2003 Boat Harbor Championship - Bahamas - True Blue
“We almost got spooled…I’ll bet we only had 50 cranks of line left on it.” - John Jetson - Treasure Coast Sportsman
"It takes more than 6 hours of epic battle, but a Treasure Coast boat hauls in an 814-pound marlin, one of the largest ever recorded in the Bahamas". - Ed Killer - correspondent
When John Jetson saw it, his heart skipped a beat. Something from the depths had erupted to the surface creating a hole in the crystal blue water 15 feet across.
Everyone aboard Jetson’s Fort Pierce-based Huzzy knew instantly what had happened, yet no one wanted to admit the large trolled lure in the wake of the 55-foot long Viking had just been swiped at-and missed-by a gargantuan fish.
For some big game tournament fishing teams, the jaw-dropping splash and dash may be the only glimpse they ever get of one of the deep blue sea’s most majestic predators. But for Jetson’s crew, this past June 20 was its lucky day.
Before they could get the lure reeled in to check its condition, the TLD 80-wide that had been clipped into the right long rigger was slammed. Instantly, the big reel began dumping 100-pound test Sufix line into the propwash. Despite the crew’s speed and finesse, angler Trey Thofner watched helplessly as the hi-visibility yellow color of the fishing line went away into the ocean only to be replaced by the metallic shine of the reel’s spool.
There’s only one beast that swims capable of doing this to a well-heeled team of fishermen; a blue marlin as big as a Volkswagen. “We almost got spooled,” said Jetson, a Treasure Coast sportsman who devotes much of his free time to the pursuit of big blue marlin. “We say the spool – I’ll bet we only had 50 cranks of line left on it.”
“I couldn’t have been more than a minute and she had us into the gold,” said Huzzy Captain David Van Dyke of Fort Pierce. “Just like that – 750 yards of line were gone.”
“We had 43 pounds of drag on it – in the corner – trying to slow it down,” he added. “I swear it looked like it was in freespool.” Until the marlin chose to stop peeling line, Team Huzzy was feeling like it had brought a knife to a gunfight. But when the big girl flinched, Thofner wasted little time punching back.
The hook-up took place at 8:50 a.m. on the final day of the Boat Harbour Championship – the final leg of the 2003 Bahamas Billfish Championship tournament series. Based on the adrenaline-laced first impression, Jetson knew that if his son could outlast the fish, and they could get it to the scales, Huzzy might have a shot at placing in the prestigious tournament.
Clipped into his harness in the fighting chair, Thofner focused on the game of inches. Unable to render any assistance, fellow teammates Van Dyke, Thofner’s cousin Adam Thofner, and mate San Gonano set about the task of making sure nothing went wrong at the boat level.
Jetson and Van Dyke were gratified that the location paid off with the bite they were looking for.
“Adam had caught and released a blue that went about 325 the day before in the same place,” said Jetson, referring to a place 23 miles northeast of Boat Harbour known as the Table Tops. “That morning, as we neared T Tops, I saw two frigate birds diving and chasing each other close to the water. Then I saw the stormy petrels and terns working the water where flying fish and other bait were popping up. Then I noticed a change in the water temperature of 0.3 degrees. I said to the guys, This is it! This is where she lives.”
Huzzy was all by its lonesome within two miles of the Table Top when the big girl struck. Most of the fleet of 74 had run to the south to a spot that was producing fish earlier in the week.
“Mr. Jetson and I had talked about it the night before,” Van Dyke said. “We felt good about that area. We caught the one fish and missed another there, so we knew we wanted to go back there.” “But we were going to be hero or zero there,” Van Dyke admitted. “So we stepped back and threw a Hail Mary."
“It was a great week for us leading into the last day,” he said. “We had solid strategy, made some changes in trolling rpm and rigging and basically got dialed in. The last two days it all came together for us.”
According to Van Dyke, a 400-pound marlin trashed one of the team’s Black Barts the day before, so he and Adam Thofner re-rigged it replacing the 12/0 hook with 14/0 and re-doing the leader. Turned out, that was the one Huzzy’s big girl came back for the following day. Trey battled the blue tirelessly as it tried in vain to lose the hook. Each time he gained back six inches of line, she would take back four. According to Jetson who piloted the boat during the fight, the big fish was too big to launch itself on acrobatic aerial leaps. When she was near the surface, she wallowed and heaved instead.
As the brawl entered its third hour, Thofner was having to deal with dehydration and muscle fatigue. In the fourth hour, the cramps started.
