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St. Lucia Billfishing Tournament

Entries might have been down for St Lucia's 15th International Billfish Tournament but the fishing sure wasn't. A tournament record tuna, a 324lb blue marlin, some wahoo and plenty of skipjack tuna kept anglers busy and put the crew of Grey Ghost on their way to Mexico!

The four-day event kicked off on September 27 with 16 boats taking part, mostly local, with a small contingent from Martinique. Finishing first in the tournament now gives the anglers entry into the 2006 Rolex/IGFA Offshore Championships in Mexico, considered the world cup of game fishing, so it was well worth the effort.

At 8am on September 27, the shimmering white fleet lined up outside Rodney Bay Marina ready for the off, waiting for the countdown to start. Some had plans, others hopes. However, the crew of Scottish boat Brave Heart had a more traditional approach. Sporting orange wigs, tartan caps and kilts, they celebrated the tournament opening in time-honoured Scottish tradition. I think it was tea!

Five, four, three, two . . . one! Bows thrust skyward as heavy engines tore the Caribbean asunder on their way to fame, fortune and secret destinations somewhere over the horizon.

Day one saw a mixed bag of dorado, tuna and wahoo weighed and then handed over to the resident marine biologist, whose analysis of the creature's diet should yield some interesting results.

Biggest fish of the day went to Bruce Hackshaw of Hack Attack with a 20-and-a-half pound tuna. However, local boat Exodus had caught and released, for a further attempt at maturity, both sailfish and blue marlin and was awarded points accordingly.

Day two would be different . . . much different.

"The water has to be blue," said Bernard Johnson, owner of Grey Ghost, "so blue it appears black. The sea was too green today!"

I had no idea what he meant!

As day two wore on, news came over the radio of a huge tuna being played and that Bernard Johnson was into a large marlin, from a Martinique FAD.

For the uninitiated, a FAD (Fishing Activating Device), in St Lucia, is a pod of sunken anchors with lines to the surface providing natural refuge for smaller fish-so necessary in the natural food chain. It's planned that 10 FADS will be in place in time for the 2006 tournament.

Back on the dock, it was easy to see why the tuna caused so much excitement. It was a monster. Caught by Max Chalono of Recovery from Martinique, it was a huge 131lbs and a new record.

Grey Ghost slipped into her berth, full of good humour . . . and marlin. It took around half a dozen hardy souls to carry Grey Ghost's marlin to the weigh station and, at 324lbs, it was easily the biggest fish of the day. Grey Ghost had released a second. The water was obviously black/blue enough!

Day three was a lay day and good food and cold Piton were enjoyed beside the St Lucia Yacht Club, whose Christmas Sailing Festival is next on St Lucia's must-do list.

Day four saw more action as Scottish boat Brave Heart and Martiniquan boat Why Not caught and released both sailfish and marlin. A marlin brought to scale was deemed undersize at around 250lbs and incurred penalty points for the crew involved.

But the tournament belonged to Grey Ghost. The awards ceremony followed the final day's weigh-in. I marvelled at the number of trophies on display.

"Hey Bernard, you're sat near the trophies so you don't have to walk so far?" asked a local competitor.

Sitting next to Bernard during the awards was akin to being at the Oscars and sharing a table with John Travolta, Morgan Freeman, Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt. Suffice it to say that Bernard and the boys won a lot. Rods, reels, money all made their way past me to the growing shrine that was Bernard's winning haul.

One award he was never going to get, for obvious reasons, was Best Lady Angler. Kelly Pollack of Reel Time won that for catching and releasing a blue marlin.

In all, it was a good humoured affair with locals and crews from Martinique dividing what Grey Ghost didn't win. Promises were made to take part in the upcoming Martinique tournament in a bid for stronger ties in the angling community.

As the crew of Grey Ghost took the stage to receive Best Overall Boat (they automatically received entry fee and boat charter at the 2006 Rolex/IGFA offshore Championships in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico) applause echoed around the room. Cameras flashed and cries of 'you the man' gave the event a boxing title fight feel . . . and the winner is . . Marvellous Marlin Johnson!

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