Fishing tournaments can be very unpredictable. The winners can be determined by either the last fish caught or maybe a last minute weigh-in finish. In the case of the 1990 Pirate Cove Billfish tournament, the winning boat was going to end up with both.
My love for fishing and boating brought me to North Carolina as a visitor at a young age and ultimately a resident. Those early years, our family would walk the docks at the various fishing centers to admire the boats and the catch of the day. And attending the annual tournaments were always a highlight of our summer trips.
The first three days of the 1990 tournament appeared like any normal competitive event. Boats crews were boasting and bragging about their catches and admiring each other’s flags. The crowds seemed to grow larger each day with the increased catches and excitement of crowning the winning boat.
On the fourth day of the tournament, we arrived early afternoon at the marina. Unlike the other previous afternoons, the marina docks appeared to be even more crowded than before. Most of the boats had already recorded their scores. And people milling around waiting to see the winning boat and crew.
Minutes before the tournament ended and lines out of the water, a rumor began to spread that a tournament boat had just hooked up with a possible record blue marlin and they were still fighting it. And then several minutes later the rumor was confirmed that in fact the Sea Toy was fighting what may not only be the winning fish but could be a tournament record.
The next report, almost thirty minutes later, indicated that the fish had been landed and the Sea Toy was headed in. With less than two and a half hours until the weigh-in closes, Sea Toy had no time to waste. It would be full throttle and the engines wide open from the Gulf Stream through the inlet and up the sound into the narrow channel leading to the Pirates Cove marina.
Could they deliver this fish on time? Would the boat hold up with this beating? Time and equipment were now becoming a major factor.
On the docks, excitement continued to build at the thought of this record finish. But also you could feel this strange awe overcoming everyone. The thought of being a part of this tournament with a trophy marlin and a last minute finish was just fascinating.
It was still early and the thought of this full size charter boat steaming full throttle into the narrow Pirate Cove creek to the hoist and scale with hundreds of spectators standing within feet of the water was not a concern – no not YET.
Time was running out when the Sea Toy radioed in that they crossed the bar and passed Oregon Inlet. They were now heading full throttle into the shallow waters of the Roanoke Sound and a marina full of expensive yachts and hundreds of spectators. Sea Toy called ahead and asked that all yachts be double tied and all spectators are aware of the huge bow wave from the approach to his berth.
As the huge vessel made the left turn into the creek, the huge hull seemed to be completely out of the water. The double secured yachts seemed to disappear behind the wall of water. Spectators were amazed at the sight – even ignoring twelve inches of water pouring over the docks and covering their feet.
The Sea Toy sped toward the head of the creek and with one quick turn she was backed into the slip. Within seconds, the mate grabbed the hoist line, fastened it to the tail and hoisted the 654 pound Blue Marlin to first place finish!! And a mere 60 seconds to spare!!
It’s been twenty five years since I witnessed this amazing event. And I still get a chill just thinking how special this event was for me. Remember tournaments are unpredictable – just because you don’t fish it does not mean you can’t enjoy to fun.
The next 32nd Annual Billfish Tournament is being held on August 11-14, 2015 at the Pirates Cove Marina in Manteo, NC.
Will you be there to witness history?
Until next time – Tightlines – Capt. Tony