10 Years of Big Game Classic Memories
Editor's Note: The following are memories and anecdotes we collected for the 10-year retrospective of Bermuda and the Bermuda Big Game Classic that did not make it into print because of length issues. In observing this milestone, we want everyone to have a chance to share in the celebration and share their memories. Whether it was the big fish that got away, the kindness of locals, or a great bartender or hotel staff member who went the extra mile, the welcoming Bacardi parties providing hospitality after a hard day's fishing, we invite you to participate in this online scrapbook of memories of the Bermuda Big Game Classic.
10 Years of Big Game Classic Memories
Next to tournament organizer Dan Jacobs, Marlin magazine's editor Dave Ferrell is one of Bonnier Corporation's most enthusiastic tournament fishers. On board for every event we've produced from tournaments in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Florida and of course Bermuda, he has a host of memories from the Classic. For those of you who know Ferrell, it comes as no surprise that his best memories stem from running the weigh-in crane during the first few years of the event.
"It's almost as much fun as fishing," says Ferrell. During college, Ferrell worked for a landscaper, running mowers and the occasional Bobcat, but running a three-story crane represented a whole different challenge. Fortunately, Ferrell had Allen DeSilva of Island Construction — not to be confused with Capt. Allan "Mako" DeSilva on Mako — give him a one-hour lesson before letting him run one of his machines. As part owner (with his family) of Island Construction, DeSilva is a master crane operator and was a great teacher. "With his help, I became rather proficient," says Ferrell. "In the beginning I was scared to death of dropping a fish when lifting it from the cockpit to the weigh station or nicking the teak. I am proud to say even lifting a 900-pound-class blue I never dropped or damaged anything. While I haven't done it for a couple of years now because of my schedule running Marlin University and editing the magazine, I'd love to come back and hoist a grander in the future. That would be a kick."
The Classic's success these past 10 years in large part has been due to the contributions of volunteers from Bermuda, as well as Bonnier Corporation, who have worked the tournament on their own time.
In our acknowledgment of employees such as the Classic's guardian angel Lynda Wilson, who came on board as the tournament's only paid employee after helping the International Game Fish Association manage both the Offshore World Cup Tournament and its tournament observer program, we'd like to recognize Mark Badzinski, who has done everything from selling ads for the tournament magazine to wrapping the tails of granders to be weighed. We also want to thank Marlin's senior editor, Charlie Levine, who in addition to working the registration table and stuffing ditty bags has edited the tournament magazine for most of its 10 years.
Two more helpers that come to mind are Natasha and Mark Lloyd, who've been on board since day one. Natasha is publisher of Marlin. Not only does she line up some major sponsors every year, but she's part of the behind-the-scenes glue that makes this event fly. Her partner in life, Mark, is not only part of the volunteer force, but is also a sponsor and jeweler.
When asked for a favorite memory, Natasha says that this tournament represents family and the kinds of memories you associate with reunions. "I love seeing people I first met as teenagers now grown up and starting to come back to fish with their own kids and parents. It's so gratifying to participants who come back year after year — a lot of them running 650 miles or more across the open ocean to support the Bermudian community we all love because of its welcoming embrace — and the tournament. I can't say it enough. Bermuda is what made this tournament a success. It's why many of our competitors are now spending up to four or more weeks a year fishing here. As someone who has been on the organizing end of the event, I thank Bacardi, which has gone the extra mile hosting daily cocktail parties, the Hamilton Princess as well as Bermuda Tourism and other friends in the Bermuda community for helping to make the Classic one of the great international fishing events."
Says Allen "Heads" DeSilva, who was on board for the event from day one as well. "For years, we tried to get someone to put on a world-class blue marlin tournament in Bermuda. That's why I was ready to do whatever I could to make that happen," adds the construction executive who for the past 10 years has made the 'grander crane' available for the event.
This year DeSilva and his son Michael, 16, with friend Mark Koren were fishing the series. In the past Koren and DeSilva claimed second place and were looking forward to climbing into first in at least one event this summer. "I tip my hat to Dan Jacobs and Bonnier Corporation and to the Bermuda Department of Tourism for making this tournament happen because it has put Bermuda on par with Kona, Hawaii, as one of the world's best blue marlin fishing destinations. Being a weekend warrior who has come close to winning this tournament just speaks to how our marlin fishing is," adds DeSilva.
DeSilva's best friend, Capt. Allan "Mako" DeSilva, or Bad Allan, as he's sometimes referred to, put Bermuda on the map a few years ago by catching a 1,352-pounder that not only is the island record, but ranks as one of the largest blue marlin ever caught on rod and reel.
"Don't tell him, but my ultimate goal is to one day catch an even bigger fish and win the Bermuda Big Game Classic."
