Avid angler Bill Gettens thought twice about entering the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT) or 'Boy Scout Tournament'. "I wanted to fish this well known marlin tournament, but angling against these top shelf professional no nonsense teams who fish most of the year around the world made me a little nervous," says Gettens.
He needn't have worried.
Gettens and fishing partner, Nancy Gilligan, landed in the top two angler slots on Day 2 of the 2008 tournament, propelling their chartered boat, St. Thomas Capt. Jim Estraca's Bertram 38, Black Pearl, into the Top Boat slot in the dailies.
"We were used to more casual billfishing in St. Martin," says Gettens. "But, we found in St. Thomas that we meant business out on the water as much as the big boys did."
A native of New York, who has been employed by the New York City Fire Department for over 20 years as a paramedic, Gettens tells of his start into billfishing: "A friend of mine in St. Martin, Capt. JeanClaude Lemaitre, really launched my marlin interest aboard his 54-foot Hatteras, Seahunter, in the late 1980s when my wife, Cindy, and I vacationed on the island. From then I was hooked."
In 1990, the Gettens entered a marlin tournament in the Cayman Islands. "It was a 30-day tournament, solely based on weight," Gettens says. "What really attracted us were the prizes. The tourism board wanted to entice more travelers to the islands, so they put up spectacular prizes. If you hooked the heaviest fish of the tournament, the prize was $250,000 in cash and free air travel for life on Cayman Airways. Catch the island record marlin and you'd win $250,000 in cash, a new 48-foot boat, two-bedroom condo and free air travel for life. We had a couple of hook-ups, but we didn't get that lucky."
The couple headed back to St. Martin to fish throughout the 1990's. "I often fished with friends, Capt. Harold Philips and Capt. Junior Gumbs, aboard Black Sotnia. I've fished the marlin tournaments on the French side in Marigot with both of these captains. Over the years, we became friends, meeting each year and our families going out to dinner together."
One of Gettens best fishing stories came while angling off St. Martin.
"We were out casual fishing with Capt. Harold Phillips on the Black Sotnia when we hooked up with a marlin that after over an hour fight we were unable to resuscitate and release," Gettens.
That big fish turned out to be 14-foot long and weighed 720-pounds caught while trolling the famous 'Marlin Boulevard' and setting a new island record. Word spread and some 200 to 300 people gathered at the dock, one of those was Capt. Junior Gumbs, who owned the Black Sotnia.
"Ironically," says Gettens, "I didn't know that Capt. Gumbs held the previous island record. Lucky boat!"
>In the 2000's Gettens told a co-worker, Nancy Gilligan, about his Caribbean fishing experiences.
"Nancy said she wanted to try her hand and we first fished the tournament in Marigot in 2001," says Gettens. "From then on, we worked well as a team - organized, team work, quick decisions and quick thinking."
Gettens had always thought about fishing a tournament in St. Thomas.
"We came down in early 2006 to literally test the waters in anticipation of fishing the July Open," he says. "We chartered Marlin Prince for a few days, with Capt. Eddie Morrison, got a lay of the land and had a great time."
Photo - Bill Gettens and Nancy Gilligan catch 2 blues each to take the Daily aboard Black Pearl on Day 2 of 2008 ABMT. Black Pearl wins "Best Local Boat"
Morrison was booked for that year's July Open Tournament, so he referred Gettens to Capt. Jim Estraca on the Black Pearl. Gettens and Estraca hit it off right away, and the New York anglers chartered Black Pearl for the 2006 and 2007 July Open, earning nearly enough prize money both years to pay for the trips. Then they decided to fish the ABMT, winning a first place Daily on Day 2.
"What I enjoy about billfishing," says Getten, "is the pensive wait for the strike and the controlled chaos that follows the hook-up combined with engineering of the teamwork and the spectacular fight and release of the marlin, gives the whole team the feeling of 'we've got this down right'.
In the future, Gettens dream fishing locations are Australia for big black marlin, the Canary Islands for blues, and Ascension Island for the big blues.
Yet in the present, he says, "Every day I fish with my team either for fun or in a tournament, is my best day. I can't ask for anything more."