Marlin Madness

Competitive marlin fishers do lots of drinking, tell lots of tales, and, oh yes, sometimes they catch fish.

I pray that no yearning, no passionate love of sea fishing or of angling may ever take possession of you, my young friends. -- Plato

Frank Flynn is frantically punching numbers on his cell phone as he shuffles toward the boarding gate for American Airlines Flight 1845 at the Miami airport. His face is a mixture of perplexity and determination this Thursday morning, June 12. Late last night, he'd gotten word that Dream Catcher, a brand-spankin'-new 52-foot fishing boat that he expected to carry him to big prize money in a few days, had blown its transmission or its engine or both. Or possibly neither. Maybe the mechanical problem was entirely routine and, with some luck, right at this moment, the 2,600-horsepower craft is zipping down from San Juan to the Caribbean isle of Antigua.

Flynn is about to embark on the second leg of a five-contest tourney among the six teams of the Billfishing Xtreme Release League, and he has invited me along to get a firsthand look at the unpredictable and adrenalin-infused world of deep-sea billfishing.

Mamora Bay, Antigua: staging area for the six fishing boats that compete for a $50,000 prize
Mamora Bay, Antigua: staging area for the six fishing boats that compete for a $50,000 prize
Sam Peters (standing above) and Rob McCullough gaze out at the business end of a billfishing boat. The arrival of Dream Catcher lifts the spirits of the Mercury World Team.
Sam Peters (standing above) and Rob McCullough gaze out at the business end of a billfishing boat. The arrival of Dream Catcher lifts the spirits of the Mercury World Team.
Frank Flynn (right, bottom photo) and Darrin Isaacs zip off to the next promised land of the marlin. Antiguan captain Frank Hart (left, top photo) is coveted for his local fishing wisdom.
Frank Flynn (right, bottom photo) and Darrin Isaacs zip off to the next promised land of the marlin. Antiguan captain Frank Hart (left, top photo) is coveted for his local fishing wisdom.

Flynn smells victory. In March, his Mercury World Team drubbed Team A-Fin-ity to win $50,000. The team happened upon a cluster of sailfish, and although this species doesn't yield the high points that marlin do, the team managed to tag and release five of them in a flurry of reeling. Flynn is proud of the opening victory over Team A-Fin-ity, a team he describes as "a fishing machine" because it won the $250,000 grand prize last year.

The Billfishing Xtreme Release League, or BXRL, approaches big-game fishing like no other competition. It's elite, expensive, hard-core and hard-partying. Thirty-six of the best anglers and captains from the Western Hemisphere compete for the largest marlin and sailfish and the biggest stories about marlin and sailfish. They spend tens of thousands of dollars sailing from contest to contest around the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in million-dollar fishing machines. Standing in boat cockpits the size of pickup truck beds, these anglers battle pitching seas and hours of anticipation. Then, like a meteorite crash, a 300-pound marlin will burst through the water, snagged and brawling. A fisherman might toil for hours bringing in this unpredictable and rowdy billfish only to lose him in the last crucial seconds. Once ashore, the anglers share the camaraderie of drink, food, and fish tales, all the while scheming for the next day.

Flynn has been riding high on his team's victory in March, but you can't rest on your laurels. Not in this high-stakes sport. So he keeps dialing numbers, anxious to find out whether the Dream Catcher stands a chance of getting to Antigua in time for the three-day competition that begins Monday. He learns nothing, and minutes later a flight attendant seals the cabin door and instructs everyone to turn off all phones.

There's still no word about the Dream Catcher as Flynn hops a connecting flight to Antigua in Puerto Rico. Half a dozen fellow anglers are onboard this small half-filled jet. They've all met before, and even though some haven't been to Antigua before, the predictability of what lies ahead draws them together: a wooden dock, rum and beer, familiar faces, ocean spray. Whatever anxiety Flynn had about the Dream Catcher seems to melt away in the company of fishermen. The 40-year-old Flynn owns Dania Boats, a boat sales and repair business in the heart of South Florida's thriving sport fishing industry. He possesses a piercing voice that has no difficulty in overcoming the roar of jet engines. Despite having lived in Fort Lauderdale for the past 12 years, his working-class Boston accent remains thick. He sports short-cropped hair and a goatee, and his face resembles Robert DeNiro in the final scenes of Raging Bull. He filters little of what comes to his mind before it exits his mouth.

