By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
Mortality could be reduced if billfish tournaments banned live bait, which anglers fish slowly, allowing the prey to swallow it before they set the hook, according to Quartiano. Dead baits, by comparison, usually are trolled from moving boats and thus less likely to be swallowed by the fish, he adds.
Vernon disputes Quartiano's analysis. While allowing that some fish will die, even in a catch-and-release event, Vernon says the chief culprits are barbed J hooks, which are more easily swallowed than circle hooks, and careless treatment of the fish by anglers. During the tournament, for example, mates have been instructed to cut the leader to release a hooked fish rather than try to retrieve the hook and leader by jerking it from the fish's mouth.
Saltwater sportfishing is big business. Last weekend's twentieth annual Miami Billfish Tournament, headquartered at the Miami Beach Marina, brought to town 400 anglers, their families, and scores of representatives from corporations associated with the sport. The glossy, 88-page official magazine of the tournament brims with ads, not only from chief sponsors Yamaha marine engines and Contender boats and other fishing-related equipment, but also from Bacardi, Hooters, and General Electric. According to Vernon, 101 boats caught 280 sailfish and 2 marlin, all of which were released. The top angler walked off with $56,400. (Since the tournament is catch-and-release, determining the champion angler depends in part on the honor system -- an ironic twist in an activity that made "fish story" a synonym for exaggeration. Volunteer observers were posted on most boats to radio in catches to tournament officials onshore, but when the competition ended Sunday, April 7, winners had to pass a polygraph test too!)
Over the years competitors have been disqualified for cheating, sighs Vernon. But most professional fishermen, like most local charter-boat captains, "are dedicated and serious," she says. "And they realize they have to make some sacrifices by releasing fish to preserve the fishery. Miami used to be a destination for sportfishing. It has lost some of that association. But I think we can put it back on the map."
Alas, Miami is not going to be on one man's fishing map again anytime soon. Back in Houston, Robertson said he was leafing through an outdoors magazine when he came across several pictures of trophy sailfish. "And I realized," he says, "that maybe the fish I caught wasn't so big. I just feel lucky now that when we got back to the dock there weren't a lot of people screaming at us for killing the fish. It's embarrassing. I guess you get smarter as you get older."