Recognized throughout the angling community as the kickoff to the traditional billfish season in The Bahamas, the 33rd Annual Bacardi Rum Billfish Tournament was once again held at Port Lucaya Marina on Grand Bahama Island.
Coinciding with an influx of college students visiting for spring break, this longstanding billfish tournament rich with history is certainly one for the record books. It’s not only a serious billfish tournament, but also a huge party. Additionally, the second and final leg of the Bahamas Wahoo Championship is simultaneously held at the same marina, making for a sensational week filled with awesome boats, skilled crews and impressive catches.
While Bahamas billfishing can be challenging at times, the determined anglers who come back year after year always give it their best.
The Bacardi Rum Billfish Tournament has a lot of history in The Bahamas, with its roots beginning in Bimini. Headquartered in Bermuda, Bacardi International purchased The Bimini Big Game Club in the mid-to-late 1960s. A gentleman by the name of Guillermo Garcia became the first manager of the club during the Bacardi era and one of his first promotional activities was the creation of The Bacardi Rum Billfish Tournament. During the 1970s Bimini was a Mecca for big game anglers and was the host site to numerous fishing competitions including The Frankie Brown, The Hemingway and various bluefin tuna tournaments.
Ever since its inception, The Bacardi Rum Billfish Tournament has maintained a reputation as one of the finest, most enjoyable fishing tournaments in the world with a heavy emphasis on camaraderie. By providing the spirits, Bacardi ensures everyone has a good time. With over three decades in the books, past winners of the event make up a veritable who’s who of angling’s elite. Many modern day stalwarts of the sport such as Bartow Rainey, Sam Jennings and Ed Hardin have taken first place, with legendary anglers such as Bob Hammersla and Rus Hensley also cementing their names in history.
After a 30 year plus stint of ownership of The Bimini Big Game Club, Bacardi finally sold the venerable facility and ever since the tournament has been held at Port Lucaya Marina on Grand Bahama Island. The Bacardi has seen participation rise and fall through the years, as it has been held during some very uncertain times. Financial meltdowns and conflicts in the Middle East have resulted in fluctuations from a high of 98 boats during Bimini’s heyday, to a low of 11 boats during the venue’s transitional years. But what sets The Bacardi apart from other tournaments—through good times and bad, good weather conditions and Bacardi weather, record fishing and very poor fishing—has been the undermining principle of comradeship and good times.
In addition to stiff competition on the water, The Bacardi has always held two fun events for participants. One is the Hors d’oeuvres Competition in which each boat brings an entry to the judges for scoring and then to share with fellow crews. The second competition is the world famous Bacardi Rum Drink Competition in which cocktail entries must contain at least one Bacardi Rum product. This competition launched some famous drinks, which later became staples at tournament-oriented watering holes throughout the islands. One of them is the Bushwhacker, a drink born on Russ Hensley’s Beastmaster. The second is the Woo Woo, born at The Bacardi and perfected at The Compleat Angler in Bimini.
In its 33rd year, The Bacardi Billfish Tournament has adopted an all release format, with blue marlin worth 400 points, white marlin 150, spearfish 150 and sailfish 75. IGFA regulations apply, with the National Marine Fishery Service now requiring non-offset circle-hooks to be used on all natural bait and all natural/artificial combinations in tournaments that offer prizes for billfish. Traditional J-hooks can still be used on artificial lures.
With strong winds blowing through Count Basie Square, Monday was elected to be the Lay Day. The first day of fishing would have to wait until Tuesday, but for the crew of Freedom it was well worth the wait. On their first day they topped the leaderboard with one blue marlin and two white marlin releases. Reel Grumpy managed to release two white marlin but lost momentum after Day One. Dreamcatcher completed the dock slam with a sailfish release, which put them in 3rd Place heading into Day Two.
After another two days of fishing, Freedom managed to hold off the fleet with one blue marlin release, three white marlin releases and three sailfish releases for a total of 1,075 points. Freedom is owned by Dino Chouest of Galliano, LA and captained by Albert Miller of Deerfield Beach. Freedom secured their victory with one white marlin and seven sailfish releases on the last day of fishing, although only three sailfish releases are eligible per day.
Second place in the tournament went to Cacique, a 64-foot Viking owned by Paul Coury of Centreville, VA. Captained by Harvey Shiflet of Virginia Beach, Cacique released one blue marlin and two sailfish in the competition to accumulate 550 points. They narrowly edged out Hoosier Buddy, a 54-foot Jim Smith that accumulated 525 points by releasing three white marlin and one sailfish.
The Bacardi has always been a traditionalists’ tournament, before calcuttas and boat pools were created. While Bahamas billfishing can be challenging at times, the determined anglers who come back year after year always give it their best. With a tropical locale, rum flowing and the chance of landing a grand slam consisting of a sailfish, blue marlin and white marlin, what more could you ask for? For complete results and info on how you can participate in next year’s event, visit internationaltournaments.net.