A last day flurry of billfish catches plus the weigh-in of a potential contender blue marlin added drama the 19th Annual Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament, but the action wasn’t enough to overcome the 612.5 points captain Nick Jones and the crew of Cuttin’ Up tallied their first day of fishing.
On the strength of a single fish, Cuttin’ Up, a 64-foot Viking, finished as the overall points leader in the tournament. Between the points payout and various jackpots, Jones and crew won $281,400. The tournament had a total purse of $813,000.
Final day tension grew when Sniper, a 58-foot Paul Mann captained by Chris Raiford, announced it was returning to weigh a big blue marlin. The fish turned out to be nearly 50 pounds short of the mark, weighing 563.8 pounds, good for a score of 281.9 points but not enough to be in the money. Under the tournament rules, blue marlin over 600 pounds scored a point per pound. Blues 400-to-599 pounds scored a half-point per pound. Angler Josh Bowen caught the winning marlin. It was the only fish Cuttin’ Up caught during its two days offshore.
The tournament spanned three days with boats allowed to fish any two days. Tournament boundaries were 100 nautical miles from the Rudee Inlet Sea Buoy. Most of the 84 registered boat captains opted to stay in the docks on the first day. Just 41 boats ventured offshore and only 18 fish, including the winning blue marlin, were caught or weighed. The final day saw 67 boats on the water. Thirty-two fish were caught and registered; all but one were billfish. Overall, 66 total catches were recorded during the event, including 16 blue marlin, 12 sailfish and 27 white marlin. All were released except for the two weighed blue marlin.
Sea Toy, a previous VBBT champion captained by Bull Tolson, finished second in the overall points race with 410, narrowly edging out three other boats. The team had a strong finish, with a verified release of a blue marlin and two white marlin on the final day. Total payouts for Sea Toy totaled $113,400.
Two verified blue marlin releases Saturday by Quick Sweep, a 57-foot Spencer captained by Capt. Jimmy Werling, also saw that team in serious contention. They finished with 400 points and a $159,000 payout.
The other two teams notching 400 points were Welder’s Ark, captained by Dale Britt, and Mister Pete, captained by Alan Neiford. Welder’s Ark, a 55-foot Jarrett Bay, earned $79,800, while Mister Pete, a 58-foot C&L, won $32,400.
In a new wrinkle this year, boats received 130 additional points if they provided photos verifying their blue marlin releases. Ordinarily, any billfish release counts for 70 points. Documenting the catch with a time-stamped photo or video clearly showing the catch was a blue marlin made the fish worth 200 total points. A verification ribbon, color-coded by fishing day, along with the scorecard needed to accompany the photo or video at the official VBBT weigh station.
In the gamefish categories, the heaviest dolphin was an 18.9 pounder caught by Rob Johnson on the Seafix. The biggest tuna was a 61.2-pound fish, weighed by Alex Strangways, fishing aboard Fender Bender. The heaviest wahoo prize went to Fly ‘N Fish angler Jeff Hunter with a 58.6 pounder. Each of the heaviest gamefish paid $14,000.
Other cash prize winners included: Wave Runner, Capt. Bobby Sullivan, $29,400; Waste Knot, Capt. Barry Sawyer, $21,000; Sea Trader, Capt. Shey Mahoney, $21,000; Don’t Panic, Capt. Bryan Peele, $21,000; Sally Girl, Capt. Jason Krahenbill, $12,600; BB, Capt. Chris Bailey, $5,000; and Courtney Beth, Capt. Ryan Dickerson (junior angler award for Connor O’Day), $1,000.