These Sport Fishers are the Kings of the Gulf

The latest sportfishing yachts expand the strike zone

(page 1 of 4)


Courtesy Hatteras Yachts / Jim-Raycroft

A mate rigs lines with skirted trolling lures and a teaser designed to attract the attention of the Gulf of Mexico’s most magnificent predators.

The captain and crew of the “Rise Up” had what they believed would be a place-winning yellowfin tuna on ice, but had yet to boat a marlin, and time was running short. Fishing off Louisiana, the “Rise Up” was a long way from the Orange Beach (Alabama) Billfish Classic’s tournament scales. Capt. Jason Hallmark, boat owner Rusty Skalla and the others on board had resigned themselves to the near certainty that they would be weighing in a “meat fish,” but no billfish.

Billfishing in the northern Gulf of Mexico tends toward long stretches of monotony interrupted by brief, unpredictable periods of pandemonium. With 30 minutes left in the OBBC’s fishing hours, pandemonium happened. The “Rise Up” was tied up with a contender.

Twenty-three minutes later, the 120-inch fish was on the deck and occasioned a celebration that was cut short by the need to immediately ready the boat for the run home. The “Rise Up” had another deadline to meet — getting to the scales before they closed at 7 p.m. — and doing so would require hauling, well, keister.

“We were running pretty hard and had boat trouble,” Hallmark said as he summoned a difficult memory. “The electronic sensors on the motors detected a problem and de-rated them,” limiting the maximum number of RPMs at which they could be run.

Hallmark had no choice but to shut the engines down, let them cool and then hope he would be able to resume normal operation. He would prove able to do so, but not for long. Three times, the “Rise Up” would de-rate on the way in.

“If it had happened twice, we would have made it,” Hallmark sighed. The “Rise Up” reached the Intracoastal Waterway, slowed to observe “No Wake” signs and arrived at the scale 100 seconds late.

“It was a tough pill to swallow, but that’s why they have rules,” Hallmark philosophized. “The tournament officials felt bad for us, but if they had bent the rules in our favor, what would they do if another boat had come in 10 minutes late?”

The tournament weighmaster, as a courtesy, put the tardy marlin on the scales.
“Seven hundred and seventy-one pounds,” he announced. That is, it weighed 120 pounds more than the tournament-winning blue marlin. The “Rise Up” had missed out on $150,000 in prize and Calcutta money by a matter of less than two minutes.

Was there a silver lining?

“I guess you could say so,” Hallmark concluded. “We got more notoriety out of coming in a little bit late than we would have if we had won. It made for a good story.”

Courtesy Hatteras Yachts / Jim-Raycroft

The blue marlin

Hallmark is a member of a new generation of billfish specialists who captain a new generation of sportfishing yachts. Hallmark and his rivals, including Patrick Ivie and Miles Colley, are to big game fishing as Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson are to golf. Like big hitters who easily reach par-5s in two, Hallmark et al, cover distances previously unheard of.

“Fishing tournaments, we may run 300 miles one way,” Hallmark said. “There are a handful of captains that make those long runs.”

That is, if owners are willing. Some may not wish to ride that far or pay for the added fuel expense to get there.

“The fuel-tank capacity on this boat is 1,800 gallons,” Hallmark noted, referring to his current office, a 60-foot Hatteras, the “Gunnslinger,” berthed at The Ships Chandler marina in Destin. “And we’ve got bladders that hold another 400. We’ll run for four or five hours and then pump the fuel from the bladders into the tanks. It gives us even more range.”

Fuel supplies evaporate quickly when a boat cruising at 30 knots burns 125 gallons an hour — and Hallmark favors long runs to waters that he first fished at a time when he was piloting his own boats.

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