The bite and the fight and then the tag and release – this is what North Carolina native, Doug Caddell, likes best about blue marlin fishing.
Born and raised in Hoffman, a small town located in the south central portion of North Carolina, Caddell got his start as a young boy fishing in nearby ponds for bass. It wasn’t long until he tried his luck in saltwater.
“My parents had a beach house at Windy Hill or north Myrtle Beach,” Caddell tells. “From the time I was 11 until when I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we’d drive two hours over to that house each summer.”
Caddell would fish any time he wasn’t working at his summer job selling snow cones. He’d walk up to the pier with his grandmother, find the closest crabbing hole or head offshore 20, 30 and even 40 miles with his Dad on an old wooden 23-footer in search of snapper, grouper or mahi. Even as a young adult, after he moved to Atlanta to work in the home healthcare industry and had bought a second home two hours north of Wilmington on the coast, he continued to spend many summers floundering in North Carolina’s inlets or offshore fishing for something tasty to put on the table such as mahi, tuna and wahoo.
From his home base of twenty years in Atlanta, Caddell also started vacationing down in Pensacola, Florida. He ultimately moved to Gulf Breeze, a Pensacola suburb, five years ago. That’s when good friend and business partner, Rod Windley, decided to buy a new boat and Caddell’s fishing life took a momentous change.
“I went with Rod when he bought his first Gulf Rascal,” Caddell recalls, of Windley’s first 68-foot Hatteras. “I remember him looking at me and saying, ‘Doug, we’re marlin fishing now’. I was thrilled, it was incredible to think of fishing for marlin, and this coming from someone who already thought of themselves as a fisherman and had fished their whole life.”
Even though Caddell really started targeting blue marlin as an angler on the Gulf Rascal fishing team five years ago, he did catch his first blue some twenty years before in the 1980s. He was fishing off Destin, Florida, at the time in a rodeo tournament aboard a charter boat with other charterers aboard.
“We were rigged for mackerel when I got a big bite,” Caddell recalls. “I wrestled with it and finally caught it. It was a little 175 to 200 pound blue marlin. That was the first blue marlin I ever caught.”
The Gulf Rascal team – which includes Windley, Caddell and mutual friend Phillip Napier – entered their first billfish tournament together in 2007. This was the La Guaira International Shootout in Venezuela, which was also the kick-off for the Spanish Main Series. Three days before leaving, Caddell came down with the flu and ended up missing the tournament.
“They caught a lot of billfish and learned a lot as a team and with the boat,” says Caddell. “After that, they decided I needed to catch up. So, I arrived in the Dominican Republic two days before the next tournament leg in the series. It was just me, Capt. Billy Borer, and mates Glen and Hugo. They were definitely the two greatest fishing days of my life!”
Caddell caught and released a total of 8 white marlin and two blue marlin on those back-to-back angling days. He was rigged with 30-pound test to pitch bait and stand-up fish for white marlin, so it was even more spectacular to release one of the blues estimated at 350-plus pounds.
“Thirty line test is a lot of fun. You get to feel every bite,” he says. “Of course, I’ve caught some marlin on 50 that I don’t think I would have liked to see come up on 30. Stand-up is my favorite, but I love that big chair too.”
Fast forward four years and Caddell’s skills as an angler have definitely caught up. He finished the 2011 USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT) or ‘Boy Scout’ tournament as 4th top angler overall with five blue marlin releases and almost led Gulf Rascal, which finished second, to the winner’s circle.
“My most memorable catch was in this year’s Boy Scout tournament,” he says. “Getting a shot at a marlin in this tournament means you always want to do your best. This was especially so when we ended up in a three way tie for first. One marlin I hooked up at 5:28 pm, or two minutes before lines out, on the second to last day and managed to release it. Then the last day, a marlin crashed my teaser mid-morning and I released that too. Losing any of those fish just wasn’t an option when we were so close to the top.”
What Caddell likes most about blue marlin is the thrill of the bite.
“I like to pitch bait. That way you get to see the entire show – the bite, the fight and hopefully the tag and release,” he says. “It’s really hard to describe how incredible it is to catch a marlin, that adrenalin rush. I never thought I would learn to relax in the beginning, but now I have and it’s all about concentrating on your skill set and executing it flawlessly.”
Caddell does enjoy fun fishing. He has a 23-foot Bayrider flat bottom boat that is great to fish the North Carolina inlets, and an open bow 23-foot Proline sports fisherman and 38-foot cruiser in Florida. Still, he enjoys tournament fishing for blue marlin the most.
“Tournament fishing adds a whole new dimension,” says Caddell. “It’s not only the fishing, but the other boats, anglers, crews and captains. This is especially true when you realize that you’re competing against the best.”
The Gulf Rascal is based full-time in Red Hook, St. Thomas, and Windley and his fishing friends plan their annual tournament schedule from this destination. This means fishing the major marlin tournaments in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands as well as in St. Maarten and in the Dominican Republic – locations where they have either won or placed high on the scoreboard.
“Rod has hinted at bigger and grander events in the future,” says Caddell, who now spends 60 to 70 days a year either sport or billfishing.
Even when he’s not on the water, Caddell is thinking about marlin. In fact, he, Napier and Windley are partners in a restaurant in Pensacola Beach named The Grand Marlin Restaurant.. Marlin memorabilia is everywhere. There’s a spectacular 1,228.5-pound Atlantic Blue Marlin – the North Carolina state record caught August 15, 2008 by Trey Irvine aboard the Mimi – mounted on the wall in the dining room, the transom names of all the American Yacht Harbor ‘A’ Dock regulars around the North Drop Bar and a framed photo of famous angler, Sam Jennings, reeling in one of his 1000-plus blues. Ironically, Jenning’s Revenge was the boat that beat the Gulf Rascal to win the 2011 USVI Open/ABMT – and it was only by one fish.
Finally, what’s on Caddell’s fishing ‘wish list’?
“One day I’d like to have some of my other friends experience what it’s like to catch a blue marlin, to have that incredible experience,” he says. “Plus, we’d like to win a majority of the tournaments we enter including the Boy Scout.”