KERRI BURRUS - THE BILLFISH GIRL
World class lady angler, Kerri Burrus, was a fish out of water when it came to reeling in her dream catch. "I'd never teaser fished with a 30-pound tuna before and never with circle hooks so big," said Burrus, who lives in Palm Beach, Florida, and had traveled to Australia's Great Barrier Reef in November 2003 in search of a grander black marlin. Yet, when Capt. Laurie Wright, aboard the Iona, softly called out that there was a fish up behind the teaser, she was ready.
"We weren't tournament fishing, so I was relaxed. In fact, the whole trip was real easy with no pressure," Burrus explains. "But when the fish came up I got nervous. It was a whole new technique. The crew talked me through it, and I got her hooked, but I didn't even see the bite because I was watching my fingers on the spool. Five minutes later, I was in the chair and she jumped. I just lost it. 1100 pounds! That was my dream fish. It was the best thing in the world. We got three jumps on video before I successfully released her in about an hour and thirty-five minutes."
Later in the week, Burrus released a 600 pound black marlin. "I caught the two biggest black marlin of the trip while the guys all caught smaller ones," she notes.
Burrus has long been a lone woman, and a woman who excels, in a man's sport.
"My parents took me fishing with them when I was 7 years old. I feel like I was raised in the New Orleans Big Game Fishing Club. Later, I was the first female to join the club. I've never stopped fishing. I'm addicted," she says.
Burrus' parents fished each weekend from May until September in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Bahamas and Hawaii other times of the year. It wasn't until she was age 14 that Burrus says she was allowed to catch the "good" fish.
"Sure, dolphin, wahoo and tuna are great. But when my parents finally allowed me to catch billfish, I never looked back. It was blue marlin for me from then on," she says.
What makes blue marlin Burrus' favorite species? "It's the fight and the bite. It's exciting. I'm in love with them. In fact, I even have a mural on the inside wall of my home that looks like a blue marlin jumping out of the ocean. That's what I wake up to every morning."
Fifty pound tackle is Burrus' preference for blue marlin. "Skill and technique are important so that you don't break the line. It's the challenge I love."
Teaser fishing is her favorite method. "I've done it all and teasers are the best. The fish gets so fired up that it's a really spectacular bite. After I switched to teasers, I wondered why I had fished any other way," she says.
Over the years, Burrus has made some spectacular catches. "I once released three blue marlin all over 700 pounds in one day. It was in St. Thomas over a July moon in 1984 and I was fishing aboard the Renegade with Capt. Al Johnson."
At the time, Burrus was newly pregnant with her son, David Adams. "If there was a window in the womb, he was watching."
Fourteen years later, Burrus brought David to St. Thomas to fish the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, informally known as the 'Boy Scout Tournament'.
"I wanted him to release his first blue marlin as the same age I did," Burrus says.
Indeed David did, scoring Top Junior Angler in the St. Thomas tournament for three years.
Mother and son team (shown right) fished as a team up until two years ago when David, now 20, headed to college. While fishing with David, Burrus spent five years with ESPN2's Billfishing Xtreme Release League heading up Team Billfish Girl. She competed in events on the League's calendar and also fit in as many World Billfish Series (WBS) tournaments as she could, earning the WBS title three times while David scored the same number of titles as a junior angler.
Now, with David in college and daughter, Shelley, age 13, Burrus says she is now in a transition.
"I feel like I've proven myself on the big boy's circuit. I don't have to scratch my way to the top anymore," she says. "So, I'm doing more fun fishing. Not having the pressure of counting points is a whole new thing. It's a huge transition."
That doesn't mean Burrus isn't just as serious about her sports fishing as ever. "I have to be involved with fishing or the sport of fishing or I'm just not happy," she says.
Consequently, she's looking forward this summer to launching a new line of sports fishing lures - a first for a lady angler.
"A tackle company approached me two years ago about manufacturing a series of Billfish Girl lures. I've had lots of ideas in my head over the years, ideas that came when we were desperate to raise a fish and starting thinking of ways to do it. I them all down on paper and now those ideas will come to life in the series of lures," Burrus explains.
She showed the lures to three highly respected fishermen whom she swore to secrecy until the lures debut in June. "They were blown away and it got me excited," she says.
Another project Burrus has underway is filming for the Fox Network's show, Reel Adventures. "We'll go to Cat Island in the Bahamas this month and film. Reel Adventures rarely does tournaments. Instead, they go to hot spots, fun fish and film."
Later this year, Reel Adventures will take her to Costa Rica and Panama. "I've never been to Panama and I can't wait to go. I've heard all about the Tropic Star Lodge, about how beautiful it is and how great the fishing is," she says.
Burrus, who is also an IGFA representative, isn't giving up tournament fishing. "I'll gravitate back onto the circuit. My daughter caught her first sailfish in January. She's in love with horses, but she likes fishing too. In fact, she calls herself Billfish Girl Jr. I want her to catch her first marlin at 14, like I did and my son did."
Yes, Burrus is a world-class angler. But, she adds, "I'm a mom first."