Andrea 'Andy' Courteau had never caught a marlin when she arrived to the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas. In fact, she had never fished. That situation changed fast. In ten short years, Courteau went from novice to notable in the history books as one of the best anglers on the international fishing scene.
A native of Massachusetts, Courteau spent her early life beaching it on Cape Cod, rather than boating. "The beach is where everyone went in the summers," she says. "The closest I got to fishing was helping the herring on their annual run in Brewster. We'd scoop them up in buckets and help them get up to the top."
It was November 1982 when Courteau decided to trade cold New England winters for the Caribbean's warm sunny tradewinds. "My plan was to winter in St. Thomas and summer back on the Cape, but I never went back home."
Instead, she immediately landed a job at Sparky's on the Waterfront in Charlotte Amalie. She spent some time working at The Greenhouse and then on to the old Morningstar Beach Bar. A little more than a year later, Courteau agreed to manage the bar at the Piccola Marina Cafe in Red Hook where well-known restaurateur, Patricia LaCorte, opened her restaurant. The Piccola bar instantly became a magnet for the sports fishermen.
"All my customers were fishermen," says Courteau. "Don Merten's Bluefin II was on that dock and so was the Caribe Maid when Ray Walters was the captain. There were also Florida fishermen, like Russ Hensley who brought his 55-foot Beastmaster down that year."
Summertime fish talk invariably turned to the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin (ABMT) or 'Boy Scout' Tournament and who was going to fish this prestigious high-stakes event.
"Bernd Mastmeier, who won Top Angler the year before, usually fished on Bluefin II. He asked me to join he, his father and fellow angler, Brad Morrell on the boat to fish that year, in 1986. But, I couldn't even begin to afford the entry cost let alone my share of the boat expenses," says Courteau.
The sports fishing regulars at the Piccola bar came up with a plan. They all decided to chip in via regular donations and sponsor Courteau.
"We put up a poster in the bar that read 'Bring the Blue to Bluefin II'," she recalls. "There was a string on the blue marlin in the poster. The closer we got to the monetary goal, the closer the blue marlin moved to the boat."
Funds secured, the next hurdle was teaching Courteau how to billfish.
"Bluefin took me out for the first time four days before the tournament," she says. "All I caught was a tuna."
It wasn't until the first day of the tournament that Courteau caught her first blue marlin. "I can still remember it. Bernd had caught the first fish for the boat. The next fish came up on my rod. I fish lures and the fish was on and off three or four times before I solidly hooked him. I remember being in the chair and finally seeing the fish come up to the back of the boat. It was incredible. To this day, I still remember looking the fish in the eye and saying, 'Come on. It's okay, I'm going to let you go."
Incredibly, Courteau finished the tournament as second best angler to winner, Jim Knight on Knightlines.
After that, she started to fish regularly and year-round aboard Bluefin II.
"We'd be out meat fishing and I kept hooking up billfish," says Courteau.
The next summer, she continued to fish aboard Bluefin II for the ABMT as well as the July Open Billfish Tournament.
Courteau's interest in fishing soon turned into a second career.
"One day, while I was at work at The Piccola Marina Café, (Capt.) Bubba Carter came up to me, handed me a wad of bills and told me he needed to rent a condo and a car and he needed to have both later that day when he came in from fishing. He'd never met me before, but when he got in I handed him a car and a condo key."
Courteau's new business, Easy Living, catered to all the arrangements visiting fishermen - fishing 14-hour days 7 days before and after the full moon - needed. She located her business in the bottom floor of the old marina buildings where American Yacht Harbor is located today, a space that she shared with Neptune Fishing, Stewart Loveland's tackle business.
"I had a big couch and all the fishermen would come in, visit, and tell their fish stories," she says. "I remember Hap Wilson, of the Sandra T, running in each evening to find out the gossip he missed from the night before."
It was in 1989 that Courteau began fishing the AYH Tournament, and then the ABMT, with the late Win Rockefeller, introduced by Mike Lemon, a mutual friend and captain aboard Rockefeller's Allied Marine flagship and Hatteras 65', the Alchemist.
"Mike and Win taught me how to stand up fish," says Courteau. "When you watch someone reel in a big fish, you think it's all about strength. It's not. It's about finesse. Stand up fishing really lets you feel the fish. It's a personal thing. Just you and the fish."
Three years later, Courteau's alliance with Capt. Mike and Rockefeller - hedging their bets as a team to win best local, best visiting or best female angler - would lead to her become a member of the elite group of anglers recognized as the best in the world. But, the events running up to this monumental feat seemed more unlucky than charmed.
To begin, Allied Marine clients had booked Alchemist over the dates of the ABMT, meaning Rockefeller had to find a boat to charter. He did, the 55' Hatteras, Pamela. Barely three weeks before the tournament, the Pamela's owner was killed in a plane crash. His distraught widow wasn't sure what to do with the boat, but at the last minute agreed to the charter.
That problem solved, another reared its head - engine trouble on the tournament eve. "Mike and mates Cujo and Dave were up all night with Ben from Ben's Diesel. They had to wench the engine up out of the boat to fix it. It was a big job, but they had it running by the next morning," Courteau says.
Another bad omen, the marlin didn't seem to be biting that season and the 14-boat fleet fishing the tournament weren't sure what to expect.
"Mike told us we'd have to catch everything we saw for a shot at winning," she says.
She and Win did, but the last day of the tournament was most exciting.
"Win had caught two and so had I. America II's angler had two also and there were several boats with anglers who had released one fish," she explains. "So it was close."
Mid-afternoon, Courteau was sitting in the cockpit when her lucky Red Sox ball cap blew overboard. "I'm very superstitious and when that hat blew off I said, 'that's it', I thought the fishing was over for me."
Surprisingly, in the middle of a top tournament and in the lead, Lemon slowed the boat, turned back, and the mate gaffed Courteau's hat and returned it to her.
Not long after, a blue marlin came up on Rockefeller's mackerel. Courteau waited by her rod in case a second marlin was nearby, then miraculously saw the fish spit out the mackerel and instead bit on Courteau's lure. Forty minutes later, she released the fish that would earn her Top Angler in the 1992 ABMT.
Over the next four years fishing tournaments and 'fun' fishing, Courteau went on to release 102 blue marlin. On one incredible day of fun fishing with Lemon and mate Scott Kerrigan, they released seven marlin for 13 hook-ups, with part of that catch being a triple-header.
In 1999, after having been a bartender at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas since it's opening in 1996, Courteau took the position of Director of Purchasing for the hotel. In this role, she initiated the ABMT's lay-day Full Moon Party, one of the most anticipated social events of the tournament.
"I don't get out fishing as much as I'd like to these days, but I've put it on my 'To-Do' list for this year," says Courteau. "I really love sport fishing. But what I like most is having the crew - the captain and mates - be proud of me. It sounds crazy, but that's a big motivator. I remember when there was a group of us girls fishing on the Sandra T and we got into a huge snafu. That's when we coined the phrase, 'our goal is not to catch the fish, it is to not piss off the Captain."
Note: Andy is a longstanding volunteer and Judge for the Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament