Catching a grander blue marlin is one of angler, Steve Shelhorn's, life ambitions. The Orlando, Florida-based sports fisherman hasn't reached this goal, but he has made some impressive catches. "I caught two 700-pound-plus marlin within one week last summer," says Shelhorn. "One was 711 pounds, which I caught during one of the BBC (Bahamas Billfish Championship) tournaments and the other was 770 pounds, caught in the HMY Billfish Blast the following week." Proud of his catches, Shelhorn is non-the-less not as happy about killing marlin in order to win prize money. "Hey, don't blame the angler for killing a fish when the winnings are a hundred grand. It's the tournament promoters who have to change what they reward in order to promote conservation," Shelhorn says.
Fishing has been a part of Shelhorn's life from an early age. "I followed the normal program for a kid growing up in Florida. First it was catching tadpoles in a jar, then freshwater bass fishing and finally I wound up billfishing. Once I caught a billfish, I lost all interest in fresh water fishing. That doesn't mean that I don't occasionally go out with the neighbor for red fish and trout, but its so much more of a thrill to catch something so big like a blue marlin."
Richard Gibson Photo
Shelhorn's saltwater fishing career began about 25 to 30 years ago. "I met my wife, Rosemary, when she lived in a nearby apartment complex. One of her neighbors sold aquarium supplies and liked to fish. He had an offshore boat, a Robalo, and invited me out and we fished out of Port Canaveral. Over the years, I've owned three sports fishing boats. I've kept them in Fort Pierce, since its closer to the Gulf Stream," he relates.
Shelhorn's wife is responsible for him focusing exclusively on fishing as his preferred way to recreate. "I use to hunt and fish. When I got married, my wife told me to pick one or the other because there was no time or money for both. I enjoyed hunting, but felt I'd done everything I'd wanted to. I traveled all over the country and hunted in many different areas. To me, fishing is more fun and there are still things I'd like to accomplish in my sports fishing career."
In addition to catching a grander blue marlin, Shelhorn's sports fishing aspirations include racking up a number of marlin releases to his credit and ultimately traveling to Australia to fish. "I used to count how many blue marlin I had released and lost count at about 130. But I'd still like to catch a certain number," he says.
About the trip down under, he adds, "I've fished in a lot of places such as Venezuela, Costa Rica, St. Thomas, Mexico, and the Bahamas, because I can go for four or five days. I'd have to have about 30 days to fish Australia and some day I'd like to do this."
When not fishing, Shelhorn is director of marketing for the largest auto salvage corporation in the U.S.
Billfish are Shelhorn's angling love, especially blue marlin. "I like the bite best. When the marlin bites the bait, your heart really starts pumping to have something that big so close to the boat. There's also pride in being able to catch it," he describes.
He adds, "My favorite technique is bait and switch. That's because it tends to produce a hook up ratio that's much more successful than trolling."
Not a light tackle affectionado, Shelhorn says, "No matter where in the world I'm fishing for marlin, I prefer 50 to 80 pound line test."
Shelhorn caught his first blue marlin in Virgin Islands' waters back in the mid-1980s. "I went to St. Thomas on the advice of Capt. Bobby Gower. He used to run a boat called Liquidation and I used to charter with him. On my first day down there, we didn't catch a thing on the boat he had recommended. The next day, I walked down the dock at American Yacht Harbor and got on a boat called the Bad Wagon. The owner had racehorses and one of them was named Bad Wagon. We went out and I caught my first blue. It was over 400 pounds."
Photo courtesy Richard Gibson
There are a couple of other highlights in Shelhorn's sports fishing career. One was the day he caught a triple grand slam off the coast of Venezuela aboard the Free Enterprise with Capt. Randy Jendersee. "It was one of those days that I was fishing by myself, but there were two professional mates on board. It was jungle rules: the first one to the pole catches the fish. I had chartered the boat, so the mates let me get the rod more. I ended up with the slam - three blue marlin, three white marlin and three sailfish. We caught a total of thirty-seven billfish and the fish were still biting when we left to go in," he tells.
The other eventful day was also aboard the Free Enterprise. "We were in Los Suenos, Costa Rica, and we caught sixty-two sailfish in one day. It was non-stop, a real riot. There were double-headers and triple-headers. I had to stop reeling them in because the muscles in my arms and back started to cramp up."
Shelhorn fishes both by himself and with a variety of friends. "I've had the opportunity to fish with a lot of great captains and mates. Considering that I fish 20 to 25 days a year, being able to fish with people who really know what they're doing is fantastic. It's like osmosis. I gain a lot of confidence by it," he says.
In addition to fun fishing, Shelhorn also enjoys competition. "My favorite tournament is the Boy Scout in St. Thomas. It's the best boats, the best anglers. If you do well, you really feel like you've accomplished something."
Photo below courtesy of Richard Gibson
While Shelhorn has never won the Boy Scout or USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, he has come close. "The first year we fished it, back in 1994, we ended seconded place boat and I got third place angler."
Today, Shelhorn doesn't own a boat. Rather he charters. "My wife says it's smarter to charter and she's right," he says. "If I owned a boat, then I'd be limited to where I could go and who I could fish with. When I charter, I can fish with the best in the best areas."
In the year ahead, Shelhorn hopes to fish a schedule similar to the one he's enjoyed for the last decade. "I'll fish in Mexico in April and May, then the Billfish Championships in May and June, and St. Thomas in August and September. If I fish more, then it would be Venezuela in November and December."
In the future, Shelhorn says, "I'd like to see all offshore tournaments go to an all-release format. It's not that I think sports fishing kills more marlin than say, long liners, it's just that every segment of the industry must do its part to conserve the species."