Directly in front of Flynn sits Christopher "Percy" Gomes, an Antiguan who now lives in Miami. Flynn met him just a week earlier in Antigua during a local fishing tournament and, as with most fishermen Flynn meets, it's as though they're lifelong buddies. They begin reminiscing about the fishing and boozing. Flynn and Gomes describe a particularly aggressive night of intoxication. So did you fish the next day? someone asks. "I tell ya," Flynn says, "the only angling I was doing that day was deciding whether to be vertical or horizontal."

He waxes philosophical about the boat breakdown. That's just one of the hundreds of variables that might work against you or might work for you in a fishing contest. "Deep-sea fishing is all about missed opportunities, capitalizing on others' mistakes," he explains. Worst-case scenario, he says, his team will lease a local charter boat. Yes, that might seem a handicap, but who knows what unforeseen benefits could arise from this Hobson's choice. He clowns with Gomes, who earlier had commiserated with him. "I've got a boat!" Flynn bellows as he pulls the imaginary oars of a farcical substitute. "I've got a boat!" Last week, the marlin were running fast and big, and Flynn gets pumped thinking about them. The jet circles around the edge of the island and tips slightly, filling the small window with a blue ocean speckled with whitecaps. "There's marlin out, there's fucking marlin!" he howls with a faith others will come to doubt.

The league, now in its third year, was the brainchild of Norm Isaacs and his son Darrin Isaacs, who for years have run charter fishing businesses out of Kailua Kona, Hawaii, and hosted fishing programs for ESPN. The elder Isaacs hosts the Xtreme series, which is shown on the sports network in the fall.

A Kansas native, the 58-year-old Isaacs was signed by the New York Yankees after he graduated high school in 1962. But an injury and too much "runnin' and gunnin'," he says, ended that career after several years. From there, he flew charter airplanes, then moved into the deep-sea-fishing business. He's strikingly handsome, with a full head of white hair, a strong jaw, and a genuine smile. He has an uncanny memory for names.

"It's designed to be run like, say, teams in a professional football league," Isaacs says of the Xtreme league. "You have an owner and it's up to him to go out and surround himself with the best talent he can find and then compete in a level playing field and catch more fish than the next guy." Each team must also foot the bill for fuel, slippage, boat upkeep, and crew salaries -- all of which can run more than the $125,000 entrance fee.


As his flight makes its descent toward V.C. Bird International Airport in the late afternoon, Flynn points out the whitecaps on the sea. "It's rough out there," he comments casually, though from up here, it's easy to underestimate what such waves can do to a fishing boat. From several thousand feet, Antigua looks more brown than green, evidence of the persistent drought the nation of 68,000 has been experiencing. To the east of the island lies only the vast expanse of the cobalt Atlantic Ocean, which provides a constant and refreshing eastward breeze.

Christopher Columbus discovered the island during his second Caribbean expedition in 1493 and named it after a Seville saint, Santa Maria la Antigua, but evidence of human settlements discovered here go back to 2400 B.C. The British colonized the isle in the late 1600s and developed the sugar-cane industry using African slaves. Today, the Antiguan economy relies mostly on tourism. Landing the BXRL competition is considered a major achievement by many Antiguans.

Ground zero for the contest is the dock in front of the St. James Resort on the isle's southeast. By the time Flynn and his old and new friends from the flight arrive, boats from four teams have already docked. Flynn looks around for his team members and finds two gabbing on the pier: Darrin Isaacs, who is Norm's 35-year-old son and a cofounder of the league, and Robert McCullough, the owner of Dream Catcher. The 46-year-old McCullough resembles a short-haired, beardless Eric Clapton and sports a golden cross in his left earlobe. He retired recently after selling a Budweiser distributorship. Now he splits his time between his home and family on the Florida Panhandle and fishing tournaments. He's holding a can of Bud. He appears to have a lot on his mind. His role in the team is simply as an angler. But boat ownership entitles him to both more authority over the team and more headaches because of it. He and Flynn routinely haggle over team decisions.

"They've got one guy working on it," McCullough informs Flynn. "Then the chief mechanic is coming in with the same parts tomorrow afternoon in case that guy can't fix it. Oh my god, I'm..." he trails off, befuddled, shaking his head and taking a deep drag on his cigarette. The boat beside them blasts a '70s-vintage Bad Company album.

The signs of commerce on the dock are ubiquitous: Every T-shirt carries the logo of a fishing or boat product, and product endorsements hang, stick, and flutter on each boat. Teams seek out corporate sponsors to help underwrite the costs of competing, but for the most part, this is not about the money. This is about passion, the thrill of the hunt. The teams respect, even honor, one another. Sure they want to win, but not through cutthroat means.

