Sea Toy didn’t play around. Starting with a nine-fish lead the first day, followed by four more billfish releases on Friday, the 59 Spencer held off challengers to win the 2020 Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament. Capt. Bull Tolson, mates Catlin Peele, Tim Kidwell and anglers David Biggs, Amanda Cofer, Ken Cofer, Dan Stephano, Tommy Fowler and Timmy Cullins swept multiple first place awards, including Top Boat, Crew, Billfish Jackpot and High Rollers Jackpot. The heaviest dolphin (30.3 pounds) added to the boat’s total winnings of $281,333. Sea Toy is also taking home the Wayne McLeskey Memorial Trophy as the top boat. Peele, nominated by peers, was awarded the Joel Webb Memorial Trophy to recognize mates. Jimmy Bayne owns the charter boat, based at the Pirate’s Cove Marina in Manteo, North Carolina.
Sea Toy earned its win based on the earlier release times of one blue and 12 white marlin. Four other challengers also ended the week with 910 points, including Don’t Panic, Full Pull, Builder’s Choice and Grand Slam (second through fifth places, respectively). Sea Toy spent Saturday in its slip at the Fisherman’s Wharf Marina, chewing fingernails and counting down the hours until lines out.
“It was a long day hanging around,” Tolson said Saturday night after the outcome became apparent. “I tried not to look at the leaderboard, but my crew was checking it every hour. If we hadn’t caught our fish on the first day we probably would have fished Saturday, but the pressure was on. It was an amazing bite this afternoon. The only thing that saved us is the Good Lord gave us the chance to catch ours first.
“It was an awesome tournament that was handled very well under the conditions,” the legendary skipper added. “I liked the format a lot. It was nice having food delivered to the boat and everyone did a wonderful job.”
Don’t Panic, a 56 Viking run by Capt. Carl Beale, made a valiant effort to capture the lead on Saturday only to come up one fish short. The team finished second overall (Top Team, Billfish and High Rollers Jackpots), worth $96,000. Don’t Panic tallied 12 white marlin and one sailfish. The boat is owned by Andrew Norris and homeports in Virginia Beach.
Full Pull, with Capt. Ryan Riggs at the controls, finished with 11 white marlin and two blues for third-place honors. The team released their last white at 1:59 on Saturday with an hour of fishing to spare but couldn’t catch another to take the lead. John Floyd owns the 57 Croswait Brothers based in Charleston, South Carolina. The team earned $76,000 for the week, including a second-place billfish daily.
Builder’s Choice, a 64 Jarrett Bay owned by Harris Huddle and run by Capt. Brent Gaskill, was also a hard-charging Saturday contender. The team earned the fourth-place trophy and $12,000 for a second-place daily prize based on Saturday’s seven white marlin releases (13 overall) to tie the other top scores. Builder’s Choice calls New Bern, North Carolina home.
Rounding out fifth place was Grand Slam, a 61 Paul Mann owned by Wallis Higginbotham and run by Capt. Dave Grubbs. Grand Slam won $28,000 for its Saturday top score and finished with 12 whites and one blue marlin overall. The custom sport-fisher is based in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and was fishing in the VBBT for the first time.
Other daily billfish winners included Game On, a 66 Spencer run by Capt. Bennett Griffin and Mama C, a 60 Bayliss with Capt. Rob Mahoney on the flybridge. Shelley Smith swept the individual angler awards, including Top Overall, Top Release and Top Lady Angler after releasing nine white marlin. Smith was competing aboard Triple “S”. Her husband, Capt. Todd Smith, owns and runs the 60 Viking based in Morehead City, North Carolina. Liam Wilcox earned the Top Junior Angler trophy after whipping three white marlin and one sailfish. Wilcox fished on Capt. Cheryl, a 56 Buddy Cannady run by Capt. Will Austin.
In the other two game fish divisions, Karl Knudsen wound in the heaviest tuna for the week at 62 pounds, worth $13,333. Knudsen was fishing with Capt. Brynner Parks on Smoker, a 58 Irvin Forbes. Quill Turk, competing on Aspiration, his 65 Weaver Boat Works with Capt. Stuart Lackey at the helm, caught the largest wahoo weighing 77.7 pounds. That fish was also worth a $13,333 payout.
In the Charity Mystery Fish division, Goombay, Grand Slam and Sarah Jean each won $20,000. Another equal split went to the VBBT’s designated charity organizations, including Stop Abuse, Achievable Dream Academies and the Boys & Girls Club of Virginia Beach.
The 80 boats competing in the 17th annual invitational tournament, presented by Charles Barker Automotive, were vying for $620,000 in prize money. The combined fleet caught 429 billfish during three days of fishing, including 394 white marlin, 25 blues, six sailfish and four spearfish. All were released for a 100 percent release ratio. Nine dolphin, seven yellowfin tuna and one wahoo were weighed in the game fish divisions.
“We always say the fishing and weather are out of our control,” VBBT Tournament Director Paula Owen said. “But the weather was perfect and the fishing was outstanding. We couldn’t have scripted that finish with five boats with identical scores any better. It was so exciting and captured everyone’s attention! And the things we could control we tried to improve every day. It was a challenge, but it all worked out really well. Everybody got it, they were all patient and understanding. We delivered the awards to the boats last night, starting with Sea Toy, so they could enjoy the spotlight and worked through the list of all the winners. It really was a unique, fun week.”
The 18th Annual Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament will be held August 18-21, 2021. Hopefully it will be back under the big tent, complete with the parties, sponsor displays and excitement, along with perfect weather and outstanding fishing.