The name says it all. Mama Who's Elaine "Lanie" Jones is serious about big-game fishing and about winning the Bermuda Big Game Classic. A Bahamas Billfish Championship tournament veteran, Mama Who started fishing the Bermuda Classic in 2005. One year in Bermuda was all it took to convince the Louisiana native this would be a great place to drop a hook and stay a while. "We're spending the summer there," says Jones. And though she's yet to catch her Bermuda grander, Jones has set her sights on becoming the first woman to land one in the Classic. "I got a taste of what it feels like catching a 1,000-pounder while fishing Madeira with Capt. Ron Hamlin a few years ago. Now I want to do it fishing from my own boat in Bermuda." Big fish is why Jones loves fishing Bermuda. "I like catching crazy psycho blues," she explains. She also enjoys the tournament's camaraderie. "After fishing there's always something to do in Bermuda. Parties to go to or people to go out to dinner with. That's why I'm looking forward to staying on to try to break the women's 130-pound white marlin record."
Raul Miranda's memories of Bermuda and the Classic go back 25 years to a time when the Sea Horse Anglers Billfish Tournament was the precursor of today's international fishing event. "That was the biggest and most anticipated fishing tournament of the year," he explains. "Now a part of the Bermuda Triple Crown, the Sea Horse Anglers Tournament started out as an adjunct to the annual cricket matches in July. Because of the quality size of the fish, way, way back we knew one day Bermuda would be one of the hottest marlin fishing destinations in the world. Thanks to this tournament, top anglers now see Bermuda as a world-class blue marlin fishing destination with first-class charter-fishing boats, marinas, restaurants, entertainment and charter boats."
In terms of memories, the now Miami-based marketing professional and Classic weighmaster says, "I don't think anything will top the year I weighed a 900-pound blue in the tournament only to see that fish beaten by a grander. That happened in 2005."
Bermuda-based Capt. Allan DeSilva on Mako no doubt has a book of memories about the Bermuda Big Game Classic, but what still amazes him, he said, is the number of American sport-fishing boats that make the run to Bermuda every year to fish it. "I made my first crossing as a boy of 15 with my father, Henry. Going over from Bermuda to the States wasn't so bad because we had a big target to hit. Coming back in a small boat with only a compass, radio direction finder and dead reckoning to help us find a small island in the middle of the open ocean was more challenging. I about wore the antenna on the RDF out the third day as I was trying to tune the radio to ZBM-AM to find our way home."
We wondered what tournament organizer Dan Jacobs would say about his most vivid memory of the Classic.
"Obviously, I remember all the people who helped us. Without them, there would be no Classic. The past 10 years, the Bermudians, along with the tourism board and local business support, have been fantastic to work with. Just a humbling experience. They get it. They understand their involvement in making these fishing events a success is good for Bermuda. From the very beginning people like Jeff Radke of Argo Group, Suzan Wilson of Masters Unlimited, Ricky and Will Cox from Waterfront Properties, Allen DeSilva from Island Construction, Bacardi International, Clive and Lyndy Thatcher of Island Glass, Henry Smith and Danny Fox from Bank of Bermuda, Derek Excell of Offshore Yachting, and many, many more were there not only as sponsors, but to offer personal support and advice whenever and wherever it was needed."
Jacobs' memories date back to before the first event to meetings with charter-fishing operators and local angling club members that became the foundation of the Bermuda Big Game Classic and now Bermuda Triple Crown series, people who helped create the formats and logistics of running a world-class international fishing event in Bermuda. "At our first organized meeting, the room was full of everyone offering up ideas, wanting things to go well. In typical Bermuda fashion, the meeting continued with a group of us ending up in the Pickled Onion where the conversations went well into the night." "The Bermuda welcome I experienced that night and every night I've spent there since then has meant so much to me and my family and the anglers who come here to fish," says Jacobs.
From the beginning, creating traditions that have endured for 10 years has become a big part of the Classic.
From the first year, there has always been a fleet blessing.
"The first year I asked Capt. Omie Tillett of Oregon Inlet to bless our tournament and the people fishing it. He came over with Capt. Tim Hyde, who was running Tony Martino's 70-foot Hatteras Concubine. Just as he has done for decades for captains fishing out of Oregon Inlet, Tillett blessed our fleet. Since we are on the Bermuda Harbor Radio, everyone on the island could tune in, listen and receive as Omie says, "a nugget of encouragement and God's blessings." It was Allen "Mako" DeSilva who suggested we include a boat parade as part of the kickoff, an event that every year brings families, friends and townspeople together to watch. What a beautiful sight it is seeing all these magnificent boats, all hands on board, waving as the boats ease through the middle of town and Hamilton Harbour into Bermuda's great grander blue marlin grounds," says Jacobs.
