Fishing Club organze a free bar for anglers because the rum seemed to help us forget the fish that we lost. There was an excellent side competition that night called the "cook off" where the fishing teams competed to prepare the best meals with ingredients and fish provided by the committee. There were something like 8 coal pots set up and each team had to light their coals and prepare the food. Judging the comp were several cheffs from Galley Bay hotel. We were first to get our coals white hot. In fact, there were guys still trying to get started when ours was ready to cook. We had to wait until the judges said we could cook. Guilli tried to redeem himself here and with the help of Tony and myself he did come up with the most beautiful meal of the lot IMHO. It was some good fun and you can see the images on the sports fishing website. Rob Breadner from High Octane shot the pics. I like this one showing me guilli and tony in the middle of a masterpiece:
It helped raise the mood after our tragedy from earlier on, but it was still going to be difficult to be on the boat before 5 am the next morning. All hands were on deck before 5 am and we were one of the first boats out of the harbour and heading to the same places that we did well with on the last few trips. Something had happened in the night though because we trolled and trolled and never got hooked up once. We had several marlin come up and hit our baits, but it just wasn't to be. We saw birds, caught a wahoo and even saw some mahi mahi, but we were only interested in Marlin. Kiesha was the only one excited about the Wahoo, but that's because i think it was the first one she ever caught.It was a good thing that i couldn't hear the boats far away too because hearing my Dad catching all those fish one after another would have been just too much. He released two blue marlin and three white marlin putting him over us by 300 points. Rum and Coke a boat owened by a friend from the UK tied with dad after releasing three small blue marlin late in the day. The guys were tired and depressed towards the end of the day and Big John, Kiesha, and Ross fell asleep up in the bow while Tony and Guilli watched the gear at the back. We had five minutes left before the official end of the tournament and i decided to play a trick on the sleepers. I think i did it to liven up the mood. We used two rods with 50 lb test line and with only 1/3 drag being set for the strike (17 lbs) it doednt take much for the line to get pulled out. I took of the ratchet which is like a lever which makes the noise as line is coming in or going out and silently reeled in the lure. Once it was in, I unclipped it and clipped the line onto our biggest black bucket. I tossed it over the side and let the line free spool as we powered away from the bucket doing our regular 9-10 knots of trolling speed. When it had gone a good distance i flipped on the ratched and the noise was just as if a marlin had taken our lure. Line peeled off the screaming reel and commands were shouted at the crew who scrambled to clear the other lines and teasers. "Ross get on the harness!" i yelled as line continued to peel off the reel. The sleepers were falling over themselves and Tony, Guilli and I struggled to act normal. I pretended to call in the fish to ASF radio and told Kiesha to video this the fight. It took ross 15 minutes of professional fighting technique to get the "fish" close to the boat. Kiesha did a great job of shooting the action and John held on to Ross just in case. "Its pumping", yelled Ross. As it got close i positioned the boat so the "fish" was straight in the glare of the sun. It was hard for the sleepers to see what was happening. They didn't even notice Guilli and Tony's smiles escaping uncontrollably. "John its coming to the boat...get ready with your gloves". John was just about to grab the leader when he spotted the bucket burst to the surface deep in the glare down wind of the boat. It was at that point that the non sleepers burst too. We rolled around on the deck in side splitting laughter. We had heard stories of this sort of thing, but had never pulled it off. Ross was exhausted and his arm was pumped full of blood from the fight. Tony pulled the bucket out of the water and gave it to Ross who could only laugh himself. It was time to go back to the dock and that open bar again.

The next day at the prize giving we got our trophy for placing 3rd, Rum and Coke was 2nd and Dad and his crew finished with a record breaker of a Dolphin fish and 1st place in the marlin division after winning the tie. The organizers actually have ross a prize for fighting and landing the only bucket of the competition too. Tony and Big John found it hard to smile even with the 3rd place trophy. Our Adventure Antigua team has had too many top 5 finishes and it is time for us to win a tournament. We haven't given up though. In fact we have gone out twice since then and each time have done very well. Since my Dad got the trophy he has been hard to put up with. You would have thought he had won by miles and miles and nobody even came close. I guess that's the kind of attitude you would expect from someone this short when they finally beat their son at fishing:Anyway, I have eaten so much fish that tonight its time for a T-Bone. L8r....

