Spice Is­land Sur­prise

A visit to Gre­nada re­veals a largely un­ex­plored off­shore fish­ery

Marlin - - BEFORE THE STRIKE - By Sam White

Step­ping onto the air­port tar­mac, the fra­grance in the air is un­mis­tak­able: The clean trop­i­cal breeze is scented with hints of cloves, all­spice, cin­na­mon and nut­meg, mixed with salty sea spray. You’ve just ar­rived in Gre­nada, the Caribbean’s leg­endary is­land of spice. Ad­ven­ture awaits. I was in­vited to this in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful na­tion to cover the 49th an­nual Bud­get Ma­rine Spice Is­land Bill­fish Tour­na­ment and learn more about the off­shore op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able here. While do­ing a bit of pre-trip re­search, I dis­cov­ered that the SIBT is not only one of the Caribbean’s long­est-run­ning tour­na­ments but one of its most pop­u­lar as well (this year’s event hosted 56 teams from through­out the re­gion and well be­yond). I also didn’t re­al­ize there is a great mul­ti­species bill­fish bite here nearly year-round, plus some ter­rific op­por­tu­ni­ties for big yel­lowfin tuna and brag­ging-size wa­hoo as well. The bill­fish bite peaks in the win­ter, so it’s a great time to sched­ule a get­away to a trop­i­cal warm-weather des­ti­na­tion that’s also rel­a­tively un­known by most out­side the Caribbean.

Gre­nada is a com­par­a­tively small is­land, just 12 miles wide by 21 miles long, yet it’s also in­cred­i­bly friendly. Ev­ery­one — from the im­mi­gra­tions of­fi­cers to the taxi driv­ers — knew there was a big mar­lin tour­na­ment go­ing on the week I was there.

THE KICK­OFF

Walk­ing the docks at the Gre­nada Yacht Club in St. Ge­orge’s, sev­eral points be­came read­ily ap­par­ent. The event is a big draw through­out the east­ern Caribbean, with teams from Bar­ba­dos, Trinidad and Tobago, Mar­tinique, St. Lu­cia and other nearby is­lands par­tic­i­pat­ing, in part due to the great fa­cil­i­ties avail­able in Gre­nada. Boats moor sternto and line ev­ery inch of avail­able dock­age at the Gre­nada Yacht Club; across the har­bor, at the C&N Port Louis Ma­rina, were more com­peti­tors, sand­wiched among sev­eral im­pres­sive 200-plus-foot megay­achts. Next year, the club hopes to ex­pand its avail­able space in or­der to ac­com­mo­date even more boats.

Most all of the teams are com­posed of owner/ op­er­a­tors, just a bunch of reg­u­lar guys who had done well enough in their busi­ness ca­reers to af­ford a nice sport-fisher for them­selves and their fam­i­lies — very few boats have pro­fes­sional cap­tains and crews. More likely, the deck­hands and an­glers are the boat owner’s fam­ily and friends, and they truly en­joy see­ing ev­ery­one else as they come to­gether for these tour­na­ments. With only tro­phies and prizes at stake, the brag­ging rights are more valu­able to them than any­thing else, and it’s re­fresh­ing to see that in tour­na­ment fish­ing these days. The pas­sion for bill­fish­ing runs high in this crowd.

And be­cause of this laid-back at­mos­phere, the SIBT is pretty much one big party from start to fin­ish. Each evening, the docks are alive with food, drinks and mu­sic, all fu­eled by some of the best rum in the Caribbean. Boat-hop­ping from cock­pit to cock­pit is en­cour­aged, and it’s as if you just made a few hun­dred in­stant best friends overnight.

HEAD FOR THE HUMP

On Day One, I fished with Ge­orge Bovell on his beau­ti­fully re­stored 65-foot Mon­terey, Pair-a

Dice. Ge­orge’s son Nick, once an Olympic-level swim­mer, has emerged as a top pro­fes­sional mate and is cur­rently fish­ing all over the world, but

Ge­orge prefers chas­ing blue mar­lin a lit­tle closer to home af­ter spend­ing a good bit of his life own­ing com­mer­cial long­line boats, among other ven­tures. The weather was un­sea­son­ably squally, with some wind and rain dur­ing the tour­na­ment’s boat pa­rade past down­town St. Ge­orge’s and the Bi­mini start that fol­lowed, but we made the most of it dur­ing the day as we headed for an off­shore seamount known sim­ply as the Hump.

