ONE OF SPORTS FISHING'S ELITE ANGLERS
The excitement of the strike combined with the marvelous and mysterious nature of blue marlin is what entices Florida-based sports fisherman, Jim Lambert, Sr., to pursue his passion throughout the Atlantic.
"My dad spent most of his life hunting and fishing," Lambert says. "I started fishing with him as a young child of 3 or 4, both fresh water and also salt water in the Chesapeake Bay off Maryland.
In 1971, Lambert vacationed in Florida where his brother-in-law, Harry Tellean, invited him out fishing off Key Biscayne in a 35-foot Bertram. "I caught a sailfish and I was hooked, literally. Over the next two weeks we caught 15 to 20 sailfish. That's when I decided to move to Florida," Lambert says.
Interestingly, he recalls, "we caught those first sailfish using kites. Bob Lewis was just pioneering the technique. Back then, we used clothespins instead of clips."
Over the years, Lambert has come to enjoy blue marlin fishing the most. "The blue marlin is a fantastic animal. Every bite is like the first time. For me, seventy-five percent of the excitement is in watching the strike and bite."
Lambert, and the crew aboard his 80-foot Merritt, "Reel Tight", fish generally with 80-pound test spooled onto a 50-pound rod. "We're not world record fisherman. We believe that a quick catch creates less stress on the fish. But, we would like to catch a blue marlin weighing over 1000 pounds and we have a rod with 80 or 130 test always ready."
Teaser fishing is Lambert's favorite fishing method. "We'll do some lure fishing too. If we use bait then its on circle hooks. Typically, we'll put out four teasers with a few hooks on the long riggers."
Lambert's "Reel Tight" crew includes Capt. Eddie Herbert, at the helm for the last ten years, and long time mates Robert "Fly" Navarro, Eric Leech and Joe Fiegel.
"We operate as a team. That's really what successful sports fishing is all about," Lambert says. "The captain has to put us on the fish, the angler has to be prepared and the mates have to have the tackle prepared correctly."
On the boat, he continues, "we have three rules. Safety is number one, having fun is number two and catching fish is third. We remind each other of this, because we fish long hours. We head out before daybreak so we can have lines in the water at sunup and come in after sundown. We'll do this for 10 to 14 days straight, especially when we're in places like St. Thomas during marlin season. They say for every hour of fishing, it takes one hour of preparation. Figure that we fish 200 days a year and you'll see how busy the crew are."
The effort does pay off. In tournaments, Lambert says, "We try to place in the top 10 percent. That means if there are 100 boats, we want to be among the first ten. If there are 50, then among the top five. If there are only 10 boats, then we want to be first, second or third. "
Over the years, Lambert and his "Reel Tight" team have won the Lauderdale Billfish Tournament, Buccaneers Cup in Palm Beach, Bahamas Billfish Championship, Bermuda Classic and Deerfield Beach Billfish Tournament several times, just to name a few.
"We'd like to win the Boy Scout Tournament in St. Thomas. It's our favorite tournament - the food, the rules, the competition, and there's a great and consistent blue marlin bite," Lambert says, adding: "We generally do place in the top ten percent, and often have the same number of releases as the winner, but not on time."
In 2001, Lambert's then 14-year-old grandson, Adam, won Best Junior angler, at the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (the Boy Scout Tournament), in St. Thomas.
Lambert often fishes with family, including his son Jim Jr., and all three of his grandsons, as well as brother-in-law Harry.
"While we'll generally fish the Boy Scout Tournament, Bahamas Billfish Championships, Bermuda Classics and the Lauderdale Billfish Tournament if we're in town, our main interest is being where the fish are, fun fishing, not primarily tournament fishing. Our goal is to follow the fish around. If a tournament happens to take place and we're there, we'll enter," he says.
Following the fish, and puzzling out where they travel when they're not "in season" has been a point of fascination for Lambert.
"The more we blue marlin fish, the more we realize how little we know about this species. We've tagged fish extensively off St. Thomas and Bermuda. The interesting thing is that after they've been caught, they all head out in different directions like spokes on a wheel. What brought them all together in that one place, for example? Where are they, say, in mid-January? I'd love to know, because I'd be there."
Lambert does travel extensively to pursue his love of sports fishing.
"We usually go to Panama and Costa Rica the first of the year. But this year, the weather was bad, then we heard about a good blue marlin bite at Chub Cay and spent about two weeks over there. Then the sailfish started here in Florida. So, we'll stay here, then head down to Isla Mujeres in Mexico, then for the first time to the Lower Bahamas - Long Island, Cat Island, San Salvador, then head to Bermuda before reaching St. Thomas in early May. We want to get to the Virgin Islands earlier than in the past, because this year our goal is to catch 200 blue marlin in a calendar year," he explains.
Lambert says his record for blue marlin released in a single day is 8, from Virgin Islands' waters in October. "I've done this several times," he says.
After St. Thomas, Lambert says, its back to Florida and yard work for the "Reel Tight". "We put 2000 to 2500 hours on the boat a year," he says.
Lambert scoffs at those who say a large, luxurious boat like his "Reel Tight" isn't agile enough to be a serious sports fisherman. "This is the second Merritt 80 built, and the first one used extensively for sports fishing. Now in our 4th season, I think we've proved that with the right crew, captain and equipment, its possible to fish comfortably and efficiently. In fact, I think you'll see more big boats in excess of 70-feet built for serious sports fisherman."
Comfort and efficiency, as well as stunningly gorgeous, are certainly apt adjectives to describe the "Reel Tight".
"The cockpit is air conditioned and we've got a special fighting chair that's wide and swivels easily into all the corners, "Lambert describes.
Some other of the vessel's highlights include five bedrooms, three baths, six months worth of freezer space, and full satellite communications and computer systems that allow Lambert to track fish, watch the weather, keep in touch with fellow sports fishing boats, and to run his business as a timeshare resort developer. In addition, the boat carries 3500 gallons of fuel, enough to fish the out islands of Panama or the Bahamas for a week without having to refuel. "If we hear of a good bite, we can just pick up and go."
Note:Jim passed June 16, 2008. His passion for the sport will always be remembered.