And they’re… in a holding pattern. The 16th Annual VBBT kicked off with a flair Wednesday evening as the 79 teams, families and volunteers all converged at the big tent overlooking Rudee Inlet and shared hugs and handshakes. But when Jim Bayne, a member of the board of directors as well as a participant, took a straw poll at the captains’ meeting, very few hands went up indicating they were fishing Thursday. That could have a major impact.

To pay out the daily top boat prize money, at least 10 percent of the fleet or eight boats have to fish. Catch points would still count, but with 70 boats already declaring their lay day for Thursday, the daily money will likely be split between Friday and Saturday. The overall purse is $612,250. Two boats had to drop out at the last minute, so the final field is set at 79 boats.

Earlier in the day, crews were busy prepping for the competition ahead. Capt. Gene Sauers was familiarizing himself with a different boat than he is used to.

“I’m running the Lulu, a 50 Blackwell, for the week,” he explained. “We just sold the Cotton Picker and are looking around for a replacement now.” This marks the fourth year the Savannah, Georgia, team has fished the VBBT, although the boat has been coming to the area for six years.

“We really like Virginia Beach,” Sauers says. “The people have treated us like one of their own and the fishing is usually pretty good, too.” Lulu plans to lay Thursday before heading north to hunt for white marlin, the primary target.

“My plan is to get above the Norfolk Canyon. There’s a good-looking piece of water up there. But we’ll go wherever the ocean will let us go. It’s supposed to be sporty this week.”

Like many of the competing teams, which Sauers grades as “some of the best in the world,” Lulu will be pulling four naked or plain ballyhoo baits, two dredges and two teasers. A pitch bait is held in standby in case a big blue marlin appears behind the transom.

“Every now and then we’ll put a plug out if fishing is slow,” he adds.

Chris Stine, the mate on Bi-Op-Sea, a 59 Spencer from Manteo, North Carolina, was busy changing line on the reels when questioned about his arsenal. The Shimano Torsa reels are mounted on custom Whalebone Tackle rods and loaded with 25-pound test for the main line. Stine adds more than 20 feet of 60-pound wind-on leader. The “dink” ballyhoo baits are attached with a snap swivel and a short piece of 50-pound leader. A solo 80-pound Tiagra outfit is used to drag a big marlin bait.

“If it’s slow we might slide another big bait out there just to complicate things.”

Stine says the Bi-Op-Sea team includes the same six anglers nearly every tournament to maintain routine and synchronization. He’s hoping the reports of good fishing in the area hold true.

“We need two good days in terms of points,” he says. “In this tournament it’s hard to bomb out one day and then come back. There are just too many good fishermen here.”