About 15 miles west of St. Ge­orge’s, this im­mense struc­ture emerges from the 7,000-foot sur­round­ing depths to within about 1,500 feet of the sur­face — at nearly a mile across, it’s a dom­i­nat­ing ter­rain fea­ture. It holds blue and white mar­lin, sail­fish, yel­lowfin tuna and the oc­ca­sional spearfish. Bovell’s strat­egy was to work the Hump early with a mixed spread of lures and bal­ly­hoo on heavy tackle be­hind teasers and dredges, then work off to­ward the west in search of tuna later in the day. While we re­turned with just one sail­fish flag on the right rig­ger, hav­ing jumped off another, it was still a mem­o­rable day with a sea­soned fish­er­man.

FIND­ING THE MAGIC

Day Two found me on Abra­cadabra, a 54-foot Ber­tram owned and skip­pered by Stuart Dal­gliesh. Those who re­mem­ber the hey­day of the Ba­hamas Bill­fish Cham­pi­onship se­ries might re­call the

story of Capt. Ron­nie Riebe, who cap­tained

Abra­cadabra when they fought a mas­sive blue mar­lin for hours on end be­fore fi­nally break­ing off the huge fish, which was es­ti­mated at over 1,200 pounds. Dal­gliesh was so fond of the boat and the story that he kept the name, so the Abra­cadabra leg­end lives on in the east­ern Caribbean. It has won the SIBT twice, catch­ing a grand slam for the win in 2012 and again top­ping the stand­ings in 2014. Un­for­tu­nately, the magic didn’t help us; we were two for three on sails for the day. But that’s why they call it fish­ing. The Hump was loaded with birds, bait, por­poises and other kinds of life, and we could see 75- to 100-pound tuna crash­ing bait around us at times. It’s def­i­nitely a fishy spot.

LAZY LAY DAYS

While many other bill­fish tour­na­ments have done away with a mid­tour­na­ment lay day, the SIBT teams al­ways en­joy the break af­ter the first two days of fish­ing. That af­ter­noon, a huge dock party at the Gre­nada Yacht Club brought ev­ery­one to­gether for yet another highly en­joy­able af­ter­noon cook­out. I was able to tour the is­land with Ed­win Frank, a now-re­tired long­time public re­la­tions of­fi­cer with the Gre­nada Tourism Board and a wealth of knowl­edge on all things Gre­na­dian. We drove the width

and breadth of the is­land dur­ing the day, with Frank pro­vid­ing a run­ning com­men­tary of the his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy, bi­ol­ogy and botany in a non­stop mono­logue. From the Di­a­mond choco­late plan­ta­tion and the spice-grow­ing op­er­a­tions to the wa­ter­fall at Con­cord Falls and the rain­for­est sur­round­ing the 2,700-foot Mount St. Cather­ine, the is­land’s high­est point, we cov­ered a lot of ground. The peo­ple are some of the friendli­est in the world, and Gre­nada has the low­est crime rate in the Caribbean. The snor­kel­ing and scuba div­ing is world-class, and the sight­see­ing is out­stand­ing as well.

One mem­o­rable as­pect is the way Gre­na­di­ans re­ferred to pe­ri­ods in his­tory as ei­ther be­fore or af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ivan. Gre­nada went with­out a de­struc­tive storm for 49 years be­fore Ivan stormed ashore in Septem­ber 2004 and wreaked unimag­in­able havoc, de­stroy­ing an es­ti­mated 90 per­cent of the homes on the is­land. It’s very sim­i­lar to those along the north­ern Gulf Coast of the United States

The docks buzz with ac­tiv­ity dur­ing the Spice Is­land Bill­fish Tour­na­ment (above); once the sun sets, the sounds of rock and reg­gae mu­sic fill the air, along with the in­tox­i­cat­ing aroma of is­land seafood on the grill. Stuart Dal­gliesh, Abra­cadabra’s...

Gre­nada is lo­cated in the south­east­ern Caribbean Sea, north­west of Trinidad and Tobago and north­east of Venezuela. Be­cause it sits astride known mi­gra­tory routes for blue and white mar­lin, the is­land’s wa­ters of­fer ex­cel­lent bill­fish ac­tion through­out...

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