Aug. 6, 2001 – Local knowledge and angling expertise were the keys to winning the Top Angler award — $10,000 in cash — at the 29th annual USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament, which ended Sunday on St. Thomas.
Still, "It was the luck of the draw," according to Michigan angler Allan Bates, fishing aboard Cutting Edge, a 72-foot Rybovitch. With a total of four releases, he won the top award for the second time in the tournament's history — equaling the accomplishment of his brother John last year.
"We've been coming here and fishing this event since 1988," Allan Bates said. His first win was in 1991. His brother triumphed in 1998 and again in 2000, making him the defending champ angler this year.
Although Puerto Rico's Lady Lou, with Capt. Johnny Fulgueira at the helm, went fishless the final day, it recorded a total of six blue marlin to earn the Top Boat prize — for the third straight year.
Luck was with a 14-year-old fishing his first Boy Scout Tournament on the first day of the four-day event.
Allan Bates finished the first day in sixth place with one release, as 14-year-old Adam Lambert from Florida bounded onto the scoreboard with the first two releases of the tournament. "I've been riding along with my dad and grandfather before, but this is the first time I've fished," Adam said. Grandfather Jim Lambert Sr. owns Reel Tight, a brand-new, 82-foot Merritt. Adam's accomplishment plus the one fish released by his dad, Jim Lambert Jr., earned Reel Tight Top Boat of the Day honors.
Adam went fishless on Day 2 but held on to his lead as Top Angler — by having recorded his catches first — while six other anglers caught up to him with two released fish apiece. Allan Bates wasn't one of them; it was a fishless day for him, too, leaving him in the 12th angler spot. Reel Tight did stay buoyed as Top Boat with a total of four released marlin, thanks to another one released by Jim Lambert Jr.
After a fishless third day, Adam sank to sixth place on the angler roster, while a pair of releases boosted Bates up to fifth. Meanwhile, Lady Lou, a brand-new, 61-foot Viking, cannon-balled onto the scene with four releases for the day. One of them belonged to Jose Valdes Jr., who took over the Top Angler lead with a total score of four fish. "Our first fish of the morning was a double header, but we lost one of them," Valdes said later. His dad, Jose Valdes Sr., and Raphael Suarez also had one release apiece, putting Lady Lou in the Top Boat lead with six fish total.
On the final day out, one release for Allan Bates and two again for Adam Lambert put them both into the winners' circle with four apiece – Bates as Top Angler, based on time, and Adam as Top Junior Angler.
North Carolina's Tiffany Sisolak scored as Top Female Angler, also with four released blue marlin. "This is the first time we've fished out of St. Thomas, so we weren't familiar with the fishing grounds," Sisolak said. "But we caught everything we saw." She fished aboard Mattanza, a Custom 52 out of Florida.
Despite a day's delay because last Monday's volcanic ash conditions prevented some participants from flying into St. Thomas until Tuesday, the weather was ideal, except for a band of thunder showers on Day 2 that halted the fishing for a couple of hours. That and the lucky effects of the full moon brough on the strong biting for which the Virgin Islands is famed.
Eighty-nine anglers on 34 boats competing in the four-day event released 89 blue marlin, for a catch rate of one fish per angler and 2.6 fish per boat. "This is the Super Bowl of fishing tournaments," event co-director Jimmy Loveland said. "A volcano can't stop us."
The USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament is the fifth leg of the 2001 World Billfish Series. Nicknamed the Boy Scout Tournament because the event benefits the Virgin Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the tournament raised over $140,000 for the scouts last year. Loveland said this year's figures wouldn't be available "until we finish paying the bills." But, he added, "we caught more fish this year than last year."
At the 2001 awards banquet Sunday evening at the Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen presented to the V.I. Boy Scouts Council a U.S. flag that had flown over the nation's Capitol in honor of the council's long-standing service to the youth and people of the Virgin Islands. She also presented a copy of a statement on the council and the tournament that she had read into the Congressional Record on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Charles Tinsley, executive director of the V.I. Council, accepted the flag and document, saying, "This honor has helped put the tournament and scouting in the Virgin Islands on the map nationally and around the world."


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