The fact that we even had a tournament the first year is amazing, adds Jacobs. "With a low sitting over the island, the weather was horrible. Sitting in the radio room at the Fairmont Hotel, watching it blow 20 to 35 knots, rain blowing sideways, pool umbrellas tumbling into the harbor, boy did we need a blessing that year. I was agonizing, praying for the safety of the fleet. Fortunately, Bermuda did its thing, the fish started snapping once lines were in and somehow people sort of forgot about the weather."
Captains Alan Card on Challenger and Tim Hyde on Concubine both had tournaments that year, finishing first and fourth respectively. Everyone fishing that year enjoyed the back-and-forth banter between these two old friends, who never let up on their gigging of one another, Card recalls. Hyde reported losing one fish he claimed could have eaten the 628-pounder he'd caught and flossed its teeth afterward with its fins. Meanwhile, Brooks Rans on Chaos, a 38-foot Buddy Davis, let three blue ones go in rigger-snapping conditions for second. Fishing a 31-foot JC, Peter Rans on Overproof somehow made it out to catch a 531-pound blue. In the rare moments of radio quiet, the fleet would be cheered by Russell Youngs' squawks of "wheeee" as Sea Wolf fell off another giant swell. At different times in that first Classic, the rain would be blowing so hard, those hardy souls fishing it claimed they could not see past the bow. However, through it, the fish kept chewing, making the Classic and Bermuda unqualified successes.
Since then, says Jacobs, there have been numerous events that stood out like the 2005 tournament when the Gollahan family on Southern Exposure caught the Classic's first grander. "Man, that was one impressive fish!" Southern Exposure opened anglers' eyes to the bounty that lies on the east side of the island. Concentrating their efforts there during the tournament, they caught and released three blues, boating the 1,023-pounder and disqualifying another 700-plus-pounder because it was nicked by the prop. Southern Exposure's strategy stood by them that entire season, resulting in their taking the title during the first year of the Bermuda Tripe Crown series.
It's been said no good deed comes without adversity. The tournament opened that year with an island-wide blackout due to a fire that had started in the pre-dawn hours at the power plant. Without power, Jacobs realized he could not run the radio at the Hamilton Princess. Scrambling, he managed to borrow 12-volt batteries from Jeff Radke and was on the air for the kickoff. Boats leaving the dock were turning back to collect friends and family to fish with them so at least they would have some air conditioning and working toilets to use, says Jacobs. "The hotel staff was running bucket brigades for the rest of us left behind," he adds. "Allen and Susan DeSilva had it the worst. They were still doing the midweek tournament party back then, and with no power, Susan was going crazy trying to find generators to keep the freezers going so the food they had for the dinner would not go bad. In true Bermuda style, the island rallied, got the power up and running, and the Classic party went off without a hitch. That was a fantastic year."
In 2006, we were thankful for our daily blessings again, says Jacobs. That year, Ian Card, who was fishing with his father, Alan, on Challenger, was skewered and taken overboard after a crazy move by an 800-pounder that Leslie Spanswick was fighting. "It's a memory everyone fishing the Sea Horse Anglers Club Tournament will never forget. I know I won't. Just the tenor of Capt. Alan's voice calling me on the radio to report his son being billed by a marlin and dragged overboard and the subsequent phone conversation I shared with him from the hospital makes the hair on my neck stand up. As a father myself, I cannot fathom seeing his son taken into the water connected to a blue marlin by a bill through the shoulder. The big captain upstairs was looking out for Ian that day. That was the scariest event ever, but I am happy to report Ian made a full recovery and continues to fish the Classic today."
Other things about 2006 stick in my mind, says Jacobs, like Dr. Peter Watson and his team reeling in the lines on Anita Jean so Doc could follow Challenger to the dock and provide immediate medical assistance to Ian. "The Watsons have been special friends with the Triple Crown Series for many years now." The big winner that year was Edwin Hawn's Smooth Operator. Rebecca Hawn caught the largest fish in the Classic, and with Edwin and the team on Smooth Operator she made big a showing in the Sea Horse Anglers Tournament to take the lion's share of the winnings that year, Jacobs says. "But what most people don't know is that Edwin and Rebecca donated a big share of their winnings to Ian and his family to help with medical costs and speed him through the recovery period."
Jacobs admits he could go on forever because as he explains, "Each year brings an exciting fishing competition and a chance to hang out with great friends and make new ones."
"The Classic is a competitive event," he adds, "but more than that it is a gathering of what has truly become a family of anglers and crews from all over the world who come together in friendship every July in one of the hottest fishing grounds in the world. The island is beautiful, the fish are big and wild, but more than anything, I think, what brings us together every year is the camaraderie that's been part of this tournament from the get-go. I just want to say thanks to everyone for making the Classic a pleasure to be part of."
Do you have a memory of the Classic you would like to share?
If so, e-mail your name, boat name, year or years you fished, and your favorite Classic memory to Dan Jacobs at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will include it in the 10th-anniversary scrapbook.
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