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Article - June, 2001


By Carol Bareuther

Popular St. Thomas Captain

The deep sea swells along the North Drop were rolling gently as Captain Joseph "Spike" Herbert aboard Caribbean Soul trolled for blue marlin. It was a few minutes after noon on a clear July 8, l980 day. Captain Spike's mate, Vincente Oquendo, had just gone inside the cabin to make a sandwich. Charter client and first time angler, Herbert Willog, was out on deck casually watching the sea. Then all of a sudden - snap, wheeeeeeeez.

The line spun off Willog's reel, as a fish took the lure and ran with it. Quickly, Oquendo got Willog in the fighting chair and strapped a harness around his waist. From his position 12-feet above the boat's main deck, Captain Spike had a clear view of the line running from Willog's bent rod and saw an angry, thrashing marlin at the other end. Suddenly the fish jumped. Oquendo, who had thrown his sandwich overboard in the excitement, knew that they had at least a 500-pound blue marlin on the line. As soon as Willog had secured the hook in the fish's mouth, Captain Spike backed down hard, spraying both angler and crew with seawater. Wet and grinning, adrenalin surging through his veins, Willog hurriedly took up the slack and the fight was on.

One hour, then two hours passed. Valiantly struggling with all its might, the marlin leaped awesomely out of the sea several times. From the boat's bridge, Captain Spike's clear vision told him that they had hooked up a `big daddy' blue marlin, perhaps a new world record. Finally, three and a half hours later, Willog had his surrendering marlin at the boat. Oquendo swiftly went into action, grabbing the wire as soon as the swivel touched the rod tip and positioned the fish to be gaffed.

Knowing in advance that help would be needed, Captain Spike had already radioed for assistance to hoist this monster from the sea. "It took five guys from another boat to help us get the marlin out of the water," Captain Spike said as he recalled this spectacular catch. On the first attempt at raising the marlin out of the water, the block and tackle broke. Then, with all the men's muscle power working in unison, they got the fish into the boat. At the docks, the massive marlin was pulled up on the scales and officially weighed in at an impressive 1,192 pounds. Although this huge blue marlin was not an official record (the Atlantic Blue Marlin all tackle record is 1,403 pounds) is was the dream of a lifetime come true for Willog. For Captain Spike, it meant a place in the history books for being one of only four captains in Virgin Island waters to have handled a catch of this size.

In his 36-year sport fishing career, Captain Spike has come to know Virgin Island waters intimately. In the early 1960's, a teenage Spike used to fish off the docks on his home island of Nevis. Shortly thereafter, he began working on sport fishing boats. During the year 1966, one of the sport fishing boat owners decided to take Spike, along with the rest of his crew, up to the Virgin Islands to learn how to catch blue marlin. After returning to Nevis for just a short while, Spike came back to the Virgin Islands in 1967 to stay permanently.

On St. Thomas Spike has the great opportunity to work as mate for the late legendary Captain Tommy Gifford, aboard his Star Trek II in the late 1960's. He then became Captain Spike aboard "Big Daddy", a 32' Striker sport fishing boat owned by the late local author, Eleanor "Ellie" Heckert. He then skippered Phoenix, a Classic 46' Rybovich, for many years before taking over the helm of the 45' Ocean, Lady Carol. It is from these long years of fishing - years that have spanned from rigging his own baits and using Dacron line to high-tech lures and monofilament, from riding in the bridge to working deep in the engine room to get a recalcitrant engine started - that Captain Spike has come to successfully puzzle out Mother's Nature's clues. The run of the currents, direction and concentration of bait fish, water clarity and temperature, along with the bend of an angler's rod all add up in his mind and result in the moves it takes to turn a day of fishing into one of catching. At his side through the years, Captain Spike has worked with many ace mates like Danny Boland, Lincoln Richardson, Jay Bollenberg, Rob Olive, Tom Baker and Tracy Chance.

Having worked with the best in the field, Captain Spike has today garnered himself an impressive reputation as an outstanding sports fisherman. It was this professional quality that the television program "American Sportsman" sought to capture when they shot their segment on marlin fishing in the Virgin Islands. For this episode the producers paired actor Larry Hagman, known notoriously as J.R. Ewing on the nighttime soap Dallas, with Captain Spike. As a distinguished angler-captain duo, Captain Spike said they shot some "exciting footage." Other famous personalities that Captain Spike has taken fishing over the years include politician Hubert Humphrey, singer Diane Carroll, boxer Marvin Hagler, actors Nicholas Cage and Dustin Hoffman and comedian Eddie Murphy. "Eddie Murphy got so seasick we had to come right back in," Captain Spike said.

Whether it is celebrities or everyday anglers, teaching fishing is what Captain Spike enjoys as he takes visitors and locals alike out on day charters. "The ladies are often better anglers than the men," he explained. "Men think brute strength is needed. Actually, it oftentimes takes a light touch."

Not only a blue marlin enthusiast, Captain Spike said, "I've caught every game fish the Virgin Islands produces - and they are all exciting to catch". It is in this experienced, well-rounded sports fisherman capacity that Captain Spike has helped lead the industry as an member of the Virgin Islands Game Fishing Club's board of directors, International Game Fishing Association representative, and member of the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council. "Caribbean island nations have to work together against long-lining or we'll see our fish stocks continue to deplete," he says. Captain Spike also serves as an international ambassador for sports fishing by traveling and competing in tournaments in destinations like Puerto Rico, St. Martin, Antigua and St. Lucia. In fact, for the Virgin Islands prestigious U.S.V.I. Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, Captain Spike not only serves as an Honorary Captain but also a sought after captain booked oftentimes a year in advance.

It's the fun of "something different happening all the time" that keeps Captain Spike looking forward to his days at sea. "One day, I remember we had a blue marlin on the line and a shark came up to eat it," he explained, about a particularly unusual event. "Then we saw another blue marlin come up and attack the shark. It light up neon blue and drove its bill right into the shark. We hadn't seen anything like it." The lure of `big daddy' - a grander blue marlin - is also foremost in Captain Spike's mind. "About six or seven years ago we fought a blue marlin we thought to be about 1500 pounds for about 8 1/2 hours before it snapped the 80 pound line," he told. "There are still big ones out there."