Improbable win works just fine for Tree House
VILANO BEACH – With busted steering, a make-shift crew and a NOAA weather forecast from hell, Captain Bucky Odom beat the odds – twice – to win the 40th Annual Northeast Florida Marlin Association’s Blue Water Tournament Saturday.
Odom lost his steering hydraulics in his first day of fishing Thursday. The part needed couldn’t be delivered before the end of the tournament Saturday. “I told Peter (Sabo, his mechanic) I’ve got to have it…” With no way to fix the steering, Sabo told him that the leak in the system was bad, but maybe not that bad. “He told me to take three or four gallons of fluid with me and keep it filled.”
The fluid kept the 25-year-old Bertram moving, but the helm, itself, did not respond. The autopilot did work and he drove the boat by that Saturday.
He checked out of the Conch House Marina at 4 a.m. “Is there anybody else going out?” he asked marlin base over the VHF radio. “We don’t know,” was the reply. “Not yet, anyway.”
Captains had a choice of fishing any two days out of five in the tournament format.
Fishing had been slow and spread out. With no real plan in mind, Odom said he went east out the inlet, turned left at around 400 feet and set the autopilot north. “The big swells were coming in from the north and I figured we’d fish into it and not get beat to death on the way back in.”
He set the lines out at 7 a.m. in swells from 6 to 8 feet; several seconds apart and not too choppy on the tops.
“The water was that kind of pretty blue – cobalt blue,” Odom said and small dolphin started smacking the big marlin baits. There were flying fish active and some good weed lines which he could not fish without helm steering. “We just went straight.”
“With all those little dolphin committing suicide in our spread, I thought ‘there must be something out here eating them,’” Odom said.
At around 10:30 a.m. the crew saw a small marlin in the baits. It took one – a C&H Lures American Express – and the 125-pounder was released at 10:58 a.m.
Odom spent some time getting the boat headed back north without steering while the crew got the baits back out.
Fifteen minutes later the shotgun line went off again. This is the line run way behind the rest of the spread – 150 yards, Odom said.
“The reel just screamed.”
They did not see the fish.
“There was no fight in it,” Odom said. The fish came easily to the boat. Ten feet behind the transom, they saw it was another marlin – about 225 pounds.
“Then it went berserk,” the skipper said.
It was a back and forth battle. But the marlin came to the boat with that blue and white lure in his jaw – the same lure that caught the first fish. Same angler too, John Thomas.
In fact, the American Express was the lure all five marlin caught in the tournament hit. It was the first marlin lure Don Combs of C&H Lures ever put into production. It won’t be his last.
Combs lives in St. Johns County and runs his business out of Jacksonville Beach.
In the building seas the crew headed in. Odom had learned later that morning he was the only boat fishing the tournament that day. And the one-two punch of a double-header blue marlin day put him in first place.
He won $7,000 for the win. But side bets between captains – called the Calcutta – may have been five times that much.
Odom and his Tree House also won the tournament in 2005. The win Saturday guarantees the crew a spot in the Rolex World Billfish Championship next year in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Anglers from as many as 40 countries will be there fishing to win what’s called the Olympics of bill-fishing.
The captain may plan to punch a hole in his steering hydraulics for that one. If it works once…
- Tree House – 2 marlin
- Lit up – 1 marlin
- Miss Laddy – 1 marlin
- Inside Chance – 3 sailfish
- Lit Up – 1 sailfish
- Ring Leader – 1 sailfish
(All billfish were caught and released)
- Reel X Cape II- 43.30 pounds
- Full A Bull – 33.50 pounds
- Front Runner – 31.60 pounds
- Double Trouble – 33.20 pounds
- Sly Fox – 29.20 pounds
- Best Revenge – 25.20 pounds