PS the video is on FACEBOOK and is R-rated due to all the foul potty mouthed fishing language. If you wanna see how a man can catch a bucket look for John Watt's videos. All the photos except Rob's cooking one are from John.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Antigua Sport Fishing Comp. part 2

From last weeks blog: "What happened next will never be forgotten and could have ended in a crew fatality. I will tell you about it in the next blog."
As the line came out of the water, Big John who always is Xtreme's wire man, grabbed the leader and took a wrap. The big marlin below didn't move any closer to the boat and its substantial weight was pulling john. As he felt the full power of the fish Guilli released the drag into free spool. John didn't know what was happening, but i knew that Guilli had just lost the fish. At the time i had no idea why he released drag on the reel, but as he did it the huge strain that was on the line now with no resistance caused the line to just burst free all at once. A "birds nest" (huge tangle) was a sure thing, and i screamed at Big John to hand line the fish to the boat with all his strength. The fish acted like he hadn't even started yet and slowly swam away from the boat pulling line out of John's hands and taking line from the tangled mess that was on the reel. I knew what was going to happen next. The line got caught on some part of the tangle and with the fish slowly going Guilli started being pulled over the side of the boat. Our fishing is done using a special stand up fighting belt called a Black Magic Belt and your reel is attached to the belt which is held alsmost like a harness behind your back. You and the reel are connected and you don't want to have a tangle when a 450+ blue marlin is swimming away from the boat. Luckily there is a strap on the back of the harness and we usually make one of the crew hold this to keep the angler stable in the rough seas. As the rod, reel and Guilli started getting pulled over the side by the marlin Tony held tight and with a snap, the 80lb line broke. Tony turned and slumped his body over the transom as if crying. John did the same on the port side... Kiesha looked scared and stared at me with a strange look on her face. Guilli looked at me expecting my reaction, so i gave it to him. "Why the $%*@ did you release the drag"!!!!!!! We were all devastated and couldn't believe what had just happened. The fish was big and we were sure it was over 400 lbs and maybe as much as 500lbs. We would have gotten biggest fish of the contest and would have taken our score above 1000 points. We just lost $20K in prize money, an amazing lure and amazing fish, but worst of all we just lost winning the competition by far. No other boat had caught a blue marlin that day and only white marlin had been released. My crew sat in silence as I reved up the engines for the ride home. It was now after the official lines in and time to go in. When we fight small fish on the boat that we are going to keep we gaff them when they are at the side of the boat. Once we have gaffed them we then have to take them up to the fish box and the angler has to release the drag to give us enough line to get to the box. The only thing i could think of is that with all the stress of the fight and the pressure that a big fish brings with it, Guilli just got confused when Big John grabbed the leader. The fish was not ready to be gaffed and hadn't been gaffed. I have faught marlin where we touched the leader only to have it swim off not to be seen again for an hour while the angler tried to bring it closer to the boat again. Big marlin fight hard and are very strong fish, so there was no way we would get that very much alive fish in the boat with just John holding the leader.
I could tell that all of the crew hated Guilli on the drive home. This was going to be hard to swallow. I know how serious Big John and Tony take tournaments and even moreso when they are Blue Marlin tournaments. All of a sudden I stopped the boat and told everyone that my girlfriend gave me some good advice the other night which maybe we could use in this case. She said that buddhists believe that not accepting something painfull can only lead to suffering. I told them that it's happened and we can't change it.....Guilli "@#*$!& up" and he didn't mean any harm. He just made a mistake. We now had to think about making up for it the next day. We were leading the tournament still, but we didn't feel good. We would have to be ready the next day. Back at the dock tony inspected the "bird's nest" and said that he regretted holding Guilli. ha ha ha

Friday, May 23, 2008

Just a quickie

It's 7 am and i am about to run out the door and make it over towards Xtreme.

We have an early tour today that i am skippering. JD is off to Barbuda to do some camping with his family and we have press on the boat. The weather looks lovely as is usual at this time of year, so it should be nice. I was supposed to write more about the marlin and had several people moan about how i left you hanging yesterday. The moans will be louder today as i have to go and do some "real" work on XTREME.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The 42nd Annual Sport Fishing Comp.

