Spectators can be amazed at the powerful fish brought to the scales when the 46th Annual Pensacola International Billfish Tournament returns from June 28-July 2, but the real stories happen far offshore.

Dubbed, “The International,” the tournament starts with the blessing of the fleet at Pensacola Naval Air Station on June 29 at 3:15 p.m., and then the throttles go up. The armada plies into deep, blue open waters, charting courses to places with names like the Elbow, the Squiggles, and the Nipple. Others patrol drilling rigs farther out.

Bill fishing

Photo By @vs250b

The Gulf of Mexico slopes gently into deeper waters, but all that changes at the Desoto Canyon — the edge of the continental shelf. The canyon plummets to depths of 3,000 feet. An upwelling of deep nutrient-rich water occurs — a rich feeding ground for all layers of the food web.

This is a hunting ground ruled by big predators. Great fish. Big blue marlin. Powerful yellowfin and immense, Volkswagen-like Bluefin tuna. Torpedo-shaped wahoo rip through schools of ballyhoo at 60 mph — and brilliant “mahi-mahi,” flashing neon as they swoop and leap around floating seagrass to gulp flying fish.

The armada of multimillion-dollar machines, bristling with technology and armed with satellite thermocline reports — are led by captains and crews with decades of blue-water fishing experience.

Yet it all comes down to that one moment when a marlin strikes. Line screams.

“Fish on!”

It’s organized frenzy. The angler gets strapped into the fighting chair and the captain grabs the throttle as they watch the direction of the run. Meanwhile, the reel still screams — peeling off yards of line. Will she run deep? Will she leap?

The fights often last hours — with the angler sweating over the rod — bent by an impossibly powerful force. The key is how the crew works together. Only the angler can touch the rod or reel, but the captain guides the boat to follow the fish as it makes its numerous runs. The crew works together and finally must measure and verify the fish at the boat-side to determine if it will be landed – or tagged and released.

So if you come to fish or watch the fish, don’t just listen. Talk to the captains, the crew, and the anglers. Get their stories.

swordfish

Photo By @montywelt

The International Hauls in the Big Blues

The 46th annual Pensacola International Billfish Tournament kicks off the last weekend of June. Anglers vie for the $10,000 top prize — as well as numerous other cash prizes — as they seek marlin, swordfish, tuna, wahoo and dolphin-fish (mahi-mahi).

This year the event will be held at Pensacola Yacht Club near downtown Pensacola. The scales open from 5-8 p.m. on July 1 and 2.

The Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club founded the tournament in 1971 initially as a member-only event. The International is one of the country’s largest and most prestigious billfish tourneys.

But it also is steeped in conservation. The International has one of the most stringent requirements for minimum sizes for blue marlin, and there are prizes for catch-and-release.

The club aims to encourage and promote the conservation and study of game fishes, working with scientific foundations to collect data that will help preserve the iconic and vital pelagic species.

The Big Game Fishing Club holds two other billfish tournaments at the WCI Lost Key Marina Yacht Club on Perdido Key, before the International.

  • The Pensacola Ladies Billfish Tournament runs from 7 p.m. on May 12 to 8 p.m. on May 13
  • The Pensacola Big Game Junior Angler Tournament is June 16-17.

Tournament info:

Pensacola Big Game Fishing Club, 850.453.4638

Venue: Pensacola Yacht Club, 850.433.8804

1897 Cypress St

Pensacola, FL 32502

Some notable fishing contests … for the whole family!

47th annual Bill Hargreaves Fishing Rodeo

June 15-18

Location: Grand Lagoon Yacht Club, Pensacola

The Bill Hargreaves Fishing Rodeo hands out cash prizes for 12 different categories of fish in the Open Division, totaling over $7,200. There are 32 fish categories in the Junior Division awarding $50 cash in each. The Hargreaves Rodeo awards the most prizes to junior anglers of any rodeo in town.

billhargreavesfishingrodeo.com

Pensacola Bud Light Fishing Rodeo

June 24-25

Location: Flounders on Pensacola Beach

Registration is $30 ($40 with t-shirt), and children 16 and under fish for free.

pensacolafishingrodeo.com