On the helm, in the cockpit or sitting in the angler’s chair, there’s no facet of fishing, especially billfishing, which Bradenton, Florida-based sports fishermen and former World Billfish Series (WBS) World Champion, Scott Rickert, doesn’t enjoy.
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, near to the Great Lakes, Rickert’s first memory of fishing was as a toddler in the bathtub.
“I had a little red and yellow fishing rod and plastic fish that I’d play with in the bathtub,” he says. “It seems as if I’ve always been attracted to the water and fishing, right from my earliest memory.”
Rickert reeled in his first real catch a few years later. It was from off the end of a dock on a lake in Michigan. He used a cane pole and a night crawler for bait to land a largemouth bass all by himself.
“I became a fishing fanatic after that,” he says. “From then on, I was always after the next one, a bigger one, and a different kind.”
Rickert’s fishing ambitions were further fueled when as a grade-schooler his family moved to Bradenton, Florida. His father, an entrepreneur who built senior manufactured housing communities and a company that Rickert is vice president and senior operations manager of today, owned a successive series of motor yachts, including a 42-foot Egg Harbor and 53-foot Hatteras and later sportfishing boats that included six new Vikings and a seventh he took delivery on this year, which the family fished in the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Keys and Bahamas.
“My dad bought me an 18-foot center console when I was a teenager,” says Rickert. “I’d really push the envelope in that, heading sometimes 40 to 50 miles offshore in the Gulf in search of billfish, tuna and dolphin. I did prepare for safety, though. I carried an extra 5-gallon jug of fuel, had an extra VHF radio, medical kits, a large Coast Guard life preservers and flares. That was back before the days of EPIRBs”.
Rickert’s father even towed the little runabout with them behind his motoryacht when the family vacationed in the Bahamas. Rickert cut his eye teeth catching dolphin and billfish around the cays.
It was from aboard an 18-foot Hydro Sport some 30 miles out of Islamorada that Rickert caught his first billfish.
“I saw a fin in the water and thought it was a shark coming up to eat my ballyhoo,” he tells. “Then I realized it was a small white marlin, about an 80-pounder. Well, I wasn’t rigged for marlin and didn’t have the right equipment, but it was a drag and a snag and the fight was on. It was really one of those sights that really burns into your memory.”
Thirty minutes later, Rickert and a buddy had the marlin gaffed and in the boat. They tied it aboard along with a couple of dolphin they had caught earlier in the morning. The duo motored back to Duck Cay Marina with a feeling of pride that was echoed by the friends and family members that greeted them at the dock. Later that evening, after a dinner out and trip back to the marina, Rickert had his ceremonial ‘first billfish’ dunking even though he was clad in dress pants.
Rickert next attended Mars Hill College in Ashville, North Carolina, and graduated with a degree in business. Though he was too far from the famous fishing grounds of the Outer Banks for a quick angler between classes, he did pack his 4-weight fly rod and reel and angled for trout.
He returned to Florida and went to work for his father. Shortly thereafter, he bought a 31-foot twin-outboard Ocean Master.
“I loved that boat and owned it for several years,” Rickert tells. “But after a while I wanted a bigger boat to head out to the 100 fathom drop, some 100 miles offshore, where there’s a greater chance of catching billfish.”
He moved up to a 34-foot Mirage, then eventually a 34-foot Ocean Master with twin-inboards and the sleeping accommodations that are so essential for the three-day offshore tournaments so popular along the Gulf. All of his boats have been named Reel Screamer Too, and his father’s, Reel Screamer.
“Marlin. Tuna. Swordfish. We’d fish for them all out in the Gulf,” Rickert says.
The Gulf of Mexico is from where one of Rickert’s best fish stories comes.
“I’ve never caught a grander, and I’ve only seen one once – a 1054-pounder weighed in in Biloxi – but one of my best days fishing was when I almost caught a grander blue marlin,” he says.
The day came in 1996 when Rickert and friends were fishing in the Florida West Coast Billfish Championship, an event the team had won the year before. Rickert was at the helm and ventured down to the cockpit to relieve himself when he glimpsed a mammoth marlin knock the long left rigger lure out of the clip, but miss the hook. The fish then charged the short left lure and engulfed the lure. That’s when the four and a half hour fight began. The fish eventually sounded and broke off.
“To see a grander that size is an image that has always stayed with me,” he says. “It was a kill tournament back then, and if we had boated her, we would have won again and probably broke the state record as well which was around 950-plus pounds at the time. I’ve fished Venezuela, the Yucatan, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, the northern Gulf of Mexico, Florida West Coast offshore Tampa Bay, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, St. Thomas, St. Barts, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, the Bahamas and Bermuda and have never seen another blue marlin that size again.”
Tournament fishing is something that Rickert has long enjoyed and excelled. Some of his top finishes include winning the Florida West Coast Billfish Championship as a captain, the Old Salt Loop Billfish Tournament twice, once as a mate and the second as an angler, and winning the WBS World Championship in 2003, the WBS Pacific Rim Championship twice and WBS Gulf of Mexico Championship once – all as an angler.
“I was near the bottom on the scoreboard going into that last day of fishing the WBS Championship in Cabo,” Rickert explains, about his fantastic come-from-behind victory aboard the Ni Modo. “Then the last day I caught five striped marlin to win. You earned more points using natural bait and I was using one of my favorites, ballyhoo and circle hooks. I’m a bait and switch kind of guy with maybe a couple of baits in the spread.”
Rickert enjoys Pacific Ocean fishing and tournament fishing aboard his father’s boats. His father owns a home and bases for nine months out of the year in Los Suenos, Costa Rica. His dad just took delivery of a 64-foot Viking and will take that vessel too through the Canal after some fun ‘wreck and reef’ and some tournament fishing with family this summer.
Last summer, a friend and business acquaintance, Bobby Jacobsen, who owns the 60-foot Viking, Marlin Darlin, invited Rickert to fish the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin or ‘Boy Scout’ Tournament.
“I first fished St. Thomas as a kid and loved it,” he says. “Last summer, Bobby released two marlin and I released one in the 350-pound range, which put us about mid-way on the scoreboard.”
While he loves all types of fishing, Rickert says the attraction of blue and black marlin are sheer size, strength, stamina, beauty and power,” he says.
He enjoys light tackle billfishing and he’s caught a blue marlin on six-pound test off Costa Rica, and several on 8- and 12-pound test. He also prefers circle hooks.
Today, he fishes aboard a 29-foot center console Regulator anywhere from 100 to 150 miles offshore of Tampa Bay.
“My crew and I sleep on bean bags and have no tower or any interior accommodations,” Rickert describes. It’s pretty much three days and three nights out in the elements. Hard core to say the least!”
Still, his team’s success rate is outstanding. In fact, they most recently placed second in the Billfish Division (with a blue marlin and swordfish release and catch of a 216-pound swordfish) in the 40th Annual Old Salt Loop Billfish Tournament, held over Memorial Day Weekend, and took first place with a 54.86-pound dolphin in the Fun Fish division.
What’s on Rickert’s fishing ‘to do’ list?
“I’d have to say it’s to head up to Alaska to both hunt and fish,” he says, “Or, to head over to Africa and fish off Ghana, the Azores or Madeira – wherever they’re biting at the time.”