This year Team Adventute Antigua Xtreme entered the Antigua Sport Fishing Tournament once again. We had finished 2nd and 4th in the Marlin Divisions on previous years and had caught the biggest marlin in the last ten years and that was only on 50 lb test line. We were going for 1st this year. I say that because our crew was made up of three core regulars: me, Big John and Tony and we also had two more young enthusiastic fellas who had fished in tournaments with us before: Ross and Guilli. John's girlfriend, Kiesha, also came along to catch some of the smaller fish as well as take the photos needed for the marlin division. All of us knew that if given the chance we would win, and not only did we know that but we also knew that Xtreme usually raised marlin while other boats nearby saw none.

I was in the middle of moving house so decided to get a room at the Catamaran Hotel where the tournament was being held. This allowed me to try to get some rest before those wicked early mornings. The first morning we had to take part in the Bimini start at the entrance of the harbour. This is where all the boats leave at the same time going full speed out the harbour and into the big seas. It was pretty rough that morning and as we passed my Dad and then Phillip Shoul we started getting tossed like a green salad. Xtreme was faster than the rest of the pack in the rough conditions because of its length and design. The waves down below Shirley Heights were pretty big and very short. In the rought stuff we averaged 20 knots up to a place called Frank's Hole which was where we raised our two marlin the week before. It was wet and poor Kiesha kept getting waves coming over the side and hitting her flat in the face. She is tough as nails though and didnt moan. After fishing for about 30 minutes Tony yelled that he say something in the water about 100 meters from the boat. It was early in the morning and the light was bad, so none of us could see what he saw. We got closer and Tony said he could see it again, but this time he yelled MARLIN. It was a huge marlin just swimming on the surface between the big swells. We all got ready for the hookup and saw the colourful tail as it broke the surface just off our port side. The anticipation of a hookup was something hard to describe, but it wasn't to be. On my GPS chart plotter i always use the track when fishing so that i can loop back onto the exact line i was fishing before. We fishing that area and nearby for the next hour without a strike and then moved on to a spot named "Marlin" on our GPS chart. Shortly after we got there we had a very good strike with line stripping off the reel like it was going out of style. All the other lines were cleared and the fighting belt was fitted just before the line went limp. The fish had gotten off. We made another pass in the area and 15 minutes later we were hooked up again. Guilli fought the fish very well as he had done with the wahoos in the last tournament he had fished with us. He's a very strong guy and would never rest until the fish was alongside. This marlin was about 250 lbs and came to the boat with little trouble. Kiesha took some great shots and we released the marlin to fight again another day. 300 points in the bag and we were in the lead in the marlin division. We fished the same area for another 30 minutes before we were hooked up again. This fish did the same thing as our fist strike that day. It pulled and pulled and managed to free itself. We were so upset, but that's fishing. We had lines out and were fishing again very quickly. Our team worked like a formula one pit crew. The speed and organization was excellent and the loss of two hooked fish was just bad luck. We continued to fish the same area about the size of a small village out in the ocean. There were no distinctive bottom contours or trenches, but for some reason this area had produced marlin strikes for the last three years in may and june for us. Not much time passed and a marlin came and hit the #2 lure which was only about 5 meters behind the engines. The fish just hit the lure and was gone. We knew we still had a chance and played the lure. Then our #1 lure was hit just like the last one and the fish was gone. We played the hell out of the lure dropping it back and reeling it in as if the lure was an injured and scared fish. Like had happened on almost 70% of our hook ups, the playing worked and the marlin attacked the lure hooking up this time. The pit crew cleared the lines faster than Lewis Hamilton's crew changed his tires. Ross was in the harness and fighting before the fish had finished his big run. Ross knew this fish had to count and did a very good job of fighting it. He wasn't as strong as Guilli but didn't slow at all. We got the fish to the boat fairly quickly and released it once we had pulled it throught the water a bit. When they come to the boat the fish can be very tired and their colours can be faded. Like most fish water pushed through their gills will liven them up. After a minute or two of being held by john alongside as i steered ahead the fish had all of its amazing colour back and was trying to break free. IT was time to let it go and in a flash of blue it was gone. We were way ahead of the rest of the fleet as it had been a slow day for blue marlin, but this wasn't enough. We had another day ahead of us and another few hours of fishing. Anything could happen. After another 45 minutes i left the spot called Marlin and headed to the spot called "Grander" on my chart. I mark areas where something unusual happens. "Grander" was the spot where a fish estimated to be a monster and local record smasher came up half way out the water with our #2 lure in its mouth. It just hovered there shaking its head until the lure was spat free. This was last year and as the #2 lure is so close to the back of the boat we all had a very close look at that fish that may have been over 1000 lbs a.k.a. "a grander". Very close to that spot was a place where most of the marlin hookups over the past 5 years have taken place. The Little Bank is a small hill coming up from extreme depths to a flat area some 350 feet below the surface. These "hills" are called Sea Mounts and fish congrigate around them. Tuna in particular feed around this bank and at this time of the year little tuna are there in big numbers and the marlin are there to feed on them. We had no luck as we passed through the "Grander" spot though and kept fishing the area in the hope that something would be raised. A little closer to the bank i had two other marks where we had caught and released marlin. GPS number 47 and 49 and they were on the line from Grander to the little bank. With only 30 minutes left in the first day's fishing i left Grander and headed on a broad reach to the bank. As our little boat passed over 49 on the GPS screen #2 got a tiny hit as if a super small fish bit the lure. We all knew different though. In deep water we treat all strikes on big marlin lures no matter how small they may be as Marlin Strikes. One of the crew played #2 and the others stood by the other rods just in case. #1 got a small hit and Guilli let the lure go back in free spool. He stopped it and reeled in quickly.....nothing...he dropped the lure back in free spool again then cranked up the drag just as the guys screamed in awe. The reel screamed louder as line and a big blue marlin started heading East back to Africa faster than you can imagine. Later Big John told me that the Marlin's bill and most of the top of its body came out of the water and it finnaly attacked the lure in a ravenous and violent manner. "ASF radio, ASF radio Xtreme is hooked up and fighting a big blue", i yelled down the mic of my VHF radio. We had to let them know we were hooked up before the official "lines out" which was at 4:30 pm. Again the four other rods and lures were cleared and put away, the two teasers were taken in and Guilli was fitted properly for the fight. I turned the boat to the fish and we managed to get it close to the boat fairly quickly again, but we all knew this one was a big fish. Guilli being the strong guy he is spared no time taking in the 80 lb test line. There was 26 lbs of drag pulling against him (we always use 1/3 of the breaking strain as the drag setting) and it wasn't easy work, but he was as excited as the rest of us. This was going to be the slam dunk and we hadn't even started day two. The fish never jumped, but when the double line came out of the water thirty feet behind the boat we all knew we would see it soon. With gloves on and the flying gaff ready John positioned himself to grab the leader. In slow motion i saw the leader pop out of the water as the waters below became alight with silver and dark blue. All of the crew murmered at the size of the fish. We had faught and lost bigger but had only ever brought one fish to the boat bigger than this one. What happened next will never be forgotten and could have ended in a crew fatality. I will tell you about it in the next blog. (the spell checker isn't working today on blogger so sorry in advance). (the chopper photos were lifted from the ASF website)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

