Brooks Smith always wanted to fish the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin (ABMT) or 'Boy Scout' Tournament. When he finally did, the first day's fishing proved to be one of his best days ever.
Smith explains, " It was a dream I had to come down and fish the tournament. My previous boat was a 40-foot Cabo and other fishermen said I would probably not want to make that trip with the Cabo as it gets pretty rough on the North Drop and that it was a long trip. So, when I bought the Bayliss (Bayliss 60, Uno Mas) last fall, this tournament went immediately on our schedule."
Ironically, Smith and his crew - which included Capts. Doug Kneer and Luis 'Speedy' Larez and mates Tim Popfinger and Chris Zidar - didn't catch a thing the first day they went fishing in Virgin Islands' waters. They're second day, the first day of the ABMT, proved more fruitful.
Smith explains, "We caught two blue marlin early and then lost one that we assumed was tail wrapped when we changed angles on it. It was a gamble, but we had already spent a lot of time trying to work the fish and knew something was wrong. Once we pulled that fish off and got the lines back in the water, we had a double header of blues. Then, while trying to get the teasers in, we had another attack at the teaser at the transom. While the mate was wrestling with him, he broke his bill off in our transom. At the same time, we had a blue trying to eat the bridge teaser dangling in the water. So, we had two blues on and two trying to eat the boat. I have had a lot of sails and whites on like that but, that was the first time I ever had four blues at once and the action was amazing."
Although the summer of 2007 marked Smith's first time fishing in the Virgin Islands, he's far from a newcomer to the sport. In fact, he grew up saltwater angling from the age of 3, fishing for inshore species around the Chesapeake Bay.
"My dad died when I was 12 years old, but before he passed away he bought me a small skiff. I borrowed a 10 HP Mercury outboard from my grandfather, who also loved to fish. But, I really started sports fishing when I was 17, as a part-time mate on a 28-foot Bertram out of Virginia Beach."
It didn't take Smith long to learn that he liked billfishing best.
"I love billfishing and particularly for blue marlin because of the power and excitement of these beautiful fish," he explains. "It's always in the back of your mind that you'll see that grander."
Smith continues, "I like fishing with lighter tackle for blue marlin, 50-pound or even 30-pound. I also love to bait and switch and catch-and-release is important to me. When I was younger it was not a common practice and I saw many white and blue marlin killed needlessly, which I do not approve of. It's great that the sport fishing industry has come so far, but we still have conservation work to do to protect its future."
When not fishing in a tournament, Smith fishes alone or takes along clients and friends that have no experience and he enjoys getting them in the chair to fight a fish. When fishing a tournament, he has several friends who are experienced anglers and enjoy competing.
Dean Barns Photo: Anglers and Crew of Uno Mas: Back Row l to r: Dave Nichols, Brooks Smith, Bobby Shepard; middle row, Capt. Luis 'Speedy' Larez; front row l to r, mates Tim Popfinger and Chris Zidar.
"We compete in most of the Bahamas Billfish Tournaments and Shootouts," Smith says. "This year, we plan to finish the year out in Venezuela and fish the Venezuela International. Then, we'll head back to Florida for some time in the boat yard. We hope to start the year in Florida, then head to the Bahamas and Dominican Republic in the spring, back to the Bahamas in May, Bermuda in July, St. Thomas for the Boy Scout Tournament in August and finish out the year again in Venezuela. Sometime, I'd like to go to Panama and Australia too."
He adds, "I have really gotten spoiled fishing in these waters as the fishing is usually great and the run out is short. Growing up fishing in Virginia and North Carolina meant 50- to 100-mile boat rides each way and a long day."
Smith - chief executive officer of Atlanta, Georgia-based InComm Holdings Inc. and a pioneer in technologies for prepaid, gift and store value products that are sold at retail such as Apple I-Tunes cards and wireless refill cards - fishes over 60 days a year. Keeping him comfortable along the way is Uno Mas.
"She was built in 2003 and hull #2 for John Bayliss," Smith explains. "I purchased her in September of 2006, took her back to Bayliss Boatworks in early 2007 and had the entire boat refitted and re-powered to bring her to virtually new status with all new electronics and systems. She's powered with new C32 CATS and 2 new Northern Lights generators and has a cruising speed of 38.5 knots."
Although Smith enjoys billfishing, his best fish story is about wahoo - and shark.
He tells the tale: "Two years ago, I was wahoo fishing off Bimini in my 36-foot Yellowfin. We had left early that morning to make the crossing, and along the way noticed that the boat was unusually dirty. Workers had been sandblasting a building next door to boat, but we figured it would get washed down when we came back that evening."
He continues, "It was a little rough that day and the boat was wet and slippery from the sandblasting. I was wiring a wahoo when the boat rocked and I did a complete header into the ocean. It happened so fast. My feet slipped out from under me that there was nothing I could do. Everyone in the boat was shocked. They stopped the boat and I crawled up the transom leader in hand and 50-pound wahoo in tow. I was dripping wet and cold but we put the lines back in and started high speed trolling over the same spot. We hooked another 50-pounder and again I was on the wire in the same location. This time, as we got the fish close to the boat, a 12-foot shark came out of nowhere and ate half the wahoo right there beside the boat. This was the same spot I took a plunge only 45 minutes earlier. The entire crew just looked at me and they were speechless. I can only assume it was not my day to be eaten and those wahoo looked more tasty then my legs."
Over the years, Smith has amassed walls and closets full of citations and trophies for fishing. "I'd have to say, though, that my fondest highlights of what I have accomplished during my years of fishing was getting people into the sport, putting smiles on faces, seeing people have a great time and giving them the thrill of a lifetime."
In the future, Smith says, "I think we are making great progress educating people to take conservation seriously and protect the fish and the future of the sport. I believe we are seeing a greater use of light tackle and circle hooks, and this year a resurgence in the Bahamas of fishing dead bait rather the lures proved rewarding for many teams. New destinations also seemed to come to light as boats had great success in 2007 in the Dominican Republic. The people of our industry are very passionate about it and that gives me hope that it has a bright future. I would love to see us get more media coverage and I hear that may be a possibility in the future as interest is growing in general sport of fishing as a whole."