ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- It’s considered the Iron Man of fishing tournaments, keeping anglers at sea for two days and two nights.
In 2004, members of the winning team, Hi Hatter, said “This is the one to win, because it separates the boys from the men!”
They were talking about the Old Salt Loop fishing tournament, now 40 years in existence. Anglers were in search of the biggest and most prized fish swimming in the Gulf of Mexico -- billfish.
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The Loop tournament has been the pinnacle of hardcore angling tests. It’s so prestigious that the Loop tournament is sanctioned by both the World Billfish Series and the IGFA.
However, everything changed last year. Following the BP oil spill, anglers were wondering if this fishery was going to change forever. The tournament was canceled after a no-fishing zone was in place in at the heart of the fishing grounds -- 100 to 140 nautical miles west of Anna Maria Island where the Gulf of Mexico’s loop current runs.
A year later, everything appears back to normal.
All participating boats were able to weigh in at Galati Marina at 1 p.m. Saturday. In complete contrast to the Crosthwait tourney two weeks ago, seas were calm and skies blue, allowing anglers to fish freely.
Team Twisted Bills with captains Matt Douglas and Dan Munyon brought home the billfish title, landing a blue marlin, sailfish and two swordfish. Fishing 100 to 120 nautical miles west, the crew found plenty of fish. “There were a lot of fish in our spread. We had shots at about 10 to 12 billfish,” explained Douglas, 26, who estimated the blue marlin to be about 350 pounds.
“The blue took about nine minutes for us to touch the leader, but we couldn’t get a clear picture. It ended up being about two hours before that happened,” said Douglas, who is a captain in Costa Rica. That’s where he learned the same techniques he deployed for this tournament. For their victory, they took home $11,670.
Capt. Scott Rickert and team Reel Screamer compiled a diverse catch, taking home second place in the billfish division and first place in the dolphin fun fish division with a huge 54.86-pound dolphin. Rickert led his crew to a blue marlin and two swordfish. One of the swordfish was brought to the dock, weighing in at 216 pounds, thrilling those in attendance.
But there was a problem. The fish had been attacked by a mako shark, which slightly mangled the fish’s tail, disqualifying its weight from contention for bonus points.
“The fish fought all the way to the boat,” Rickert said. “We hooked it at about 6:30 a.m., and after about a 45-minute fight, it took three of us to lift in.”
Team Reel Screamer’s big fish was on the smallest boat of the tournament, a 28-foot Regulator.
With no room to fit it in a fish box, the swordfish was placed in the back of the boat while the team fished around it the rest of the tournament.
Rickert has a long-standing tradition of successful tournament fishing, being a previous winner of this tournament.
He landed his first swordfish more than 30 years ago while fishing in the inaugural Crosthwait tournament.
Rounding out the fun fish divisions, team Double Nickel and Capt. Nicolas Froelich had the largest wahoo at 31.62 pounds, and Team Marine Max had the only yellowfin tuna of the tournament.
It tipped the scale at 100.52 pounds.
To view the full results from the tournament, visit www.oldsaltfishing.org.
Jon Chapman, outdoors writer, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.