Oct. 30, 2004 Armchair fishermen will have a chance to see the pros wrestle the big ones as ESPN2 airs the Billfishing Xtreme Release League and FDNY Marlin Challenge, videotaped on St. Thomas Aug. 21-24, in early November. With over $600,000 at stake and fish that can weigh 1,000 pounds (all of which are released), the excitement is matched only by the drama.
The Billfishing Xtreme Release League is the highest level of competitive big-game fishing. The coverage on ESPN2 reaches 140 million households.
Frank Hurt, one of the show's photographers and owner of St. Thomas television production company Mountain Video Associates, has worked on the program since its first season in 2001.
"For the past four years we have been taping shows all over the Caribbean, but nowhere have we found better facilities or received more enthusiastic support than right here at home. It's great to have our community and sport-fishing venue receive this kind of TV exposure," Hurt said in a release.
Two one-hour episodes will air on ESPN2. The FDNY Marlin Challenge will air Sunday, Nov. 7, at 11:30 a.m., repeated Friday, Nov. 12 at 7 a.m. The St. Thomas event for the regular Billfishing Xtreme Release League tournament will air Saturday, Nov. 13, at 11:30 a.m., repeated Friday, Nov. 19, at 7 a.m., Hurt said.
The billfishing series consists of six teams competing in a five-event series from February to September, with a guaranteed purse of $600,000. All five events are covered in 16 hours of television programming. The St. Thomas segment is the fourth one, Hurt said.
Unique to the St. Thomas portion of the series for 2004 was an additional show featuring 12 New York firemen. The FDNY Marlin Challenge tested the angling abilities of the New York firemen as they joined each of the six billfishing teams for a day of fishing. The firemen of New York participated in many exciting activities including the "chair pull" competition and barbecues that were hosted by the V.I. Fire Department of St. Thomas, Hurt said.
In the Xtreme League, the six teams' skill level requirements are pushed past anything that has been seen on the tournament landscape. Flawless performance by every member of the seasoned teams is necessary to capitalize on the point structure, and anything less results in costly point penalties, he said.
For instance, a broken line is more than a lost fish: it results in points being deducted from the team's score. A tag is required within a specified tag zone or it costs the team points, forcing accuracy and patience on the part of the crew. Even after the tag is in place, the leader has to be cut short to get the full point value of the fish. Experience and finesse on the skipper's part is essential or the whole scenario breaks down, he said.
Among those who made it possible for the tournament to take place here are V.I. Tourism officials Pamela Richards, Steve Bornn and Monique Sibilly-Hodge, Bolongo Bay Beach Club, Iggie's Beach Bar and Grill, American Yacht Harbor, Sopchoppy's Pub, Burrito Bay Deli, Blue Moon Cafe and Budget Rent-A-Car.
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