While the 2011 California striped marlin season will go down as another tough one for the West Coast, the teams that participated in the California Billfish Series presented by Typhoon Polarized Optics made the most of it and still had plenty of fun. With three individual fishing tournaments, including the Zane Grey Invitational, Catalina Classic and Avalon Billfish Classic, the California Billfish Series attracts the top marlin crews in the western U.S. to compete for some big money.
The Zane Grey Invitational was the first tournament in the series, held September 11-13. Tournament director Ali Hussainy made the decision to move the tournament to Dana Point to take advantage of a body of striped marlin located right off the beach. It was a popular decision and the crew on Shark’s Parlour, a 47 Riviera, scored a big win, taking home a paycheck of $79,213 for the Day One and Day Two dailies as well as the overall jackpot.
The team on Shark’s Parlour, including Jim Sloan, Tom Sloan, Eric Hermann, Bryce Hermann, Rick Triguiero and Jesse Henry took the lead on Day One and held the position the entire event. The team hooked a marlin well south of Dana Point on a live bait at 10:55 a.m. on Day One. Jesse Henry landed the fish just 20 minutes later, and the team decided to release it and take the 100 points. Henry’s fish was the only one caught on the day.
At 8:19 a.m. on Day Two, the team on Ruckus, a 40 Riviera, radioed tournament control to report a hookup on a live bait. Angler Johnny Jensen came tight to a striped marlin and it sounded like the fleet had found the fish. Unfortunately, Jensen’s fish came unbuttoned just a few minutes later and the 10-boat fleet did not report any more hookups on the day. Shark’s Parlour release on Day One stood as the only qualifying catch and swept all of the dailies and overall jackpot.
The next two events in the series, the Catalina Classic and Avalon Billfish Classic were held on historic Catalina Island from September 18-20. These tournaments are fished simultaneously as the Catalina Classic is a big-fish event and the Avalon Billfish Classic is an all-release tournament. The majority of the participating boats fish in both tournaments at the same time.
The 21 participating teams enjoyed blue skies and perfect temperatures as they checked in at Descanso Beach and tried their luck at the Phenix Rods casting contest, and battled it out from the Pompanette fighting chair. The prize money up for grabs totaled $138,167 with 10 boats going all-in across the board in the Catalina Classic and two more went for the big payday in the Avalon Billfish Classic as well. When you add in all of the great prizes from the tournament’s sponsors, including Fraser-Volpe gyros, custom bronze trophies, Phenix marlin casters with Accurate reels, Hot Liquid Lures, Dana Landing gift cards and much more, the fleet is fishing for more than $160,000 in cash and prizes.
Each angler had a chance to win a brand-new Phenix marlin caster with an Accurate 665 reel in the casting contest. It was a tight competition with several guys hitting the target but in the end Billy Miyagawa and Barry Brightenburg won out and each went home with a rod-and-reel combo worth upwards of $1,000.
There was also a cranking contest from a Pompanette fighting chair and the Berkley knot-tying competition. Teams mingled back and forth chatting with sponsors and going through their swag bags which were packed to the gills with goodies from the event’s sponsors. The Typhoon girls made everyone’s day a little brighter as they took photos with competitors.
The opening day festivities were a big hit, but these teams came to catch striped marlin. On Day One, the 21-boat fleet lined up outside of Avalon Harbor in a misty grey light for the Shotgun Start. At the sound of the opening horn most of the fleet motored southeast hoping to find striped marlin. There were a few bodies of fish scattered around the Mackerel Bank and off the east side of Clemente. At 11:13 a.m. the crew on Chaser came tight to a swordfish, which unfortunately don’t count in the California Billfish Series. The angler cranked down the drag and broke the fish off after just a few minutes. It was the only reported action of the day.
Conditions were tough going into Day Two, but the fleet wasn’t about to give up. After consulting with the teams, tournament director Ali Hussainy made the decision to expand fishing hours to 5 p.m. if no qualifying marlin were caught or released to give teams more time to find a fish.
“We want to see someone win the prize money, so we decided to expand the fishing hours,” Hussainy said.
Just before 4 p.m. Capt. Mike “the Beak” Hurt and his team on Chiqelin found what they were looking for. Working the area way south in the tournament grid, the crew cast out a live mackerel on a feeding marlin. They came tight to the fish, which was worth upwards of $140,000 in prize money, but unfortunately it spit the hook just a few minutes after taking the bait.
With no fish caught in the event, Hussainy decided to roll the prize money over to the 2012 events and give back all of the optional jackpot cash minus the tournament’s operational cut. It was either that or fish for one more day. It was a popular decision with the participants who applauded the move at the banquet.
Later that night all of the teams assembled in the historic Catalina Casino at Avalon for the banquet dinner and though fishing may have been slow, you wouldn’t know it based on the laughs and good times everyone had. Teams dined on prime rib, licked their wounds and walked off with a long list of raffle items such as custom casters from Fisherman’s Landing Tackle Shop, Montauk Tackle clothing, artwork, Tournament Cable dredges, subscriptions to Pacific Coast Sportfishing, a trip to Rancho Leonaro, a Pompanette fighting chair and the biggest prize of the night, a $5,000 pair of Fraser-Volpe gyro binoculars.
In the end, it was a fun three days on Catalina and all of the teams agreed that the new owners did a great job with the tournament. The teams loved the new live scoring feature on the tournament website, www.catalinaclassic.com and thanks to the tournament’s sponsors, no one went home empty handed.