Denny Doyle likes to catch big fish, but what he likes even more is to catch a lot of fish – especially billfish.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, Doyle first started fishing at the age of 13. His older brother had been hired as a deck hand for a friend of their father’s the year before, and Doyle took his place the next year when his brother started work on another vessel.
“It was all part-time charters,” he says. “The fishing industry in Jacksonville wasn’t as robust as in South Florida.”
Still, part-time didn’t mean short days. From the ages of 13 to 19, for some 80 days of a 90 day summer vacation, Doyle would be up at 4:30 a.m., to the docks an hour later, fish, get back to the dock by 5 p.m., clean fish and wash down the boat, then head to his girlfriend’s (now wife) house by 8:30 p.m. for a visit and then to bed by midnight – ready to do it all again the next day.
“We’d fish out of Mayport and run 15 to 35 miles offshore for kingfish, amberjack, dolphin and wahoo,” says Doyle. “Sometimes, we’d go overnight to the Drop or Continental Shelf about 65 miles offshore. That meant leaving at midnight, getting to the Drop by 6 a.m., fishing all day and overnight, basically a 48 hour trip. If we had four charter clients, I’d have to find a place to sleep in the corner. I had a Penn 12H bottom fishing reel, no electric reels back then, and would catch my own fish during the downtime. I’d fill a small cooler and sell them for extra money when we got back.”
Doyle adds, “I was blondest kid with the best tan and had money in my pocket. That was pretty cool at that age.”
While this prolific start didn’t lead to a profession in the sports fishing industry, Doyle says, “It did instill an ethic to work hard.”
He attended the University of Florida Law School and then left to open his own State Farm insurance office in 1972. Over the years, Doyle has found that another outgrowth of his early fishing is that he has so many close friends that are good anglers and that have beautiful boats, and he gets to go out fishing often.
“I never tire of seeing billfish come up in the spreaders,” he says. “Billfishing in Jacksonville is sporadic. When I was a teenager, seeing a sailfish was a real event. If we caught 12 or even 20 sailfish during the entire summer, that was a lot. Then, I got to go to Cozumel in 1975. That’s where I first met Capt. Ronny Hamlin. I met him again in 1995 when I went to Guatemala. The sailfish bite there is renowned.”
Doyle’s best day of fishing occurred in 2000 when he was out with Capt. Hamlin aboard the Captain Hook, a 43-foot Willis Craft. “At 1 p.m., we had released 26 sailfish. A buddy of mine from Moscow that was fishing with us kept jabbing at Ron about breaking the one day release record of 71 sailfish set in 1998 on the very same boat. I wasn’t sure how much more kidding Ron could take when all of a sudden the ocean erupted. It looked like a giant aquarium. We caught 49 sailfish alone between 1:30 pm and 2:45 pm – nine were triples and the last four were a quad. The last fish went nuts when the line tightened and it tail walked right into the boat! Our muscles were so cramped afterwards that we celebrated by switching from water to rum. In all, we released 75 Pacific sailfish in one day and successfully broke the previous record.”
Another memorable fish story took place in the 2006 Bermuda Big Game Classic. Two sports fishing boats out of Jacksonville, Edward Burr’s Spencer 61, Ohana, and Randy Ringhaver’s 71-foot Merritt, Bree, were entered. Doyle fished with Ringhaver on Bree.
“I hooked up a blue marlin at 11 am,” Doyle tells. “It was a gorgeous bite on the left short. I got the fish to the boat in 18 minutes, then she bolted, and as she did her left pec went over the leader, she turned down and out. I was out leveraged by the fish and it was 4 hours and 37 minutes before we got her to the boat again,” Doyle says.
Meanwhile, the Ohana had boated a blue marlin just before 1 pm that weighed in at 572-pounds.
“We got our gaff in the fish almost five hours later,” says Doyle, “and she weighed in at 582-pounds. Ohana lost by 10 pounds. No one likes to lose, but Ed was a good sportsmen. That’s how good of friends we all are. “
Doyle’s favorite method of fishing is pitch baiting on stand up tackle rigged with 30 to 50 pound test.
“Everybody loves big fish, but I’m a fan of frequent bites,” he says. “Like St. Thomas, you can get 4, 5, 6 in a day, 200 to 500 pounds, and let them go. The lighter the tackle, the greater the excitement.”
Doyle says about 60 percent of his fishing is for fun. He owns a vacation home on Treasure Cay in the Abacos where he keeps his SeaVee 32. He daughter is among the fourth generation in the family to enjoy sports fishing.
The other 40 percent of fishing time is in tournaments. Doyle competes in the El Pescado Billfish Tournament in St. Augustine each year, an event founded by Ringhaver in honor of the late Monique Burr, Ed’s wife, who was tragically killed in a car accident. He also fishes regularly in the Bahamas Billfish Championship and he won the Chub Cay leg in 2008.
That same year, Doyle let a 700-pound-plus blue marlin go in the Turks & Caicos Classic. “That fish jumped right near the boat and I got a good look at it,” says Doyle. “It looked even bigger through the camera lens.”
On the Pacific, Doyle competes in the No Sanchoco and the Presidential Challenge, both in Guatemala. He’s won Top Angler twice in the later tournament and earned entry in the WBS Grand Championship in Los Suenos, Costa Rica. Finally, Doyle has also fished the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament in St. Thomas with Robert Baker on Reel Pushy and Harry Sargeant on Black Gold.
In the future, he says, “I need to check Australia off my list, but it’s hard to fly over St. Thomas where there’s a hell of a marlin bite.”