After weeks of bad weather New Smyrna Beach fishing tourney’s a go – Daytona Beach News

NEW SMYRNA BEACH — The baits had been in the water for only a few minutes when the call came out from the bridge.

“Sailfish behind the green (teaser) chain.”

A sail-shaped fin broke the surface of the water as a 6-foot fish investigated a possible breakfast of ballyhoo until another bait, this one with a hook in it, caught its attention.

Almost 30 minutes later, after taking angler Robbie Grubbs from one side of the Right Hook’s stern to the other and back, the sailfish was released none the worse for wear except a sore mouth. Grubbs, Capt. Ray Gibson and the rest of the crew aboard the Right Hook were among 11 boats competing in the 13th annual New Smyrna Beach Billfish Invitational tournament.

Despite the clean release, the performance wasn’t up to Gibson’s satisfaction and he let the six-man crew know it, sometimes in language as blue as the ocean that surrounded the nearly 60-foot sportfishing boat. There were a few more false starts Friday, but the crew and anglers led by First Mate Grubbs soon found their rhythm, and before the first day of tournament fishing was done, they had caught and released 10 sailfish, including a rare quadruple hook-up.

The haul put the Right Hook in a tie for second place with the Rough-N-It, both in the running for almost $100,000 in cash and prizes. In first place was the Grand Slam, which caught and released 11 sailfish Friday.

After two weeks of weather delays, the 11-boat field, both local and from out of town, finally set out to compete in the Invitational, a qualifying event for the International Game Fish Association’s Offshore World Championship in May in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

But, tournament co-director Capt. Jon Zeller was thinking a little closer to home.

“These guys spend a lot of money (in the local economy),” he said, adding that when the owners bring their boats to such an event, they usually stay in the area for as long as a month.

Because of the weather delays, this year’s Invitational is sharing the spotlight and the weekend with the previously scheduled Fall Sailfish Classic hosted by The Fishing Store.

While Classic organizer Jay Wilson said his tournament and the Invitational are both part of the three-event Tournament Series Championship, so it was no problem to work the Invitational in with his contest. The only accommodation that was required was that instead of fishing Friday and Saturday, the Invitational’s boats skipped Saturday and will wrap up their tournament today.

Six of the Invitational’s registered boats decided to fish all three days and paid the entry fee for the Classic, and sailfish they caught Friday counted in both events.

The overlap presented both tournaments with a bit of perfect weather timing, as one of the first cold fronts of the season pushed down the East Coast on Thursday, triggering the southbound migration of baitfish and the sailfish that feed on them. And with it, Gibson, Wilson and Zeller said, is a chance for the New Smyrna Beach area to show what a fine sailfish fishery the area possesses.

No matter which event they were competing in, those doing the fishing took it seriously, as could be seen by the coordination and teamwork displayed by the crew of the Right Hook.

“Barnum and Bailey (three-ring circus),” North Carolina-based angler Sean Finucane said of the chaos of having four anglers hooked onto four sailfish at one time. (Actually, five sailfish grabbed baits, but one broke off almost immediately.)

Finucane described the tightness among Right Hook crewmembers as similar to a race car’s pit crew.

“We are all on the same sheet of music,” he said.

Gibson said he put his team of Grubbs, Finucane, Chris Corbett, Billy Leven, Jason McDowell and Bill Billings together from former mates he had worked with and friends he grew up with.

“We have all fished together at one time or another,” he said. “They’re a group of pirates — sailfish pirates.”

Still, each knew their job automatically, such as Grubbs, who spent the hour-plus ride to the fishing site, almost 40 miles east of Ponce de Leon Inlet, rigging the dozens of ballyhoo baits they would use throughout the seven-hour fishing day.

“This is a Ponce Inlet paddler,” he said as he wired a weight and circle-hook to a dead fish’s head. The idea is to turn something dead into the semblance of a live swimming morsel for a hungry sailfish, Grubbs said.

In total, 75 sailfish were released by the 11-boat field Friday, including one by junior angler, Erik Perna, 10, aboard the ECO, Zeller said.


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