This year’s Wine Cellar Fishing Tournament was filled with lots of fish, excitement and a little bit of heartbreak. Team Panoply was made up of the usual suspects – Captain Bill aka Furuno Fishfinder, Captain Flex aka Sexy Flexy and Delphine aka Dellyhoo. We also had on board our staple ‘bird spotter’, as we lovingly call Mike, and a special guest and good friend from Miami, Bobby.
The event kicked off with the Captain’s Meeting and Calcutta at Tiki Hut Island Eatery in Turtle Cove Marina on Thursday March 21st. Twenty boats signed up, all confident this year’s trophy would be theirs. While there was certainly competition in the air, all were wishing eachother good luck and ‘tight lines’ and there was a fantastic camaraderie between all the participants. The Calcutta was great fun with over $26,000 being bet on the participating boats. Hugh O’Neill auctioned off each boat in his usual style; storytelling and cracking jokes about many of the anglers and captains, filling the room with smiles and laughter. For those of you wondering what exactly the Calcutta is (and I get asked this rather often), each boat is auctioned off to the highest bidder. The aim of the game is to bid on the boat you believe is going to win. Most teams bet on their own boat, as we do at Team Panoply. This year, however, we were outbid by Pierre from Team In$tuition. In cases like that, the winning bidder gives team they bid on the opportunity to buy back half. The Calcutta is then divided between the top 3 boats as additional prize money, and in this particular case, 20% goes to the tournament charities.
The fishing begins with the shotgun start, which is always exciting. All twenty boats entered were lined up outside of Leeward Cut waiting to hear the horn sound to signal the start of the day. At 8am sharp the horn blew and all the boats took off in the direction of their chosen fishing grounds for the day. While we won’t reveal too much detail as to where we went – we’ve gotta have some secrets 😉 – we chose to head 20 odd miles offshore to a spot that’s proven rather productive for us during tournaments past. A few boats headed off Northwest Point, some shot back through Leeward Going Through and headed to French Cay, and the faster center consoles, like Third place Salt Shaker and First Place In$tuition, were able to run the 70 odd miles out to East Caicos and fish Philips Reef. In the photo you can see why Philips produces such big fish in good numbers!
Day one for Team Panoply was incredible and we all agree it was some of the most fun we’ve had fishing – combine a great team dynamic, lots of bites and plenty fish in the box and it’s hard to beat. We ran about 45 minutes to start fishing a contour line which led to the spot Captain Bill wanted to work for the day. As we were working our way up, Mike spotted a flurry of birds feeding and tuna jumping on the surface almost a mile out – now you know why we call him the bird spotter! We changed course and headed for the birds. The tuna were not huge but we managed to pick out two keepers – one yellowfin and a skippy- casting poppers on our spinning reels. We worked the birds for a while and had a wahoo spit the hook and two sizable dolphin get off. A small blue or possibly a white marlin came up to check out our spread but didn’t take our bait. We put two dolphin and a wahoo in the box and the action around the birds slowed. We then spotted some nice weed drifts a little further north, so we headed that way.
The water laid down completely by the weed and we had half the team on the bridge looking for some surface action while two stayed put in the cockpit. We spotted a large dolphin coming in hot to the right long then dart off to the left short, finally settling on the right short and taking the bait! Bobby brought it in and we reset lines quickly. We worked up and down the weed drift and picked up two more dolphin with Captain Flex having some fun bringing them in for a change. Each time we relished in the thrill of watching them swim at speed towards our baits, it just never gets old! The 9th and final fish in the box for the day was a dolphin Mike caught on a popper. We spotted some bait fish and casted to the edge of the weed line coaxing the dolphin out, and what fun it was bringing them in on light tackle! Our final haul for the day was 6 dolphin,
2 tuna and 1 wahoo in the box, completing our pelagic grand slam! Now you know where Bill gets his nickname as Furuno Fishfinder. Sexy Flexy, well we won’t state the obvious! We were ecstatic and hopeful that our hard work would put us in contention for the top 3.
We brought in lines and started the hour and a half run back to the dock with plans to be in a safe 20-30mins early. Tournament rules require fish on the dock by 4:30 for the day’s catch to count. About 10mins into our run home we lost the turbo on the port engine. With no way to fix the problem out at sea, Captain Bill did his best to get us back on time on one engine, but we arrived to the dock just 6 minutes late. Our catch didn’t count and we were all feeling a little heartbroken after such a fun and productive day. We weighed in anyway and our haul was a healthy 104lbs which would have put us in Third Place for the day, just a couple of fish behind first! We were more determined than ever to have an even more productive Day Two. The team agreed to donate 7 of our fish to be auctioned off in order to raise funds for the tournament charities – the Youth Centre and CARIFTA Youth Sports Programme.
Unfortunately, the issue with the turbo couldn’t be fixed in time for us to participate in the second day of the tournament. Captain Bill laboured to get it fixed but it just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, we did some housekeeping and had a little rest, then headed back down to the marina to welcome the boats that did manage to fish for the day. Our friends Pierre, Scott and Francois on In$tuition brought in an impressive 8 large wahoo securing their win with 444 lbs of fish over two days! Captain Mark, Ed and Andy on Salt Shaker took home third place, also bringing in some nice ‘hoos and missing the heavy for day 2 due to some sharky intervention (mutilated fish don’t count). Chris, better known as Fineline, from Bite Me Charters also did very well, taking home the heaviest dolphin prize with his 28lb catch. The two day fishing event culminated in a big party at SALT at Blue Haven Marina. Well done to the tournament committee – especially Belinda, Desmond, Gilley, Althea, Don and Barr – and the staff at the restaurant and marina for a job very well done! Delphine would also like to thank the boys – Captain Bill, Flex, Bobby and Mike – for putting in some good work out on the water and making it such great fun.
As we are fisherman, and fisherman notoriously like to brag :), had our first day catch counted, we would have finished in Fourth Place overall without fishing the second day. We can’t conclude without extending thanks to our fellow captains and anglers for their support and kind words. Despite a bit of disappointment having to withdraw, we still enjoyed a fantastic tournament with friends old and new and we can’t wait to return next year! Next up is the Caicos Classic IGFA Billfish Release Tournament from July 3rd to 6th, where we hope to best last year’s Third Place finish. We’re also looking forward to welcoming Brittany Novalsky from Florida Sportswoman to the team and can’t wait to release some blues with her this summer!