Bluewater success is often measured in temperature degrees. If a boat gets on a really good bite, it’s red hot. If another has some chances and capitalizes on a few, then it’s warm or luke warm. And if a strike is more elusive than a straight answer at a political debate, the action is labeled ice cold. On Thursday, the 75 boats competing in the 20th annual VBBT experienced enough temperature swings to make a TV weatherman break into cold sweats.

Wall Hanger, a 58 Spencer with Capt. Brian Allen on the throttles, was on the sizzling end of the thermometer for the day. The team released five sailfish and two blue marlin to jump on top of the leaderboard with 490 points. In this contest sailfish, spearfish and white marlin count for 70 points, along with blues, but the crew can earn an extra 130 points with a positive identification on the latter species. Blue marlin generally fight harder than the other billfish, especially on light tackle, and in the heat of battle it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between whites and blues. So the scoring format rewards the extra time and effort it takes for a positive ID.

“We were ecstatic to have some good luck today,” Allen said back in the slip. “We didn’t make too many mistakes and we capitalized on our opportunities.” Wall Hanger had two doubles with sails, a single and went two for three on blue marlin estimated to be 150 to 200 pounds. The team had another blue one on for about five minutes before it pulled the hook. All the fish were caught on naked (plain, un-skirted) dink ballyhoo.

“The blues were good-sized fish,” Allen adds. “They didn’t take a lot of time, we got ‘em released and went back to fishing.” Wall Hanger was trolling in the same southern depths as last week during the Pirate’s Cove Billfish Tournament in blended blue water with other boats in the vicinity. The team is still trying to decide if they will lay on Friday.

Sniper, a 58 Paul Mann with Capt. Chris Raiford at the helm, was another toasty boat on Thursday. The team jumped out early with a quick morning bite with sails.

“We caught three of four right around 9 am standard dink bait fishing,” Raiford explained. “We jumped another off, got another and released a single at the end of the day. I saw a few scattered birds, some flyers and a little bait. The water was a blended blue at 82 degrees, right around the 000s.” Sniper plans to lay on Friday with a front approaching and finish out on Saturday.

Capt. Todd Smith and his team aboard Triple ‘S’, a 72 Scarborough, ended up with four sailfish releases, good for 280 points, on the first day of the contest. Smith said they had a single, caught two from a triple and added another single later. They also raised a blue marlin that wouldn’t commit.

“We left a couple out there, missed a couple but ended up with a good day overall,” Smith says. “We were off by ourselves and saw a lot of life. There were some birds on the break and tuna popping. The water temperature never hit 80 degrees. I didn’t mark a lot of bait, but we saw some slicks and those tuna were there for a reason. So we’re going again tomorrow to strike while the iron is warm and give it hell.”

With a quarter or more of the fleet in the area, Unbridled, a 68 Viking run by Capt. Andy Morris, was one of several boats that didn’t see a lot of action. The boat was east of Cigar with some scattered weeds and grass yet not a lot of bait on top. Unbridled did get on the scoreboard with a sailfish out of two chances.

“It was pretty today. We were pleasantly surprised,” said angler and VBBT board member Jud Black. “We had a couple wahoo bites also since we were fishing inshore. We’re going to lay tomorrow and go for the Saturday finale.” Black has been involved with the tournament since the beginning and is proud of the accomplishments over the previous 19 years.

“”It’s pretty cool. We started this together 20 years ago and after expenses, all the money raised goes to the participants and charity. We’ve given away a lot of money. The most important aspect though is the camaraderie. Everyone has a good time and the lion’s share of the credit goes to Paula and Deirdre. It’s been fun.”

With a small craft advisory in the marine forecast for Friday, many boats will probably opt to stay ashore. That sets up a decisive Saturday showdown. Will the fishing temperatures be scorching August or early autumn? Whatever the outcome, there’s certain to be varying degrees in between.

Photo credits: Courtesy of Wall Hanger, Sniper and Capt. Dave Lear