When the summer moon is full, Florida angler, John Tierney, heads to St. Thomas for blue marlin. "It's a special place. You go to the North Drop and there's never a day you don't leave the dock without a high level of anticipation."
Tierney got hooked on fishing as a young child.
"My mother's family is from the Outer Banks. I had an uncle with a fishing lodge at Oregon Inlet, and we started fishing there in 1966. In the fall, we'd catch white marlin and an occasional blue. Then in the 1970's we started to see more wahoo and yellowfin tuna. It was a special, unique place. I loved it as a kid," Tierney says.
Later, he spent summer vacations from college off Oregon Inlet fishing. "I also took trips to the Bahamas. There were a lot of North Carolina charter boats down there," Tierney says.
After he finished law school, Tierney moved to Florida. He bought his first boat in 1981. "It was a 32-foot piece of junk. After that, I owned a Ricky Scarborough for 11 or 12 years, then two Merritt's."
It was off the North Carolina coast that Tierney caught his first blue marlin. "The year was 1967 and we were out with the late fishing legend, Capt. Lee Perry. Perry trained several captains and mates that are now world famous," he says.
The experience instantly made him a billfishermen.
"My passion is blue marlin," say Tierney. "The bite is spectacular, especially when you're pitch-baiting, which I enjoy. Then, there's the sheer size, the sheer brute strength of the species. The adrenalin rush of hooking up and fighting a 400-plus-pounder is incredible."
He adds, "Generally we fish on 50 or 80 pound test, usually nothing heavier."
Tierney's favorite place for marlin is St. Thomas, a place he visited on his honeymoon in 1987 and vowed to come back and fish after hearing stories of the fabulous fishery. "I've been fishing St. Thomas every summer, without miss, since 1990. I brought my own boat, Sassy Lady, a 44' Merritt, for several years, and I've fished off other people's boats like Hans Kraaz' Vintage and Dave Conkle's Miss Babbie."
Likewise, the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, or 'Boy Scout Tournament' is his favorite event. "There's an incredible amount of talent assembled in one place. Anglers, captains, crews, they're all cream of the crop."
One of Tierney's favorite fish stories, though, centers on a novice angler and a first-time marlin release.
"It was June 30, 1990, and we were over at Walker's Cay in the Bahamas. We usually go over to the Bahamas for my wife's birthday. This year, we had two of her girlfriends along," Tierney explains. "One day, we went fishing. I had all the baits out and I said, 'next fish up is yours' and pointed to my wife's friend. If I had known what would come up to take that bait, I would have chosen my wife instead, because it turned out to be a 720 pound blue marlin. Well, my wife's friend hooked up and was in the chair. There were no other professionals aboard. In fact, a mate from another boat jumped in the water and swam over to ours to help me. After about an hour and twenty minutes, we got the fish in. It turned out to be the second largest blue marlin caught by a woman in the Bahamas."
Another of Tierney's favorite fish story's centers around the Venezuelan International 'Grand Slam' Billfish Tournament, held back in October 2002, out of La Guaira.
"We really had some spectacular fishing," Tierney tells. "We got the first 'Grand Slam' of the tournament on the second day and ended with a total of 42 white marlin, a blue and a sailfish over the three days. That gave us 11,200 points and earned us Top Team."
Team Sassy Lady, with Capt. Jimmy Grant at the helm, included Tierney, Kraaz, Mike Nichol and Jose Guanipa.
Says Tierney, "I like to do it all. I enjoy being in the captain's chair, working as a mate, and angling. But, when I'm in Venezuela, I hire a captain because I want to be in the cockpit. The fishing is that good."
Over the years, Tierney has fished in many locations.
"I live in Jupiter, Florida, now and do quite a bit of sailfishing from there," he says.
Springtime usually takes him to the Bahamas for the five-series Bahamas Billfish Championships.
"Last year, I fished a tournament in Bermuda. We didn't see a grander, but we won one of the dailies. And, we were one fish away from winning it all."
Farther from home, Tierney has fished the Canary and Cayman islands. Of the Canary's he says, "It was beautiful, but the fishing for the five days we were there was poor."
In the Caymans, he found more success, releasing small blue marlin and tuna, with anywhere from 1 to 3 bites a day.
"We fished the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament a few years back," he tells. "It was well run. Seventy-five boats. But, the fishing was slow."
In Costa Rica, Tierney released an 800-pound-plus marlin fishing with Capt. Bubba Carter back in 1991.
"I always wanted to go to Panama, to Tropic Star Lodge," he says. "Also, to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef."
Tierney, who's semi-retired from a successful career as a criminal defense attorney, fishes about 60 days a year and would like to fish even more. "They've nicknamed me the 'Fleet Lawyer' because I've represented several captains and mates," he says.
In the future, Tierney says, "It's no secret. There needs to be more emphasis on releasing fish. There are not an infinite number of billfish in the sea. Commercial fishermen. Recreational fishermen. We all have to understand we're in this together. We all have to manage our fisheries better."