no internet.... go fishing.

Wow, my last blog about whales was supposed to be followed by a blog a few days later telling everyone about the 42nd annual Sport Fishing Tournament. I was going to talk about our practice runs where we managed to catch a few fish and spot loads of whale pods. Little did I know that moving apartments (which I was doing at that time) would leave me without any internet for 3 weeks!!!!!
Anyway, I am back online now and realize that I do need to join internet addiction anonymous. Our two practice runs out fishing this year were not that great. In fact on the first one we hardly got a single strike, but managed to see five different pods of whales off the South coast off Antigua. We saw whales breaching and slapping and generally enjoying the warm waters here. They were all very late this year and on the day where we saw all these pods, they were all moving fairly quickly up around the South Eastern side of Antigua as if trying to go around the top and swim North. We have only seen one pod since then and I think that they have all gone now. We won't see them again until next Feb maybe. On our second fishing practice trip we managed to release one blue marlin about two hundred pounds and had a very big one burst off after taking about 4oo yards of line off the big 80lb reel in seconds. The reel was incredibly hot when the line broke. Luckily for the marlin and for us, the line broke pretty close to the fish. I know people always talk about the big one that got away, but that's because nobody cares about the little ones that got away. We had four very experienced fishermen on board that day and we all agree that the fish was bigger than anything we had released or landed before. 650 - 700 lbs was what they thought. The tournament was a week away and we couldn't have lines breaking then.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Whales in the Caribbean later than normal

