If you enjoy clubby nightlife, working your way through a sea of unfamiliar faces to get to the bar or stuffy formal galas, don’t go to Scrub Island. This laid-back slice of paradise in the British Virgin Islands—home of the two-tournament Scrub Island Invitational Billfish Tournament Series—is pretty much the opposite of all that. This year it felt more like a breath of fresh salt air while also providing proof of the phrase quality over quantity. What sets this tournament series apart is its exclusive nature, tailored for teams seeking competition amid a tranquil, secluded haven, which also fosters tight-knit camaraderie.
While there are many tropical amusements on the island, one thing is clear: these teams are here to fish. Based on angler input this year, the tournament committee extended fishing times to a full nine-and-a-half hours. And while the scenic beauty of neon-blue waters, fiery sunrises, and magenta sunsets atop lush mountains, stilt walkers by the bonfire on the tournament beach party-themed nights, scenic tropical diving off private white-sand beaches, paddleboards, kayaks, and a host of other amenities are available, this crowd of true fishermen weren’t distracted from the offshore action for long. Many of these teams have been around the world and back, and have found that Scrub Island is exactly what they’re looking for: consistent billfishing along the world-famous North Drop in a pristine, low-key environment.
The Virgin Islands—US and British—are situated on the edge of the Puerto Rico Trench, a six-mile deep area known for its robust population of gamefish and especially blue marlin. The North Drop happens to be the prime location, where the Puerto Rico Trench abruptly changes direction northward and the prevailing currents pile up against the underwater structure. Between the first and second leg, the rare celestial event of a blue supermoon occurred, sparking a slight uptick in fishing for Leg 2. For reasons known only to the fish themselves, historically in the days leading up to and just past the full moon, the fish on the Drop seem to crash baits and teasers with an amplified fury and a reckless abandon that’s just not consistently found in other destinations. Alas, the timeless debate among fishermen about whether a full moon’s extreme tides affect billfish behavior or not continues to rage on.
Located just a mile and a half from Tortola, the exclusive Scrub Island Resort, Spa and Marina provides incomparable luxury back ashore, complete with a new fuel dock, premium villa options with butler service, private beaches, elevated island-style cuisine, and a poolside water slide which even some of the adults couldn’t resist. With easy access to the waters of the North Drop, as well as the often equally productive grounds located off Anegada, the resort is centrally located. The marina offers 55 deep-water slips, including five specifically for larger yachts or mothership operations up to 160 feet. Travel is easy as well because the resort is within a stone’s throw of the airport on nearby Tortola. A complimentary water taxi runs multiple times daily between the two islands, so it’s easy to stay connected from just about anywhere.
It’s also easy to fish, thanks to the efforts of the tournament coordinators working with government officials in the BVIs to secure fishing permits and other requirements for visiting boats. By requesting an invitation to fish in the series, you also receive this kind of invaluable assistance.
Emerging victorious as the Series Champions for 2023 is the team aboard Double Shot, a 68- foot Viking based out of Rockport, Texas. The team of Capt. David Noling, Byron Burris, David McGonagill, Casey Salbert, Jacob Dawson, Luis “Speedy” Larez, Alberto Sanchez, and Jeremy Sanders released 13 blue marlin during six full days of competition, tallying 6,500 points earning them first-place honors in the overall series, as well as first place in Leg 2. They were awarded the cobalt crystal trophy cup for Leg 1, the cobalt crystal bowl for Leg 2, $63,700 in total prize money, and an invitation to the 2024 Costa Offshore World Championship in Costa Rica, among other prizes.
“This was a great way to christen the boat,” says Noling. “This is the first time we fished a tournament officially as Double Shot, but we’ve all fished together in various places since the 1990s. We’ve fished hundreds of days together in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and St. Thomas, and now the old crew is back together just in time to have some great fishing and good times at Scrub.”
The team on Marlin Darlin, hailing from Clearwater, Florida, and fishing on a 66-foot Spencer, claimed second place in this year’s series by releasing 12 blue marlin and one sailfish. The team of Capt. Shay Danzig and anglers Bobby Jacobsen, Beecher Jacobsen, Colby Jacobsen, Vinny Delgado, Roman Davila, and Humberto Quintana won Leg 1 and finished second in Leg 2 to earn two crystal trophies and $88,850 in prize money.
“I started marlin fishing in 1985, and I’ve been taking my kids fishing since they could walk.” Bobby Jacobsen, owner and angler of Marlin Darlin, says. “What I love about billfishing is the hours of boredom followed by the moments of wild pandemonium. If you’re going to go fishing, you might as well get one that pulls harder than any of the rest of them. [Scrub Island] is a beautiful place, with a very nice marina, good food, and a hotel, and they did a hell of a job on the tournament. We had a great time.”
Third place for the series was won by the team on Juben from Charleston, South Carolina, who released nine blue marlin fishing aboard their 63-foot Weaver. Capt. David Copleston and his team of Ben Freeman, Billy Freeman, Michael Giannelli, Wils Hartnes, Ross Holquist, and Brock Sandish also took home the third-place crystal trophy for Leg 2 and checks totaling $21,100.
So, if you’re passionate about your blue marlin and would like to experience some exceptional fishing in a hospitable, laid-back and family-friendly environment, check out the 2024 Scrub Island Invitational Billfish Series.