King of the Hill

Season-Long Contest Chasing the Big Billfish

Sam White September 10, 2015

Across the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard, big game crews travel hundreds of miles and spend long hours on their quest for success in world-class, multi-million dollar sportfishing tournaments. While there are fun-fish categories and prizes for dolphin, wahoo and tuna, the main focus is on the billfish purse. With huge payouts, ideal conditions based around the most favorable seasons, first-class banquets and much more, it’s no surprise the most successful tournaments attract upwards of 100 participating teams per event.

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Photo: Scott Kerrigan

Any seasoned salt will tell you that blue marlin are the ocean’s ultimate big game predator. Displaying incredible fury and resulting chaos that can only be truly appreciated firsthand, blue marlin attract the highest echelon of anglers in all the world’s oceans. With tournament entry fees often tens of thousands of dollars, these crews are at the top of their game and take all the necessary steps to put together their dream teams.

And while many of the longstanding billfish tournaments are affiliated with larger sanctioned circuits, there’s really no way to recognize the most successful team across the entire big game circuit…until now. It’s an idea that’s been brewing for some time now—a way to recognize and reward the team that catches the largest blue marlin of the entire tournament season, with prize money awarded for the biggest blue landed on the East Coast and also in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the King of the Hill and it’s set to kick off in just a few short months.

The brainchild of noted sportfishing captain and tournament director Robert “Fly” Navarro, the King of the Hill concept is a relatively simple one. “We’re aligning with the most prestigious blue marlin tournaments in both regions—the Gulf Coast and the East Coast—and giving the teams that fish those events a chance to prove that they’re the best in the business,” he says.

“Teams submit one entry fee that covers them for the entire tournament season, and whoever lands the overall largest blue marlin in one of the approved and sanctioned tournaments wins the jackpot. There will be a Gulf Coast division and an East Coast division, so the two regions are not competing directly with each other.” With only 10 percent of entry fees withheld to cover expenses, it could wind up being a sizeable windfall for the winning teams in both regions.

“We’ll follow each tournament’s existing rules to the letter, especially those regarding qualifying lengths and weigh-ins,” Navarro reports. “If it’s a qualifying blue marlin for them, then it qualifies for us. That way it’s fair for everyone who participates.” The King of the Hill is open to tournaments in the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico, but not in The Bahamas, Bermuda, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico or Hawaii—continental United States waters only. The entry fee is $1,500 per team for the entire season and is available at a discounted rate of $1,000 if paid prior to July 4, 2015.

The East Coast circuit will include events from the Carolinas to Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey, while the Gulf Coast events will represent Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. As of press date a complete list of events has yet to be compiled, but many of the most prominent events including the Big Rock, Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, White Marlin Open, Orange Beach Billfish Classic and the Gulf Cup have already teamed up with the King of the Hill. “The tournaments will want to be involved because there’s a ton of exposure for them to gain the bragging rights of weighing the largest fish, and there’s also no financial requirement for them to support the King of the Hill. It’s a win-win for the teams and the tournaments!”

And while much of the tournament activity in recent years has revolved around catch-and-release fishing, the King of the Hill rewards those teams who manage to boat a behemoth blue marlin. “It’s becoming somewhat of a lost art,” Navarro says. “It’s phenomenal that we release well over 95 percent of the blue marlin in tournaments in the United States, but there’s considerable interest generated in those few fish that are brought back to the docks. Each one is thoroughly studied by scientists and marine biologists who can learn a tremendous amount from examining their stomach contents and otoliths. Additionally, the marlin that are brought to the dock are never wasted, with the meat going to feed the hungry in the local communities.”

Navarro indicated that the events he supports also generate considerable funding for The Billfish Foundation’s conservation work to enhance billfish populations worldwide. Plus, most events have a 110-inch minimum lower jaw to fork length to ensure that a vast majority of caught fish are released unharmed.

As the event grows, Navarro also anticipates a possible East Coast vs. Gulf Coast shootout, although it’s not in the plans for the inaugural season. “It would be very easy to add a shootout category to reward the team catching the biggest blue marlin of the season from both coasts,” he says. “That would really up the ante when it comes to bragging rights for the next year, not only in terms of the winning team but also the winning tournament, the top marina and even the state from where the fish was caught. It’s just another way to gain some notoriety for the sport, the events and the participating teams.”

As part of his Fly Zone Fishing concept, Navarro also runs the annual Gulf Cup Fourth of July Blue Marlin Shootout, a one day tournament that takes place across the entire Gulf of Mexico on July 4 each year. Participating teams have the opportunity to hunt for a truly giant blue marlin, with a number of eligible weigh stations conveniently located throughout the region from Florida to Texas. For more information and a full list of sanctioned events visit flyzonefishing.com and be sure to submit your registration before July 4 to apply for the discounted entry fee.

2014 Notable Winnings

White Marlin Open: Gratitude – $511,417 – 738.5 lb. blue marlin
Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic: Reel Worthless – $498,450 – 594.9 lb. blue marlin
Mid Atlantic $500,000: Goin’ In Deep – $342,721 – 596 lb. blue marlin
Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament: Inspiration – $306,137 – 754.3 lb. blue marlin

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