Bahamas Billfish Championship

Where the Critically Afflicted Come for Treatment

Laura Beth Hannah June 9, 2009

It’s 6 am and already a balmy 75 degrees. You’re surrounded by some of your best fishing buddies, and while attending to some last minute rigging duties you realize you may have thrown back a few too many last night. It’s Day One of the Bahamas Billfish Championship series and a new season of heart-pounding hookups and tales of ones that got away is just a short boat ride away. Competitive crews don’t just travel across the ‘Stream to target powerful pelagics, but also to catch up with old friends on the dock. This is what beckons anglers, mates and captains to return each and every year.

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Photo: Steve Dougherty

The Bahamas Billfish Championship was founded in 1973 and continues to attract competitive teams from around the globe. Every year the series begins in April and takes adventurous anglers through a journey of five tournaments at various venues, ending in June with a cumulative point tally determining the overall Bahamas Billfish Champion. Teams can choose to compete in any or all of the five legs of the series, which adhere to a strict uniform set of rules for qualifying billfish.

The roots of the tournament series date back to 1968 when a group of anglers who regularly fished billfish tournaments in The Bahamas, designed a friendly competition to crown the year’s “Bahamas Tournament Champion.”

The roots of the tournament series date back to 1968 when a group of anglers who regularly fished billfish tournaments in The Bahamas, designed a friendly competition to crown the year’s “Bahamas Tournament Champion.” This competition remained informal until 1973 when Bahamian tourism officials collaborated with directors of the major fishing clubs and resorts to sponsor an island-wide big game tournament series designed to attract enthusiastic big game teams from around the world.

The Bahamas Billfish Championship has a brand new format for 2009, adding a fresh take to the 36-year-old series as well as a change in scenery with the addition of two pristine venues. First up is the newly adopted three day format. This shortens the teams fishing days from four to three, with no scheduled lay day. The decision was made by the BBC Steering Committee, which is made up of participating anglers and crew members. Teams will now have at least one full week to recuperate and tend to interests at home between events. Along with changes in venue and format come rule clarifications for billfish releases and a new opportunity for bonus points. The Grand Slam bonus, in which 700 bonus points can be earned by a team catching a white marlin (or spearfish), sailfish, and blue marlin during the tournament, will make tactics and strategy a more important component of this year’s series.

Bimini Championship
April 14-17
The 2009 series kicked off on April 14 at Bimini Bay Resort & Marina, just a two-hour boat ride from Miami or a quick 20-minute plane ride from Fort Lauderdale. Short time home to Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffet, the island of Bimini is now better known as home to famous pelagic residents including marlin, sailfish, wahoo, tuna and dolphin. Bimini lays claim to one exceptional feat that no other island in The Bahamas can boast, and that feat is also uniquely connected to the BBC series. On the last day of the 1979 Championship, angler Sam Jennings fed a mackerel to a hungry blue marlin and hooked up to an epic battle that left him scrambling to get his giant to the weigh station on time. Arriving with only six-minutes to spare, Jennings posed for pictures alongside a 1,060.5-pound blue marlin that would award Bimini the title of the only island in The Bahamas to weigh a grander. Still holding that distinction to this day, Bimini was once again the proud host of a BBC tournament leg after more than 13-years on the sidelines.

Central Abaco Championship
April 28 – May 2
The second stop in the series is one that is certainly familiar and loved by all who are longtime participants of the BBC. Treasure Cay Resort & Marina, the most frequented venue of all BBC tournament locations over the years, hosted the second leg of the series from April 28 – May 2nd. On this island paradise there is plenty to keep the young at heart entertained, and if you take a seat at the Tipsy Seagull Bar you’re sure to see captains and mates taking part in some friendly competition off the water playing a game of ring toss.

Due to editorial time constraints, the results of the first two events could not be published so be sure to visit www.bahamasbillfish.com to see which teams were celebrating at the conclusion of the first and second legs.

