The sight of August's full moon means one thing to Capt. Billy Borer: blue marlin in St. Thomas. "I've been coming here since the late 1980's," says Borer, who calls Stuart, Florida, home and currently runs the 64-foot Jim Smith, Se7en, for Stan and Joan Walker.
Borer cruised into St. Thomas in 1988 as the captain of Jim Edmiston's El Zorro mothership and El Zorro II sports fishing boat. "I joined El Zorro in the Indian Ocean, in Mauritius. We traveled from there to the Seychelles, through the Red Sea, Suez Canal, and Mediterranean to the Canary Islands. Then, we traveled to Cape Verde and the Ivory Coast of Africa before crossing the Atlantic to Brazil and up to Venezuela. From there, we headed north to the Virgin Islands. Jim loved it here so much he established residency and bought a house. We ended up staying seven or eight years," Borer explains.
The fishing scene was different back then, Borer says. "I remember there were two little white buildings where the American Yacht Harbor shops are today."
He adds, "We'd all communicate through V.I. Radio. There were no cell phones back then. Or GPS, although we were on the fringe of Loran. But, we'd call the catches in from where we got them - the saddle, the corner, the gun site, the heartbreak. That referred to what the line of sight looked like as we lined up the big peak on St. John and Jost Van Dyke. It's sort of a lost art now. Only the older guys know what I'm talking about. Today, where you catch a fish has been reduced to a number on the GPS."
Photo L-R: Capt. Eddie Morrison, Capt. Red Bailey, Capt. Billy Borer, Capt. Mike Lemon.
The fishing itself, Borer says, has stayed pretty much the same. "We've been pitch baiting since 1994 or 1995, learning how to become proficient from folks like Capt. Mike Lemon and Capt. Brad Simmons."
"I do miss," he says, "when you could use multi-grades of line in the Virgin Islands Gamefishing Club's July Open Tournament. Once you'd choose your line test, you'd get scored accordingly. It took more strategy, you needed to be a better angler."
There are more sports fishing boats now, says Borer. "The circle was smaller back then. Still, the boats today spread out more and there's more coverage. It used to be we'd hammer the 600-foot drop and rarely get off to 1200-foot. Now, the fleet goes deeper and further to the northeast."
As for the future of the sport, Borer says, "I think its headed in the right direction with all release tournaments. Today, we're catching the fish more quickly, releasing them faster and generally taking more care of them."
He adds, "I think the Boy Scout Tournament has always been a leader in the sport. Its known for a lot of firsts - the first to have a 400-pound minimum release, the first to have observers. I don't know how many more firsts there can be in the future. But, there are lots of boats that do it every year. Serious sports fishermen like Sam Jennings and Ralph Christiansen, for example, come back every year due to their passion for marlin fishing."
As for the Bermuda Triangle Series, now in its second year with St. Thomas as its last leg, Borer says, "Logistically its hard. Especially for an angler like my boss, who likes to fish his own boat. It's 725 miles from Bermuda to the Bahamas and 825 miles from the Bahamas to St. Thomas. Some say a Caribbean series would be better. One, for example, that might include the Turks and Caicos and St. Martin."
On the horizon, Borer can envision a higher profile for the sport. "If a sponsor offered us a half million dollars to put two decals on either side of the boat, we'd probably consider it," he says.
Like the America's Cup, Borer adds, "sports fishing is a zero spectator sport, unless its televised. Even then, its tough to know how much of the masses you'll interest."
Borer concludes, "St. Thomas ranks as one of the top places in the world for blue marlin fishing. You never know if you're going to see a really big fish or how many fish in a day. Plus, it's a beautiful spot to ride in and out. I never get tired of the scene. There's nothing like coming in, watching the sun set over Cockroach and Cricket cays with the moon rising overhead, and five flags flying on your riggers."