There are not many people who can say they enjoy watching someone else catch a blue marlin as much as catching one of these magnificent billfish themselves. Yet, that’s the sentiment of Cocodrie, Louisiana-based angler, Sonny Freeman.
Born and raised 20 miles north of Venice, Louisiana, in Burris, Freeman grew up amidst some of the best year-round angling in the Gulf of Mexico. “I started fishing at the age of 11 or 12. My stepfather had a boat and we’d go out often. During the winter when the water was rough offshore, we’d go after speckled trout and red fish inshore. Then when the weather was nicer, we’d set our sights on amberjacks, tuna, cobia and dolphin (mahi-mahi) offshore.”
A keen hunter and retired commercial underwater diver working with the oil and gas industries, Freeman’s life long love of fishing grew out of his delight in the out -of-doors. “Just being out on the water, the sights, the feels, and sharing all of the experiences with family and friends, is what I loved. You know, when you’re young, everything is an adventure.”
Freeman’s goal wasn’t to reel in a record during his early Louisiana fishing days. “Most Cajuns are meat fishermen, because we love our seafood. When we went out, it wasn’t a good trip unless you caught your limit,” he says, adding, “Amberjack, cobia, tuna – they are among the hardest fighters. But, deep water grouper, the ones at 50- to 80-feet can put up quite a fight too.”
Freeman bought his first boat, a 16-foot Boston Whaler, at the age of 18. Then, he stepped up to a 30-foot center console that he and wife, Debbie, would fish from whenever they weren’t hunting in Texas or Mississippi.
“When I retired in 2000, we thought, ‘okay, what’s the next adventure,’” Freeman relates. “Since we both loved to fish, we moved to Lighthouse Point, Florida, to a house on the water and bought a 34-foot Venture with a tuna tower.”
It was at this time that the Freeman’s made their move to marlin fishing. “We went down to St. Thomas, and Capt. Bill McCauley on the Prowler, got us our first marlin. In fact, we nicknamed him ‘one a day Bill’, because he got us at least a marlin a day. The bite on the North Drop is just incredible.”
The awesome adrenalin rushes hooked Freeman on blue marlin. “The explosiveness of the bite, the pandemonium as the cockpit’s cleared and readied for the fight, it’s addictive,” he says.
Back home, Freeman bought a 61-foot Viking, named it Blue Bayou and set off with Debbie en route to all the billfish hotspots. They traveled to Walker’s Cay, Harbour Island, San Salvador, Rum Cay, the Turks and Caicos, Isla Mujeres and St. Thomas. They strategically planned their trips around the summer and fall moons and ended the first year having released over 100 blue marlin – most of them in the Virgin Islands – with Capt. Scott Hitch at the helm.
Freeman’s best blue marlin story isn’t the proverbial ‘one that got away’, but rather the one about all the bites he gave away to friends and family. “We had 48 people catch their first blue marlin on our boat. People who may not have gotten the chance, or who didn’t know about blue marlin fishing. It’s such an incredible experience that I just wanted others to experience it too,” he explains.
Even when just fishing with Debbie, Freeman usually played second fiddle and didn’t mind a bit. “Debbie just lights up like a Christmas tree when she’s fishing. She just has so much fun and as a result, I get such a kick out of it too. She’s a great sport, never complaining, never giving up on a fish, and she’s become quite a good angler.”
However, there was a week a few years back, when Debbie had returned home with the couple’s guests, that Freeman had a week to himself with just Hitch and a mate aboard. “We went 4 for 7 one day, that’s my personal record,” he says.
Last summer, work on the construction for a new 6500-square-foot waterfront home or ‘fishing camp’ in Cocodrie, kept Freeman away from a fishing trip to Rum Cay. At her husbands urging, Debbie fished and wound up hooking a grander-plus blue marlin. If boated, which wife opposed, the catch would have broken several records including the Bahamas women’s on 80-pound test.
Freeman’s gift to his wife for her grander was entering Blue Bayou in the 2006 USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (The ‘Boy Scout’ Tournament) and allowing her to put together an all-women’s team. “I thought that would be a really neat thing to do,” he says. Unfortunately, boat troubles kept the women from realizing their potential.
Six months ago, Freeman sold Blue Bayou and he and Debbie moved from Florida to their fishing camp in Cocodrie. Today, they have a 34-foot Venture and 24-foot Pathfinder parked at the dock out front.
The next chapter for Freeman is spending time with his 6-year-old grandson. “We’re looking forward to sharing more of his life and letting him experience fishing just like I did as a boy,” he says.
Looking towards the future, especially with his eyes on his grandson, Freeman says, “Conservation is so important. To understand why, you have to catch a couple of blue marlin and see what really magnificent fish they are. Once people understand something, they begin to care about it, and for blue marlin, that means conservation and protecting the species.”
Freeman adds, “That’s why we like the ‘Boy Scout’ Tournament. It’s conservation oriented, 100 percent release, and that keeps us coming back to fish each year.”