Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, according to best-selling author John Gray. For dynamic sports fishing duo, Harry and Cynthia “Cindy” Shufflebarger, the theme is just a bit different. He goes for blue marlin and she for sailfish. Together, they combine forces as well as compete in hot sports fishing destinations around the world.
Just as their preference in billfish differs, so Harry and Cindy launched into their passionate pursuit of sports fishing in different ways.
Harry explains: “Growing up in Tampa and living in Miami since 1971, I was always interested in fishing. But, I never had much opportunity. My first real exposure to the sport was afforded by a good friend, Alan Finnieston, on his boat, Peg Leg.”
Cindy, on the other hand, grew up fishing off the New Jersey shore with her father and grandfather. “I remember sleeping on the beach so I’d be ready to go out with them,” she says.
Ultimately, Cindy’s family moved to Marathon, Florida, where her father turned his fishing hobby into a profession and operated a charter boat. “I’d go down and mate for him during vacations from nursing school. It was great…getting paid to go out fishing and get a suntan at the same time,” she relates.
Fittingly, the Shufflebarger’s met over their mutual interest. The two struck up many a conversation about fishing and diving while working together at Miami Children’s Hospital, Harry as an orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery and Cindy as a nurse. “We got to the question of what’s better, lures or live bait,” Cindy says.
The couple headed out on the seas one afternoon to put their preferences to the test. Harry packed along his favorite neon green lure, while Cindy brought live ballyhoo. An hour or two later, it was Cindy who had a huge marlin on the line. “We weren’t well prepared. No chair. No belt. It was just a 30-foot boat. Harry ended up sitting on the floor of the boat and fighting the fish for about three hours while I maneuvered.”
Today, the Shufflebarger’s show their decided preferences not in tackle, but in favored billfish.
Harry says: “I prefer to blue marlin fish as these are the top of the food chain. The thrill at seeing the bite and fighting the fish is unmatched.”
Sailfish are Cindy’s most sought after catch. She caught her first sail at age 12 and she’s is an expert with live and dead bait. In fact, she prefers live bait on 8 to 12 pound test in Miami. For dead baiting sails in Mexico or the Pacific, she prefers 20-pound test. “To me, it’s the experience. I love sailfish because they are so crazy. You know…six lines, three on each kite, kites up 700 feet high with live bait. The hookup happens so fast. I’ve fought three and four sailfish at a time and caught doubles, but not a triple yet.”
While Harry prefers blue marlin, he also enjoys sail fishing. In fact, his best fish story centers on this specie.
“During a sailfish tournament in Miami four or five years ago with Capt Ray Rosher on the Miss Britt, we had two hook ups on flat lines simultaneously. One was fought and caught off the bow. Mine went under the boat and came up jumping on the other side. With slack in the line, I was unable to clear the line of the rudder. The fish continued jumping and swimming on the other side of the boat. Everyone was yelling advice. Ray screamed for all to be quiet and for me to listen to him from the tower. I followed his orders to the T. That meant, I put a lot of slack in the line. Then, I retrieved the line with a gaff from the other side of the boat, bringing that portion of the line into the boat. I pulled a lot of slack, and cut the line. Holding the cut end, I wound the other line on the reel, and then tied the two ends together. I finally got the knot on the reel and caught and released the fish. All was legal, us having had an observer on the boat at the time since it was a tournament. We ultimately won the daily and came in second by one fish.”
The pursuit of their sports fishing passion means that the Shufflebarger’s travel and tournament fish along the way. Cindy spends the late fall and early winter sail fishing in Miami. Her greatest achievement is winning the Billfish Release Master Award (57 releases) and Sailfish Release Light Tackle Award (resident w/57 releases) at the 67th MET – Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament, for 2001-2002. Other accomplishments include Best Lady Angler at the Miami Billfish Tournament and Second Best Angler at the Bob Lewis Yamaha Billfish Tournament.
Much of Cindy’s Florida sail fishing is done aboard the couple’s 34-foot Gamefisherman, Lil’ Hook. Beyond this, the Shufflebarger’s 70-foot Tribute, HT Hook, travels extensively from its Coral Gables, Florida, homeport with crew that includes Capt. Greg Newell, and mates Ronnie Riebe and Stedman Birch. “I try to take a week off for fishing every month and usually am successful,” Harry says. “We usually catch up to the Tribute it in some place that is hot and exciting.”
Fishing venues might include Cancun, Mexico. “One memorable day in 1999,” Harry tells, “we released about 100 sails. And, this with not starting to fish until about noon as we had to pick up some guests.”
Other fishing locales the Shufflebarger’s seek out are on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Panama; the Bahamas, especially for the annual Custom Shoot Out in North Eleuthera; and, to the Virgin Islands.
It is summertime in St. Thomas where Harry gets his big chance for a lot of blue marlin fishing. “For blue marlin, I prefer teaser fishing with lures and pitch baiting with lures. For us, this produces the most spectacular bites and the best hook-up percentage,” he says.
It’s not uncommon, says Harry, to hook up five to six blue marlin in one day using 50-pound test.
During this time, Harry adds, “We haven’t missed a Boy Scout Tournament (USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament) for the last six years. Winning the daily on the last day of two Boy Scout tournaments at the 11th hour was very exciting.”
Cindy has also had her share of blue marlin success. “I likely released a world record 450 pound blue marlin on 20 pound test, but I didn’t want to kill it,” she says.
The Shufflebarger’s HT Hook is a fisherman’s dream as far as comfort for traveling and state-of-the-art readiness for fishing.
“I designed the boat from the blueprints up with Rich Scheffer of Tribute. It took about two years,” says Cindy.
Launched in August 2003, there are so many custom and special fishing features that the boat really must be seen.
“Of particular note,” says Harry, “is the dedicated tackle room forward. There is a live well or Carolina box in the transom. We have an insert consisting of four tuna tubes that fits into the transom box. All the plumbing is quick disconnect. No tuna tubes on the cockpit sole. The elevated mezzanine is an unmatched place to observe the baits and the cockpit action.”
Upcoming, says Harry, “The HT Hook made it to Costa Rica in February and we plan to fish there as well as in Panama for the next several months. After that, we are tentatively planning to visit some of the southern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. It is hard to imagine not returning to St Thomas. In addition, Cindy plans to be very active in the Miami sail fish scene.”