Some people start fishing young. Other people begin fishing later in life, and serendipitously. New York-based lady angler, Nancy Gilligan, is one of the later.
Born and raised on Long Island, Gilligan, who's employed by the New York City Fire Department as an emergency medical technician and dispatcher, says, "I never went fishing while I was growing up. The only fishing I've ever done has been in the Caribbean."
Gilligan's road to becoming a winning angler started, as she says, as a "spur of the moment" thing.
"My partner in the ambulance is Bill Gettens, an avid angler," she tells. "Spend eight hours a day in an ambulance with someone and you hear a lot of stories. Bill would always tell me about his billfishing adventures. It sounded exciting and I said I'd like to try."
In 2001, the two traveled to St. Martin where Gettens and his wife had vacationed, and Getten had fished, for several years. They chartered Capt. JeanClaude Lemaitre's 54-foot Hatteras, Seahunter, for a tournament.
"The first day I went fishing was a practice day the day before the tournament. The seas were rough and I was holding on to the side of the boat for dear life. Everyone told me that if I could make it through a day of fishing like this, I'd make it through anything," Gilligan says.
Sure enough, not only did she go the distance, Gilligan also caught her first blue marlin.
"It was a small one, but it was big to me," says Gilligan. "I was scared to death at first, then the adrenalin took over and JeanClaude, the mate and Bill talked me through what I needed to do. We also caught a few wahoo, which were also pretty big for me. By the time we got back to the dock and took pictures, I was hooked on the sport."
Though Gilligan didn't catch a marlin during the tournament, she did feel a sense of participation, excitement and adventure while out trolling the seas that made her want to continue in the sport. She also realized that she and Gettens made a good fishing team.
A few years later, the two traveled to St. Thomas.
"We did some fishing on the Marlin Prince to check out the grounds we'd heard so much about," says Gilligan. "I love St. Thomas and have visited several times since. Every time has been to fish, but I have no problem shopping as well. I've visited several islands, but St. Thomas has a comfortable homey feeling that I enjoy."
The next year, 2006, the Marlin Prince was already booked for the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club's annual July Open Billfish Tournament (JOBT), so Gilligan and Gettens booked Capt. Jim Estraca on the Bertram 38, Black Pearl.
"That was a great tournament for me," says Gilligan, "because I won best female angler. I caught three blue marlin total, but I was neck and neck with another woman and was wondering all the way to the Awards Dinner if I'd won."
Gilligan and Gettens booked the Black Pearl again for the 2007 JOBT and won one of the daily cash prizes.
"Winning money always makes you feel good," says Gilligan.
The next year, 2008, the two decided to up the ante and enter the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT) in August, aboard the Black Pearl. Luck, and skill was with them. Both Gilligan and Gettens landed in the top two anglers slots on Day Two and Black Pearl won the daily as a result.
In 2009, the two didn't make the top of the leaderboard, but Gilligan experienced her longest trip and longest fight.
"We went up to Anegada last year," she says. "We got up early and the ride was long, but with the anticipation of a good day of fishing the time passed quickly."
Time, however, did seem to stand still when Gilligan hooked up a blue marlin at 1:10 p.m. during one of the tournament days and didn't release the fish until 2:40 p.m.
"I kept asking the crew 'how much longer', 'how much longer', and they kept telling me 'only 15 more minutes'," Gilligan recalls. "In the end, it was great to be able to tag and release the marlin. It was an exhilarating experience and I realized my own stamina."
Last summer's fishing also brought Gilligan yet another first.
"I felt like I had crossed the line and really felt like an angler," she says. "The mates, Andrew Tharpy and Jamie Conklin, had been schooling me and now I really felt like I knew what I was doing and making my own decisions."
In addition to the sound of line peeling off reel when a marlin bites and the sight of the bite itself, what Gilligan enjoys best about sports fishing is the whole team camaraderie.
"Sure, I'm the one sitting in the chair," she says, "But, it takes a whole team effort to catch a blue marlin and I enjoy being a part of that."
Additionally, "I find fishing the ultimate relaxation," Gilligan says. "There's not the bump, grind and traffic to think about, just the fishing at hand and the promise of the day."
In the future, Gilligan would love to fish in Australia.
"I'd love to just even be on the same boat when someone catches a grander."