There's an unwritten honor code at work here. The most coveted of local boats and captains have already been snapped up by other teams for prefishing on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Of course, the issue is moot if the Dream Catcherarrives. If it arrives. McCullough tells Flynn that he'd called around the island and one boat captain informed him that another team, Duraflame, had reserved the boat a month ago. The captain, however, had not yet received the deposit, and he offered McCullough the boat. "I said, 'I can't do that to those guys. That ain't fair. '" He ponders the idea a moment, then says, "Bad karma."

"Yeah, to do that, yeah," Flynn responds.

"We'll play it by ear," McCullough chirps. "We will know tomorrow. It's just a buzz away [from San Juan]. That ain't nothin', baby."

That night, the Antigua sport fishing club holds a barbecue bash at a nearby cottage and invites the visiting fishermen to what becomes the unofficial kickoff of the tournament. They treat Flynn like visiting royalty, providing him with a steady supply of scotch and sodas. He regales them with exaggerated versions of last week's events.

Kyle Maikath, a young sales rep from MaxSea, which produces software that gauges currents, depth, and temperature in the sea, sets up a laptop computer and projector. A large map of Antigua and Barbuda, which is 30 miles north, appears on a patio wall. As though mesmerized by a flashy lure, several boat captains glide to the detailed chart. They're responsible for leading their teams to waters that might be home to the elusive marlin and sailfish. When trolling for fish, a captain scans the horizon while standing atop the bridge, which is about 15 feet above the sea. But this software makes a captain virtually omniscient, as though he floats high above and swims deep below. "I've got a real hard-on for this stuff," one captain mutters about the technology.

The easy camaraderie between BXRL crews doesn't preclude behind-the-scenes strategizing. Captains have been vying for the services of Frank Hart, a local who's considered by many to be the best marlin fisherman on the island. Hart is a slim unassuming fellow with a puffy white beard. He talks at length with Robert "Cujo" Brinkmeyer, captain of Team Galati, a new addition to the league who recently set a record by catching or tagging 287 blue marlin in a single season. With the build of a bullmastiff, Brinkmeyer earned his sobriquet after biting someone during a bar fight. He's managed to snag Hart for a sea outing tomorrow, a coup he believes will give him an edge on Monday.

A short time later, Darrin Isaacs coaxes Hart over to the software demonstration. He asks if certain currents and depths shown on the charts correlate with areas Hart knows to be good for fishing off the island's east coast. They do.

Norm Isaacs shows up late with his wife, Julia, who is executive producer of the Billfishing Xtreme Release League series. She's a gregarious blond who appears considerably younger than her husband. Wearing a BXRL jersey, she brags about Norm's charisma. "Norm has such a way with people," she says. "ESPN recognized that right away."

Past midnight, after drinking the better part of a bottle of scotch, Flynn crashes for the night on a cot inside the lodge. He's up early the next morning, Friday, to deep-sea fish with some of last night's revelers. "You wanna catch marlin, you gotta be up early," he bellows on his way out the door.


Marlin are the deep-sea grail for hard-core anglers.

"It's like a Little Leaguer who wants to play the major leagues because that's the height of the sport," explains Mike Gautreaux, the BXRL's general manager. "You want to challenge yourself as much as you can. And billfish are harder to catch and require more out of you than any other fishing. It's much easier to catch a tuna or a mahimahi or any other fish. You need to entice marlin. There are a lot of things that have to go right from the time he shows up until the time he's released."

Marlin, however, like many of the sea's largest fish, are facing extinction, primarily because of indiscriminate commercial fishing. While U.S. commercial fishing boats are required to release all billfish accidentally caught in nets, they are kept and sold for food by most other fishing fleets, according to Jim Chambers, a fisheries ecologist who analyzed rates of extinction in a 2001 article in The Big Game Fishing Journal. If population trends continue, he concluded, the blue marlin will approach extinction by about 2008. He calls on sport fishermen to set an example by promoting catch and release and refraining from fishing during the marlin spawning season in spring and early summer. The solution, he contends, is outlawing multihook longlines and gillnets used by commercial fishermen.

"Killing fish is bad for the sport," Norm Isaacs says. He criticizes tournaments that promote trophy-taking, and that's why he was adamant that the word release appear in the league's name. "I thought we needed to show people protecting the resource."

A healthy saltwater fishery equates to a robust economy. Florida hosts more than 2.4 million saltwater anglers a year who spend almost $3 billion on trip-related costs, equipment, transportation, food, and lodging, according to 2001 figures by the American Sportfishing Association.

