There are sports fishermen. There are world-class sports fishermen. Then, there are sports fishermen who are simply in a league of their own. Say the name Damon Chouest and tournament wins, international records, and reports of darn good days of catching – and releasing – on the water come to mind.
A Louisiana native, Chouest caught his first blue marlin at age 13. The year was 1986.
“My grandfather got me started fishing,” says Chouest, who works as a maritime attorney when he’s not out fishing. “We’d fish the Gulf of Mexico. Then, a few years later, we met Capt. Mike Lemon when he was aboard the Alchemist and caught five (blue marlin) out with him. The next year, 1989, we decided to bring our own boat down.”
That boat was the 55" Hatteras C'est la Vie, and aboard this vessel the following year, 1990, Chouest would accomplish another first. He won Top Angler in the USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (USVI Open/ABMT) at the age of 17.
“I was fishing with my grandfather and my father who was driving the boat as captain,” Chouest says. “It was one of the last times all three generations would fish together. It was pretty exciting.”
Now Chouest’s father Gary more enjoys his inshore fishing, however it's blue marlin that Damon loves best.
“It’s the thrill of the bite, the speed and the aggressiveness,” he says. “What I also love, especially in St. Thomas, is the late afternoon time – the beauty of the mountains, the cobalt blue seas and fighting a fish off the transom at the same time.”
Chouest has teaser fished with pitch baits since 1995.
“(Capt.) Mike Lemon and (Capt.) Brad Simmonds were pitch baiting back then and that’s when we got involved,” he says. “We’ve been doing it ever since.”
Circle hooks are something he’s used more recently.
“We fished with circle hooks at this year’s Boy Scout Tournament and it worked well,” says Chouest, “we’ll be doing more of it.”
Blue marlin are the focus of a few of Chouest’s most outstanding fishing days.
For example, he says, “I caught 7 blue marlin all over 300 pounds, hooked up 12 and saw 15 all in one day in September 1995 in St. Thomas. It was two days before we had to evacuate for Hurricane Marilyn. It was the first time I released 7 blue marlin in a day.”
The next year, Chouest set a record for being the angler with the most blue marlin caught in one year. He caught an amazing 168 blue marlin – 43 of these while fishing off Venezuela and the remaining 125 in the Virgin Islands. And, he did this all while finishing up his last year in law school.
Fast forward to this year, Chouest set a personal best by releasing his 500th blue marlin on August 31.
“We came down to fish the September moon and were at 496 going into the weekend,” he explains. “On the last day, we caught 4 for 6, and it put me at a lifetime total of 502 blue marlin.”
Chouest is as adept at catching big fish as he is a lot of them.
Back in 1999, at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic, Chouest won first place in the blue marlin division with the catch of a 572.1-pounder.
“I fought that fish for over 10 hours,” he says.
The strong and feisty fish came to the wire some 11 times before it was finally landed.
Interestingly, the tournament triumph marked a back-to-back win as Chouest’s brother, Dino, had won the same prize the year prior, in 1998.
Blue marlin aren’t the only fish he likes to catch. In fact, fishing with his brother Dino and fellow angler Terry Hunter, with his father, Capt. Gary Chouest, at the helm, the trio of anglers became the first team to successfully land a triple-header grand slam – blue marlin, striped marlin, and sailfish – all the same day. They accomplished this feat in 1991 off the Cocos Islands.
“I’ve caught all species of billfish and that hasn’t been easy,” Chouest says. “That includes both Atlantic and Pacific blue marlin. I got the spearfish in Hawaii.”
Over the past five years, Chouest and his family have stuck to a familiar routine.
“From May to September we’ll stay here and fish out of the Gulf,” he says, adding that he fishes from the Patriot, his 80-foot Monterey. “We’ll take it out on weekends and catch 15 to 20 blue marlin for the summer.”
The summer full moons see Chouest jetting to St. Thomas and fishing from Freedom or his new boat, Chach, a 58-foot Monterey, for a week or so.
“This winter, we’re going to try some sailfishing in Florida,” he says.
He heads to the Dominican Republic in the spring.
In the future, Chouest says, “I’d love to fish the South Pacific, Tahiti, Bora Bora for big Pacific blue marlin.”
The next generation of Chouests is about to take to the sea.
“I have an 8-year-old son, Christian. He’s who I named the boat, Chach, for. He hasn’t caught a blue marlin – yet,” Chouest says. “I’d love to have him be the first teenager to release 1000 blue marlin or 2000.”