The Southpaw’s first voyage for the Yellowfin Billfish Classic took Dan Hibbeln and his crew 280 miles for an overnight trip from Florida to Louisiana.
Independence Hub, a Gulf of Mexico oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, was a familiar destination for Hibbeln and a fishing hole he had faith in. There was, however, still a concern: Independence Hub is also a popular destination of deep-sea divers. When there are divers, they get priority.
Southpaw pulled up to the rig at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, nearly 12 hours after Wednesday’s 6 p.m. start time. The visit to Independence didn’t last long.
“They told me 500 meters away,” Hibbeln said Saturday, so Southpaw moved off the rig. After about an hour and a half of fishing around the hub, all they pulled in was about 30 blackfin tunas.
“Not what we were looking for,” Hibbeln said. It would make for some good dockside sashimi later, but not the points they’d need to work toward the ultimate $50,000 prize.
The original plan faded quickly, so the Southpaw spent most of the next 36 hours bouncing around outside Louisiana tracking the marlins they needed. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, the Southpaw returned to Marina Jack in Sarasota with the other competitors in the first leg of the Florida West Coast Triple Crown Billfish Series. Southpaw’s on-the-fly adjustments had worked. Hibbeln and his six-man crew claimed the first leg with one blue marlin, one sailfish and two white marlins. Southpaw’s final score of 1,101 points nearly doubled up second-place finisher No Limit, a Sarasota-based boat.
Southpaw, which fishes out of Tierra Verde, also caught the largest tuna of the week. Their total prize was more than $22,000. No Limit scored an individual prize also with a 166.50-pound swordfish. For Now caught the biggest wahoo of the week and Sea Dog hauled in the biggest mahi-mahi.
The second leg of the Triple Crown Billfish Series begins Aug. 9. The Crosthwait Extreme Billfish Tournament concludes Aug. 13 at the Bradenton Yacht Club in Palmetto.
Hibbeln, who won the Triple Crown with his father in 1986 and 1987, took out a crew which included his son, Danny Hibbeln, Mike Hitchock, Carl Muscalino, Brian Vanek and Greg Quisenberry. The crew’s next destination after an underwhelming visit to Independence Hub was the Thunder Horse PDQ, the largest offshore oil rig in the world. The 30-mile trip was more fruitful. Southpaw caught its marlins over the course of about 24 hours. Now it was just a race home.
At 4 p.m., with about 18 hours left before they could even check back in at the marina, the Southpaw had to get home.
“We were afraid of hitting stuff at night,” Hibbeln said. “You don’t really want to run at night. You might sink the boat.”
They gunned it for five hours, then took it slow from 9 p.m. until sunrise, when they hauled it the rest of the way back home. At the dock, they were finally able to cut up some of that tuna while judges weighed their billfish. Hibbeln last won the Triple Crown in 2000 and 2002. He’s already a third of the way toward another.