“I can’t give enough credit to Trey,” Van Dyke said. “He hung in there and kept that fish on without giving in. That fish was trying to pull him out of the boat.”
“We had the fish to the wire six times, but it was never ready,” said Jetson. “I couldn’t believe how well my son held up – he’s in great shape, works out a lot, and has great endurance. He had over 100 pounds of pressure on him for the entire time.”
The ordeal reminded Jetson of a similar experience 20 years ago. During a BBC tournament, out of Walker’s Cay, Jetson hooked into a blue that was as big or bigger – perhaps an elusive grander (over 1000 pounds). Jetson pumped and cranked for five hours – ignoring the fish-spooking distraction of a helicopter that hovered overhead. According to Jetson, footage from his own epic battle was used on a promotional program for the Bahamas Billfish Championship that aired on the British television for years.
As the sun began to get low in the sky that day in 1983, the line connecting Jetson to his fish of a lifetime simply snapped. The setback only strengthened his commitment to the sport of chasing big blues.
“I feel a lot of kinship with Ernest Hemingway – both on and off the water,” said Jetson whose office even contains a replica of Hemingway’s famed fishing boat, Pilar. “I’m going to go back to the Bahamas first chance I get to find that grander. There has only been two blue marlin over 1000 pounds caught in the Bahamas, and I know there’s another one that lives there.”
Somewhere after the 4-hour mark, Thofner’s trophy blue sounded for the bottom, and died. The challenge shifted from taming the wild beast to hauling close to a half-ton dead weight 2,000 feet up with 100 pound line. Thofner was spent, but was forced to endure if the team was to have any change of recording the catch.
Jetson handed the controls of the Huzzy over to Van Dyke. Van Dyke cautiously backed the boat to help Thofner gain line – albeit a few turns of the handle at a time. According to Van Dyke, it still took over two hours to get the hulk to the surface. Van Dyke said they cranked the drag down to a brutish 65 pounds.
During this time, a multitude of things could have gone wrong. Line could break. The angler can reach his breaking point. Rods have snapped. Boats have backed over the line. Boats have backed into the fish as it pops to the surface – mutilating it with the propellers. Sharks. Any one of these things and all the Huzzy would have been left with is a fish story.
But the crew controlled the variables, and had one final hurdle to clear – getting the big girl into the boat. The blue could barely squeeze through the transom door, but it’s no easy task dragging something that big and heavy over the stern platform, and guiding it through the door and into the cockpit.
Van Dyke was able to turn the boat downsea where he finally got a 4-foot wave to help “float” the marlin into the cockpit. After sharing the news over the VHF radio, the Huzzy steamed for the marina.
On the scale, the weighmaster announced 814 pounds for Team Huzzy and angler Trey Thofner. It was the largest marlin of the 2003 Bahamas Billfish Championship, the largest marlin caught out of Boat Harbour since 2000, and the eighth largest blue marlin ever caught in the island nation.
For their efforts, Jetson and his crew was presented with the Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group trophy for the largest blue caught during the series this year. Naturally, the trophy is a bronze sculpture that depicts Hemingway’s “Old Man and the Sea.”
“I’m so proud of Trey and of the whole team for the way it all went.” Jetson said. “It was really something to be able to watch my son avenge my loss from 20 years earlier.”
Despite the heartbreak in 1983, Jetson has enjoyed his share of top five finishes. Trophies commemorate fantastic finishes at Chub Cay, Walker’s Treasure, Bimini, the Bacardi, the Hemmingway Classic in Cuba and Stuart’s Light Tackle Sailfish Tournament.
For Jetson, a change in tackle may be forthcoming. The Huzzy may be outfitted with 130’s and Van Dyke even made mention of possibly using braided lines for backing to allow for spooling more line. “I don’t ever want to see the spool again,” said Jetson.
With the majority of the Bahamian billfish season behind us now, it appears that Sam Jennings 1979 record blue of 1,060.5 pounds will stand another year. Or at least until Jetson gets another crack at it.
BIG BBC BLUES
(record and heaviest since 1996)
1,060.5 pounds, Sam Jennings, Bimini, Bahamian record, July 1979
1,030 pounds, Rick Smith, Weekend Hooker, Treasure Cay, 1996
823 pounds, Rocky Cassone, Unbelievable, Boat Harbour, 2000
814 pounds, Trey Thofner, Huzzy, Boat Harbour, June 2003
For more information about the Bahamian Billfish Championship visit www.bahamasbillfish.com