As we look ahead to another year of sport fishing off South Carolina’s coast, we wanted to take a step back and revisit a special milestone that quietly took place during the last tournament of the 2021 Series. In all likelihood, most crews were probably unaware that one of their own, a captain who has been fishing offshore since the early ‘90s, reeled in his first ever blue marlin during the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament last year.
That’s not to say this man hasn’t been involved in the catch and release of many blue marlin over the years. Almost always at the helm, he is no stranger to raising blues for his friends and family aboard his boat Sea Tiger. But it wasn’t until one hot July day in the blue waters off the coast of Edisto Island that circumstances would align for Capt. Jerry Smith, sitting him right next to the rod that would hook the largest blue marlin caught in Sea Tiger program history.
“I am at the helm unless I have another good captain on board, but I have always wanted the guests on the boat to reel in the fish,” says Smith. This “guests first attitude” should be no surprise to folks who know him. Smith demonstrates such kindness, sportsmanship and easiness when on the docks. His sweet smile and quiet demeanor noticeably sets him apart from what can typically be a rowdy and competitive tournament crowd.
The folks aboard Sea Tiger always look like they’re glad to have the opportunity to spend time together, something Smith clearly helps accommodate. He often fishes with the same people year after year, and this tournament was no exception. Friends John Boozer, Todd Sharpe, Davis Hallman, Mike Yannuzzi and Capt. Ed Bryant joined him that special day for the final tournament of the Series. Bryant, another well-respected captain, took the helm while Smith spent some time in the cockpit.
When the rod next to him suddenly went off, Smith still showcased his signature ‘“guests first” mentality. “I tried to pass the rod off to somebody else, but nobody would take it from me, so I ended up with it,” recalls Smith. His friends grinned as they refused his offer and urged him to take the rod. Their encouragement would prove to be a great help to Smith as he fought the estimated 500-lb blue marlin on the other end of the line.
“It was all very exciting and exhausting! This fish was the biggest one we had ever hooked. My arms were killing me and I was thinking about giving up,” says Smith. “Then the crew put the harness on me and things got a lot easier. However, I was in the chair for four hours. That’s a long time!”
Four hours certainly is a long time to be strapped to a fish, especially your first blue marlin. Add the fact that the fish was over 500-lbs and you’ve got yourself an even bigger battle. Smith relied on his decades of sport fishing experience to get the job done, eventually getting the fish to the boat.
“With the leader in hand, we tried to pull the fish alongside the boat to measure her so we could be 100% certain she was well over 105 inches,” recalls Smith. For those who don’t know, any blue marlin landed during a Gov Cup tournament must measure at least 105 inches to qualify.
“The fish suddenly made a move, got slack in the line, and the lure just fell out of her mouth. We then watched her swim away,” says Smith. Watching a fish like that swim off so nonchalantly during a tournament can certainly turn your stomach, but not for Capt. Jerry Smith. “We were a little disappointed because we were pretty sure that the fish was long enough. However, I was just happy to have gotten her to the boat! There were no hard feelings whatsoever.”
That ole girl might be out there again, even bigger than she was last summer. Let’s hope she’s done her job, contributed to the population with several spawns, and is hungry again. Smith certainly seems grateful to have had the opportunity to tangle with her. Although he’s had countless great experiences on the water, he assured us that the memory of his first blue marlin ranks somewhere at the top.
Like us, Smith is ready for another summer of competition here in South Carolina. Tournament season provides a great opportunity to get out on the water and catch up with old friends.
“I always enjoy seeing all the people that you don’t get to see the rest of the year,” he says. “And of course all the beautiful boats and the fellowship.”
Cheers to another year of firsts and fellowship in sport fishing! Follow along here on The Teaser for more stories and highlights from the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series, which kicks off this week in Georgetown.
Participants, host marinas, staff, and sponsors are eager to get this season started. Three tournaments will occur throughout the summer: the 54th Annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament, the Carolina Billfish Classic, and the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament.
Competitors accumulate points at each event, eventually leading to an overall Series winner. Over 30 years of sport-fishing teams have been honored with such a title, and we can’t wait to see who takes the win later this year!
For more information about the 2022 Series, visit: govcup.dnr.sc.gov. And of course thank you to all of our sponsors and partners for making the Series possible. Catch ‘em up, y’all!
The Teaser is a series dedicated to showcasing the stories of the Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series and its lively community. The Gov Cup was created several decades ago to encourage the conservation of ocean resources through the tagging and release of billfish. Learn more here.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.