Sodium Top Boat, Damron Top Angler at 54th July Open Billfish Tournament

Photo: Chad Damron on Sodium (second from left) win’s Top Angler and the Captain Johnny Harms ‘Give Him Line’ Trophy. L to R: Captain Spike Herbert; VIGFC Board Member; Damron; Dr. Brian Biscoe, VIGFC Board Member; Captain Red Bailey, Past President and VIGFC Board Member. Herbert and Bailey both fished with the late Captain Johnny Harms, who pioneered the blue marlin fishery in the Virgin Islands.
Photo Credit Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club.

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands — Two boats nearly swapped places on the leaderboard during the third and final day of fishing in the 54th July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT). In the end, it was Sodium that earned Top Boat and the 75-foot Weaver’s owner and angler, Chad Damron, who won Top Angler with six blue marlin releases.

“We hooked up quickly this morning and were one of the first of the day to catch a blue marlin,” said Damron, of Crystal River, Florida. “Never Say Never hooked up while we were fighting our fish, so that put us both one ahead.”

By midday, the release tally was five blue marlin for Sodium and four for Never Say Never, a 72-foot Merritt owned by Jim Carr of Coral Gables, Florida. Never Say Never won Top Boat and one of its anglers, fifteen-year-old Zachary ‘Zac’ Murck, of Davie, Florida.

Later in the afternoon Sodium hooked up. But the marlin broke off the hook. Never Say Never used the opportunity to tease up a blue and connected with a release. This tied both boats with 5 releases apiece, with Sodium still in the lead, based on time.

“We caught another marlin around 2 p.m. That meant Never Say Never had to catch two more to beat us, so I was feeling pretty confident. The closer it got to line’s out, the better I felt,” said Sodium’s Damron. “It’s so special here. The fish are meaner and if you miss one on the first pass it usually comes back around. The Virgin Islands are such a great place to fish. Big fish and lots of fish.”

Damron credited his crew, Captain Randy Jendersee and mates Travis Butters and Tyler Valles for the win.

For  his Top Angler win, Damron will have his name engraved on the Captain Johnny Harms ‘Give Him Line’ Trophy. Past winners of this trophy read like a Who’s Who of blue marlin sport fishing. Angler Elliot Fishman’s winning 845-pound catch in 1968 set an all-tackle world record. Only two anglers have reeled in this honor twice – the late Howard Crouse in 1965 and 1988, and Puerto Rico’s late legendary angler Ralph Christiansen in 1973 and 1984.

Damron’s six blue marlin releases were nine fish short of earning this year’s new prize: $25,000 cash for catching and releasing 15 blue marlin during the three-day tournament.  

Never Say Never, helmed by Captain Eddie Herbert, finished second in the Top Boat standings with five blue marlin releases.

“I just hoped we could have seen a couple more marlin to win,” says Never Say Never’s Murck, who won the Top Junior Angler award. “Still, it was pretty exciting.”

Local charter boat, Mixed Bag, a 40-foot Luhrs based out of The Westin, St. John with Captain Rob Richards at the helm, finished third in the boat standings with the release of three blue marlin total.

In total, the six-boat tournament fleet caught and released 19 blue marlin and 1 white marlin in three-days of fishing. Teams in this longest annually held angling contest in the Virgin Islands, represented the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and U.S. mainland.

Profits from the VIGFC tournaments, which received 501 C (3) status this year, will benefit the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Marine Vocation Program and local veterans. Tournament sponsorship and donations are tax deductible.

Sponsors include IGY’s American Yacht Harbor; Fish Tails Bar & Grill; Southern Glazer’s Wines & Spirits, distributor of Mount Gay Rum; and Yeti.