Cape Eleuthera Championship
May 19-22
Only one word can describe Cape Eleuthera and its new Powell Point Resort & Marina – untouched. Positioned on the southern tip of Eleuthera, this unspoiled angling paradise is a beautiful addition to the series. For anglers chasing billfish the prolific grounds are virtually untouched, and there is no shortage of ferocious billfish. Captains and mates are already gearing up for an anticipated hot bite. With only two remaining legs after Eleuthera, the outcome of this tournament could easily launch a team to the top of the leaderboard and provide a much needed advantage for the final two events. Competition will continue to heat up with each leg and teams should be focused on honing strategies and tactics. If teams can rack up points during this leg, the boat ride from Eleuthera to Boat Harbour will be a satisfying one.

Boat Harbour Championship
June 2-5
Talk to anyone who has participated in the BBC and they will tell you that the fourth leg of the series needs no introduction. Between the two tournaments that took place here in 2008, there were more than 119 billfish caught and released in just eight days of fishing. The talented crews targeting the fertile waters off the Abacos have nothing on the big game swimming just below. There’s no denying the fact that big brutes flourish here, evident from the 823-pound blue caught by Unbelievable in 2000, 814-pound blue landed by Huzzy in 2003 and the 655-pound blue bested by Fishbone in 2006. The Abaco Gold Conch Fest and John Bull Block Party are always a fun addition to the Boat Harbour tournament. It’s events like this that really give teams a chance to take a break from the task at hand and have a little fun off the water. The race to the finish line will no doubt heat up during this leg as more and more billfish will be caught as the season progresses. This will give the latecomers a shot at surprising everyone and almost always turns the final leg into a nail-biter.

Treasure Cay Championship
June 16-19
It’s back to Treasure Cay for the final leg of the BBC. Three months of friendly battle among challengers will come to end on June 19 as another team is awarded the distinct title of 2009 Bahamas Billfish Champion among camera flashes and cheers from fellow competitors. If you expect to be a part of the winners circle register for the series early, as a 50 boat maximum for each event is a new addition to the 2009 format.

Every dedicated angler knows why our beloved sport is called fishing and not catching. They also know any day’s troubles are easily healed with a few cocktails shared over fishy stories with friends. The memories made in the cockpit and on the dock last longer than any cash winnings or point standings. Sportfishing connects people of all interests and walks of life. Over 91 teams fished the 2008 series and participants hailed from cities all over the United States and countries around the globe. Don’t be surprised to see a fellow BBC competitor across the bar in Panama or in the slip next to you in Key West. Friendships formed from a shared passion are some of the strongest bonds, and I guarantee you won‘t soon forget your time spent at the BBCs. Those in its grips often refer to competitive sportfishing as a disease, and some might say the Bahamas Billfish Championship is akin to the Betty Ford Clinic. The critically afflicted meet at each stop in the series, all the while growing more infected with each strike. They arrive knowing, and hoping, there is no cure. But hey, the treatment sure is a lot of fun.

For more info and complete results visit www.bahamasbillfish.com

Rules & Regulations

Billfish can take their pick from a six rod bait buffet at every boat, so be sure to offer the man in the blue suit the best menu possible in your spread. As long as the bait isn’t still swimming, feel free to be creative with artificial lures, dead bait, or a combination of both. All participating teams must comply with IGFA saltwater angling rules as well as BBC tournament regulations. Fishing teams will earn one point per pound for an eligible blue marlin that is boated. The fish must measure at least 110-inches in length (lower jaw to fork length), which is the benchmark until two fish exceeding 110-inches have been weighed in a single tournament. Although there is a prize for weighed fish, emphasis is placed on catch and release and billfish conservation. Minimum length benchmarks and points for released billfish are consistently raised to ensure the future of billfish stocks in The Bahamian archipelago.

All boats participating in the Bahamas Billfish Championship tournaments will depart from and fish within a 60-mile radius of the host resort in Bahamian waters. Maximum line strength shall not exceed that of manufacturer’s stated, 100lb. (45.36 kg.) test. The tournament committee reserves the right to take line samples for testing or request labels from line spools.

Giving Back

The Bahamas Billfish Championship Scholarship Fund was created in 2000 and gives Bahamian college students a unique opportunity to study in marine related fields at colleges in The Bahamas, United States or Canada. The Lyford Cay Foundation administers the BBC scholarships, which are a great way for the series to play a role in the future of education for The Bahamas.

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