Two weeks ago we were out on the first day of Antigua Sailing Week 2008. It was a day that Xtreme wasn't working and the Eco Tour boat was doing a private charter. Greg from Caribbean Helicopters, Ian from Acqua Films and several other friends came out with me to watch some of the racing starts off Falmouth Harbour. That was fun and we followed the racing for a while watching the fantastic yachts do some very close roundings at the Curtain Bluff gybe mark. Anyway, later we had planned to go on to the finish where there was going to be a beach party at Ft. James. This year the Antigua Hotel Association which owns and runs sailing week decided to move the regatta from Dickenson Bay on this day for a number of reasons. Anyway, it turned out to be a big problem with waves breaking on the shore causing many upsets for water taxis and their guests.
The coast guard with machine guns at hand were there to help (aka watch).Amazingly there were no major injuries. The four photos above were taken by Kevin Johnson and lifted from facebook. Anyway, on our way to Ft. James we were passing in close to Hawksbill as we normally do on the west coast when off to my I noticed something big and black break the surface about a 1/4 mile from us. It didn't spout as i normally expect whales to do when they surfaced. There was a big fast powerboat coming up behind me and we told them to slow down just after i saw the tell tale humped back come out of the water again. These whales were half way between Sandy Island and Hawksbill rock. I told the guys in the other boat to follow me and we went along to check the whales out. So many Antiguans who own boats somehow manage to miss whales every year. Gilbert Boustani a classmate of mine was driving the boat and said that it was his first time seeing them. Anyway, these whales usually move on my this time and i was surprised to see them in so close. The kept surfacing nearby and at one time when we were drifting with engines off trying to figure where they were...they passed right under our bow. It was such an amazing experience. As you know from reading my blogs if you are a "regular" reader, our country's leaders support Japanese whaling so in my opinion its always a good idea to show as many Antiguas as possible these amazing creatures. If someone is lucky enough to be up close to them and see them interact with their calves then they couldn't possible support whaling. Anyway, the mother and calf in this case just kept cruising around the boats without seeming to be bothered by us. Usually they keep swimming into deeper waters not wanting to be bothered by boats, but this time they didn't seem to mind that much. I called my dad on the VHF radio. He was so excited as he had just been alongside some super fast tri-maran which was passing all the other boats at speeds of about 28 knots he said. Anyway, i knew he would be more excited to hear about these relaxed whales. Many other boats had listened in to our conversation and before long there were five or six other small boats hanging around the whales. I told them to turn their motors off if they were going to stick around. At one time the whales got so close to us as we were just drifting that i just jumped in with my snorkeling gear. Several of the guys on the boat followed me and we were lucky enough to see the massive momma protecting her calf up close. IT was an amazing experience for all of us that day. The crazy thing was that it happened to be the busiest day of boating for the year and many sailing yachts as well as powerboats got a good look at the whales in the calm shallow waters. I was a bit worried though as they didn't move much over the next 24 hours. The eco boat had a good look that first day with all their local guests too. Many of them had never seen whales and all agreed that our government needed to stop supporting Japan. The next day JD and crew on the regular eco tour managed to see them not too far from the place we had been the day before. Wow! How lucky we all were!! That being said, i was very worried about the whales as i had never seen them stick around for that long in one place. My girlfriend and I made calls all over the world trying to find info on this situation. Were we about to see a stranding? I hoped not. All that boat traffic could have been problematic, and after all the phone calls we didn't seem to have any more answers. Then i remembered that a whale watching boat from Dominica was here helping Sailing Week by doing starts. One of our regular fishing crew "Big John" managed to hook up with the skipper of the whale watcher and explained the situation. The skipper told John that he had seen this sort of behaviour many times and said that when a whale and her calf have been in stressful situations out at see they often will come into a calm sheltered bay to relax and feed. When we are speaking of feeding we are only talking about the calf as the parents don't feed during the six month period that they are away from the nutrient rich waters of the North Atlantic. Anyway, possibly a big shark out in the Atlantic had bothered the calf enough for the mother not to have been able to feed it. Who knows but sure enough after 2 days they were gone again. We were all so relieved and happy to have seen them in the calm waters. Usually when we see them the whales are in the rough Atlantic and sitting around drifting in those waves is never that enjoyable for our guests. I was also surprised at how late these guys were staying around this year. Little did i know i would see way more in the days to come......