Gray Ingram likes competition. He also sets high goals. In fact, he came darn close to reaching his target release of 1000 billfish and 300 blue marlin in a calendar year. There's nothing stopping him from reaching, and exceeding, this goal in 2009.
A native of North Carolina, Ingram says, "I grew up inland on a tobacco farm. Summers meant working on the farm, not taking a vacation. I didn't see the ocean until I was 21 years old."
Ingram headed to Moorhead City, North Carolina, right after graduating from college. That seaside locale lured him to try his luck at sports fishing. But it wasn't until about a decade later that he caught his first billfish.
"I caught my first marlin off a 23-foot outboard," he says. "A friend and I were out fun fishing in the Gulf Stream about 45 miles offshore. That one fish hooked me and I've been fishing for billfish ever since."
Ingram cast off and competed in tournaments up and down the East Coast, from New Jersey to Florida. He won his first tournament in the early 1980s, the Pirate's Cove Tournament out of Oregon Inlet with the catch of an 864-pound blue marlin.
The 1990s and early 2000s saw Ingram busy growing his business. He is the founder and chairman of the Greensboro, North Carolina-based Box Board Products, a corrugated box manufacturer.
Come September 2007, though, Ingram took delivery of his brand new Ricky Scarborough 63, dubbed it Big OH, and hired Capt. Ronnie Fields and mate Kevin Paul. He also turned over the running of the business to his son, trading his corporate chair for a fighting chair and set off on a multi-year plan to fish some of the hottest billfishing destinations in the world. Photo by Chris Whitley
First stop, Venezuela.
"We fished Venezuela from September of 2007 to May of 2008," says Ingram. "What I like about Venezuela is the numbers and the number of different species. On any given day, you can easily end up with a blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish all in the spreaders at the same time. St. Thomas is different. There, the focus is all on blue marlin."
Big OH spent the summer of 2008 fishing Virgin Islands waters and winning the 'BVI Open' and the SMS 'USVI Open', the third and fourth legs of the Spanish Main Series (SMS), with six and seven blue marlin releases, respectively. These wins followed on the heels of earning Top Boat in the Venezuela Open, the kick-off event of the 2008 SMS held in March, with the release of 12 blue marlin, 3 sailfish and a white marlin.
"We like to fish light tackle, that is, 20- or 30-pound test, on stand-up using pitch baits," Ingram says. "That enables us to catch fish in 5 to 10 minutes and when we release them they're still green. When you fish heavy tackle, with 25 to 30 pounds of drag, the fish head straight down and it's a long battle. What I like is the bite. That's what's spectacular. Not a long fight."
Ingram admits he's competitive.
"We're a team who love to fish tournaments. It gets that competitive blood flowing," he says. "We fished 11 tournaments last year in Venezuela, the Virgin Islands and Florida and won 6 of them."
Ingram adds that he like's to fun fish too.
"Even when I'm fun fishing, I'm competing against myself," he says. "For example, I set as our goal to release 1000 billfish and 300 blue marlin last year and we came close - 850 billfish and 253 blue marlin."
This year, Ingram says, "We'll be headed back to Venezuela and then spend the summer in St. Thomas. After that, it's through the Panama Canal. We'll leave the boat over there for a couple of years and fish Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala."