Billfish: Catch & Release

Tom Poland

Posted 6/19/24

By Tom Poland
A Southern Writer

I wanted a real-deal Ernest Hemingway long-bill cap to let me see into the depths. One that would shade my Canon’s LCD monitor. One that might impart a bit of writing magic. The cap arrived along with a post card of Hemingway posing by a huge marlin. He had that iconic cap on. At once I recalled Santiago and The Old Man and the Sea.

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. In the first forty days a boy had been with him. But after forty days without a fish the boy’s parents had told him that the old man was now definitely and finally salao, which is the worst form of unlucky, and the boy had gone at their orders in another boat which caught three good fish the first week. It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.”

(Photo by Tom Poland)

There’s neither bad luck nor defeat along our coast where the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series is underway. I wager many participants read The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway was no dilettante. He served as a vice president of the International Game Fish Association. He studied marine science and helped shape big-game fishing. I don’t know that he tagged and released billfish, but he valued angling’s ethics and proposed rules for big game angling.

This year’s South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series began May 8. July 3 through 6 the HMY Lowcountry Cup will be underway, and July 17 through 20, the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament will wind things up. The series encourages the conservation of ocean resources through the release of billfish. No tagging, just a “catch and release” philosophy that avoids stressing the fish.

Our billfish fishery has become the “talk of the town” with record releases of blue marlin. In May, for the second straight year, Capt. Sean Dooley, West Rivers, Thomas Garmany, and the men who fished the Viking 82 Demo off Charleston set a new unofficial South Carolina one-day state record for blue marlin releases, seven blues and two sailfish.

As tagging goes, the South Carolina Marine Game Fish Tagging Program—the East Coast’s first state-sponsored public tagging program—began in 1974. It has long given biologists vital information on movement, migration rates, and other data and continues to yield vital information.

Tagging benefits anglers too. Recreational anglers who participate in a volunteer tagging program learn effective techniques in the proper handling and release of marine game fish. They see catch and release’s benefits through the short- and long-term recovery of tagged marine fish. They develop an appreciation for marine resources and promote their stewardship. As well, they give scientists accurate data on recreational fishing activity that’s useful to fishery management applications. No tagging billfish for now. Just catch and release.

The South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series is an official program of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. As well it coordinates with the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, and the Harry R.E. Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund. The series brings conservation, angling, and tourism together in a great way. And for me, it brings Hemingway’s cap and a bit of literature to the mix.

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