These Elite Sportfish Owners and their Crews Stop At Nothing to Chase the Bite in their Own Boats
At the top of our sport is a collection of boat owners, captains, crew, anglers, and their family and friends that literally live to fish and have fun with one another.
They say you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a boat—and a bite. It’s no secret that billions of dollars are spent on boats, tackle, crews, and travel. Today’s large sportfishing vessels have become small businesses in their own right, with full-time personnel and charter operations working to deliver exceptional fishing and travel adventures. To some, this may seem excessive, but how awesome is it to be able to use your means to do what you love; chasing the next fish and relaxing with family and friends on your own boat, outfitted to your exact needs and lifestyle?
Naturally, these sportfish teams and their boats move with the seasons. Captain Neil Sykes, who is in charge of the Virginia-based 72’ Viking, Mercenaria, gave us some insight into their operations. “Domestically, we do a lot of tuna fishing in late spring and early summer. We shift focus toward marlin fishing usually around late July with various tournaments sprinkled in throughout those months,” he says.
Merceneria in the thick of the action
In the winter, owners and their crew set their sights on sunnier sojourns to the south. The destinations have a few obvious things in common: they’re all warm and are surrounded by saltwater teeming with fish—Florida, Bahamas, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Costa Rica, and beyond.
As far as the fisheries themselves, each is known for slightly different traits. Wintering in Florida, anglers are typically focused on the sailfish bite or a variety of meatfish to fill the box with. Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are known for their proximity to fishing grounds that support large schools of bait, billfish and a hectic bite.
A proper end to a day in Bermuda
Bermuda typically doesn’t host the same quantities, but makes up for that with quality—it’s one of the places anglers head in search of the biggest blue marlin and a shot at catching a grander (a 1,000+ lb. marlin). And of course, all of these places make for first-class vacation spots for the family—offering up beautiful beaches, luxurious accommodations and many other recreational opportunities.
It’s not uncommon for these sportfish boats to station themselves in a resort-marina for months at a time and make the destination their home away from home. “When we went to the Dominican Republic, we rented a house and set up for three months,” says Harris Huddle, owner of the 64’ Jarrett Bay, Builder’s Choice. Going back to the Dominican wasn’t in the cards for them this past winter, instead they kept the boat in Florida and fished there and the Bahamas, in order to stay close to his wife Meredith’s equestrian events. The trip to Bermuda is a little more mission-critical—it’s about a month-long window in July when the big blue marlin are most active, and a series of weekend tournaments makeup the prestigious Bermuda Triple Crown. In general, if you put your finger on a blue marlin tournament in the western hemisphere, you’ll probably find a Bluewater customer in the field.
Over the years we’ve watched in awe as customers load their boats and cockpits with supplies, sundries, additional fuel bladders, even spare freezer chests full of food, to take to these foreign destinations and get settled in comfortably at their temporary home port.
If you’re wondering about the trip itself, oftentimes the Captain and crew make the “big pond” jumps without the owner and family, but on occasion they do come along. Capt. Neil advises, “When people ask about making a crossing I always say, ‘sure, but you may not enjoy it.’ It’s long days and nights and at times bad weather.” Harris has made several full trips on his boat and says it is usually a matter of scheduling and having the time which are the deciding factors if he’ll ride along on the boat, or join up with it later.
A bare-bones crew for a long-range trip would be a Captain and mate, but for any leg that is long enough to require running at night, it’s always best to have four people aboard to take alternating night-watch shifts. A night run, such as the one required to get to Bermuda, is also a time to throttle back and “chug” at lower speeds to conserve fuel, spot any floating debris or obstacles and allow for more time to react to an issue.
While these elite sportfish boats enjoy terrific speed and range and make most of their travels on their own bottom, some destinations which are growing in popularity require additional modes of transport and scheduling. Bluewater-commissioned boats, Jaruco and Reel Development (the two largest custom Jarrett Bays coming in at 90’ and 84’ respectively) have both made trips to Costa Rica and Baja Sur Mexico in recent years. At times, they’ve opted to use transport ships between South Florida and the Pacific, via the Panama Canal.
Base of Operations
After establishing home base at Los Sueños Resort, they then exploit their boats’ massive range to enjoy multiple-day fishing expeditions to Cabo and Magdalena Bay. “With Costa Rica being on the bucket list, I’d most likely use a transport service if we decide to go there. That’s a lot of wear and tear and engine hours you can avoid,” explains Capt. Neil.
Planning around other life events and commitments is one thing, but forecasting and reacting to the weather is quite another. Both Harris and Neil admit that despite the best laid float plans, at times you simply have to slow down, or wait, to ensure a trip can be safe and successful.
Weathering a Different Storm
Travelers’ resourcefulness and willpower were put to new tests in recent years by a dynamic minefield of coronavirus travel restrictions deployed throughout the Caribbean. “COVID presented some challenges this past year but nothing compared to what some of the guys dealt with when it first popped up. It was a nightmare for a lot of good crews and owners I know,” Neil says. One such owner was Harris; Builder’s Choice was in the Dominican Republic in Spring 2020 and they were asked to leave the country when the lockdown hit. “Planning is the key. Make sure you have all of your necessary documents. Have them neat and organized, as you’ll be asked for them quite a bit,” advises Neil.
While COVID-related issues have eased greatly in most places, Harris acknowledges fuel prices currently have not. However, that isn’t stopping their trips, it just might change how they operate the boat at times; choosing to throttle back and enjoy the scenery more along the way.
Despite all the challenges and expense, nothing seems to be stopping owners from planning more long-range trips to enjoy the fishing and rest and relaxation at exotic locales. “The combination of good fishing and being in beautiful and warm destinations is the main draw for boat owners,” concludes Capt. Neil. There’s also something to be said for being self-sufficient to such a high degree and wanting to accomplish all of these adventures with your own boat, family and friends.
For some boaters, the preparation, outfitting and travel days can be almost as much fun as the fishing at the final destination. But even if it gets stressful, it’s clearly worth the payoff at the end.
“For me it’s about getting out of the cold winter and enjoying different types of fishing while experiencing the cultures in different countries,”
Lucky for him, he’s been able to outfit a world-class vessel with the speed, storage accommodations, range and dependability to make this dream fishing lifestyle a reality!