Phillip Napier, who often angles alongside fishing buddy, Rod Windley, off Windley’s 68’ Hatteras convertible, The Gulf Rascal, got his start billfishing in the Gulf of Mexico. However, over the last few years, Napier’s found a second home for marlin fishing in the Caribbean, especially in St. Thomas. “My first time fishing on the North Drop I released seven billfish in two days,” he says.
Born and raised on the water, in a suburb of Pensacola called Gulf Breeze on Florida’s Panhandle, it was inevitable that Napier would start fishing.
“I started in-shore fishing when my Dad taught me how to run the 20-foot outboard,” he says. “I was 7 or 8 at the time and I’d fish for speckled trout on the grass flats.”
Napier’s boats got bigger and he grew older and by his late teens he was fishing offshore.
“I caught my first blue marlin in the mid-1980s,” he says. “It was about 450-pounds and I caught it some 28 miles offshore southeast of Pensacola at the peak of the 100 fathom curve they call ‘the nipple’. A lot of people think you can only catch marlin in the blue water of the Gulf, but you can still catch them even in the dirty green water.”
Napier’s catch, aboard a 42-foot sports fishing boat, came in the final hours of the second day of the two-day Fort Walton Beach tournament.
“Unfortunately, it was a kill tournament and I took second place to another fish 20 pounds heavier,” he says. “But, the tournament was special for me because not only did I catch my first blue marlin, my son who was 7-years-old at the time caught his first marlin, a white marlin, on the first day of the tournament.”
Napier fished almost exclusively for 20 years in the Gulf of Mexico. And, he was indeed a dedicated angler.
“I’d go out with my father-in-law and out of the 12 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day we’d fish tournaments on 10 of those weekends. That meant prepping the boat on Wednesday, moving it on Thursday, and then fishing Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” he says. “The circuit spanned from New Orleans to Panama City and we’d fish for blue marlin, white marlin, swordfish and sailfish as well as tuna, wahoo and dolphin, but blue marlin were the real prize. There was tag and release at the time, but the money on the Calcutta was always on the kill side.”
This grueling schedule eventually took its toll on Napier’s family and construction business.
“It was somewhere in the mid-90’s to 2000s that I stopped tournament fishing and started recreational or just fun fishing instead,” he says.
Then, as Napier says, his life changed in 2007.
“I’m a builder of upscale second homes,” he says. “A former client referred his friend, Rod Windley, to me. Rod’s home had been destroyed in Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and he wanted to rebuild. We became great friends and Rod asked me to start fishing with him on the Gulf Rascal.”
Napier’s best day of fishing was the first he fished with the Gulf Rascal team, including Capt. Billy Borer and mate Glen Helton.
“I went 4 for 4 the first day and 3 for 6 on the second day,” he says. “That was one white marlin and six blue marlin. I don’t think I caught that many billfish in ten years fishing in the Gulf. I’d never seen it so good.”
Napier, who is now one of three regular anglers, has fished aboard the Gulf Rascal throughout the Caribbean.
Photo: Team Gulf Rascal's Phillip Napier, Rod Windley and Doug Caddell
In Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, he won the beautiful Bernard Passman gold coin pendant in the 2008 Spanish Main Series. He also picked up another emerald for his coin fishing in the St. Thomas leg of the Series.
“Only seven or eight anglers have won a Passman coin,” says Napier, “so it’s a pretty exclusive club.”
In 2009, Napier was angling aboard the Gulf Rascal when the boat won The Fishing Event in St. Maarten.
Fun fishing or tournament fishing, Napier says his favorite catch is blue marlin.
“It’s the most exciting and invigorating fish pound for pound,” he says. “And, marlin fishing is just as its described – hours of absolute monotony punctuated by five minutes of the most intense rush of your life. It’s so exciting. I especially love bait and switch. Billy and Glen introduced it to me down in St. Thomas and it’s so much more fun that just trolling lures.”
Back in Pensacola, Napier says, “I still have my 39-Bertram. We’ll do a day or week of fun fishing, my wife and 9-year-old son. But, it can be cold and rough and there’s a shorter season than in the Caribbean.”
Napier is looking forward to fishing in St. Thomas again this summer.
In the future, he says, “We’d like to go through the canal and try our luck in the Pacific.”