Spice Island Surprise
A visit to Grenada reveals a largely unexplored offshore fishery
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.
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...