A while back I told ya’ll about a dolphin (mahi) tournament called “Wexford’s Run For The Bulls.” Last weekend that tournament was held and what a day it was!
Recapping the plan, I was asked to come up with an event to showcase Wexford Plantation’s water-oriented lifestyle. I chose dolphin as the designated species because it is probably the easiest pelagic species to catch, where seasoned anglers and novices are on an equal footing.
Limited to the first 30 boats to enter, Wexford, the Hilton Head Boathouse and Bass Pro Shops stepped up to the plate, guaranteeing a first place pot of $20,000.
Besides these major sponsors, a number of local businesses also donated prizes so no single boat went away empty handed.
In addition, the tournament committed $3,000 to the Waddell Mariculture Center’s purchase of a maturation tank, otherwise known as a breeding tank, so that cobia, trout and redfish can be raised year round.
Pealing out between 2 and 4 a.m., all thirty boats had to weave in and around thunderstorms on the way to the Gulf Stream. I felt for the center console boats getting drenched even before they reached the stream, but once there it was as if the big man upstairs opened the clouds up, turned off his big fan and it couldn’t have been more beautiful.
I won’t say the dolphin bite was on fire, because from all the chatter on the radio mostly small fish were being caught. But because this tournament was mostly made up of local boats, captains were sharing information about the area they were working, which is the way it should be.
So many of the tournaments these days have become way too serious. Sure, a lot of money was at stake, but almost to a boat, friendly banter made the slow bite tolerable.
I was fishing aboard my longtime friend Dan Cornell’s brand spanking new 45’ Hatteras, along with Capt. Stefan Patrick, Dan’s teenage daughter Carlyle, who is quite the accomplished angler, a girlfriend of hers, Marielle Bulloch and her dad Jason, plus Jim Hagale, President of Bass Pro Shops.
I have been guiding both Jim and Dan for years now and with this A-team, I figured we had a shot. The only problem with that assumption was the fish had other ideas, such as keeping their mouths shut tight. We did catch a small or “peanut” dolphin. We missed a couple of nice ones, but the bite just wasn’t there. Even when we found current rips and Sargasso weed lines, places that are usually a slam-dunk for dolphin and wahoo, the fish simply weren’t feeding.
Using every toy in my arsenal, it seemed what fish that did strike didn’t go after our trolled baits with gusto.
Instead, they were grabbing the back end of baits, mouthing it and then vamoose. But then that’s fishing.
A couple of funnies happened during slow periods. Knowing that Jim is a huge country music fan I cranked up the stereo with a country song and wham, a fish hits. Then after another long lull, I declare it’s my turn to put on my tunes when it happened. When trolling, a teaser is put out a few yards behind the boat. Hookless, it is made up of several lures in a row slapping the water hopefully attracting big fish that think it is a school of fleeing baitfish.
No sooner had my tune cranked up when a large blue marlin inhaled the teaser, snapping it in two. Then it ate a bait I had set right behind it. At that point it launched itself out of the water and tail walked a good hundred yards.
What a sight! Neither Jim nor Dan had ever witnessed a marlin bite and to a person, eyes and mouths were wide open. We lost the fish but then ten minutes later another marlin, back out of the water, dorsal fin erect comes into our spread of lures. It made everybody’s day for sure.
So who won? In my opinion everyone, but the big money went to Harry Morales aboard the Manatee Mac. The awards party was held at the Wexford Clubhouse and they did it right. The food was great, a cake shaped like a mahi and libations all around gave this tournament a feel I haven’t experienced in years.
Thanks to Bass Pro, the Boathouse and all the other sponsors, every boat walked away with a prize. Then when Al Stokes received the check for $3,000, something amazing happened.
The two boats that also won money threw in $1,000 each for Waddell. To a person I have heard the same thing, that it was the best run and most fun tournament in which they had participated in years. Hopefully Wexford’s “Run For The Bulls” will become THE tournament to be in for years to come.
Thanks again to all that helped.