Isaacs' passion for billfishing began as a young man, when he joined his father on a deep-sea outing off the coast of Texas. It was then, he says, that "I got my hat handed to me by a 400-pound marlin that I didn't catch. He won the fight, but it was me who was hooked after that.

"Marlin are probably the hardest fish to go out there and catch on a regular basis. It takes some dedication. Marlin are pretty tough fish. Most will try you a little bit. It takes time and effort and physical power, or at least a good technique.

"What they have is a lot of muscle, and when they get scared and want to get away, it's hard to stop them. They're big, strong, and fast. They have a high metabolism and have to eat frequently. You can be there when they're not hungry. You have to keep mowing the lawn and mowing the lawn. I've seen five boats go over the same spot and the sixth one -- bang! -- there's the marlin. He probably wasn't hungry during the first five. I mean, when you drive down a street in Miami, you go by four Burger Kings and five McDonalds and finally you stop at one. Well, why didn't you stop at the others? You weren't hungry. Same deal."

The Billfishing Xtreme Release League competitions come with rules that make this battle between fish and human all the more challenging. There are few limitations on the kinds of equipment or boats that can be used for the contests. Teams can travel as far as they wish each day, as long as they're back at dock time, which varies but is usually around 6 p.m. Only eight people are allowed aboard during tournaments: a judge, an ESPN cameraman, and the six-member team. The league uses International Game Fish Association contest rules but with a few significant differences. Teams earn 100 points for sailfish, 150 points for white marlin, 300 points for blue marlin, and 500 points for blue marlin more than 500 pounds. (Because all fish are released, their weight is estimated by their length.) Judges make deductions if a hooked fish breaks a line, the fish is released with more than three feet of line connected to the hook, or a fish is tagged incorrectly. Fish are tagged for later monitoring by the Billfish Foundation, a nonprofit group devoted to preservation through research and education.

As if the task of hauling in and tagging a 500-pound bruiser weren't tough enough, the strength of fish line is limited by the league -- in the case of the Antigua contest, 50-pound test line. Thus, manhandling will lead only to broken lines.

In most tournaments, a fish is considered caught if it's reeled in to the swivel that connects the fishing line to roughly 30 feet of leader line to which the hook is attached. "I just don't consider that caught," Isaacs says. "I personally have had my butt kicked frontways and sideways -- three or four times by the same fish -- after I got hold of the leader and still never caught him. I believe they're leaving a little bit on the table. The fish can still be 25 feet away. That's like automatically giving you a putt for anything within five feet of the hole. I don't know about you, but I miss plenty of five-foot putts."

On the more practical side, the additional rules make for gripping television, Isaacs asserts. "It's good action because it's so close to the boat," he says.

The boatside skirmish can get dicey. Dick Tanner, a judge and tackle wholesaler from Fort Lauderdale, recalls the last hours of the last day of a BXRL tournament near Venezuela in 2001. He was the judge for the World Team, then owned by Norm Isaacs. They'd hooked a 150-pound marlin in choppy waters producing 12- to 14-foot waves. The boat had a small cockpit, which is the rear section of the boat where the anglers maneuver the rods and reels. It's separated from the sea by only a one- to two-foot gunwale. The marlin kept heading into the waves, so the boat kept backing up as the anglers reeled in.

"They finally had a fish that would win the tournament," Tanner recalls. "We kept backing after this fish down sea and filling the cockpit with water up to our knees. Norm was on the bridge. I got concerned because the boat was sluggish. The bilge pumps were running. I think Norm and I said it at the same time that we needed to get the water out of the pit. The captain said it was sealed and no water could get down there. If so, then why were the pumps running? So we opened the hatch as we're going forward to get the water out and it's almost full underneath. If we'd kept backing... well, we were 25 miles off-shore, there were no other boats in sight, and we had no radio.

"The captain was being aggressive. That was a $50,000 fish for that tournament. Everybody's hearts were just pumping. I believe that if we'd kept backing into the water, though, eventually the stern would have dug in and the bow would have been like this." He holds his arm at a 45-degree angle.

The World Team tagged that fish and won the three-day tournament.


By late Friday afternoon, the teams are returning to Mamora Bay empty-handed and pummeled by an exceedingly rough sea. Frank Hart stands on the bow of the Team Galati boat as it docks. "Poor, poor," he says when asked how they did. Someone asks the same question of the mate on the nearby Team Freedom boat. "No luck," he says. "Pretty bumpy out there." Flynn, who spent all day at sea and never so much as saw a billfish, is still pumped by the memories of great fishing a week ago. "Trust me, they're here," he shouts to the naysayers.

Everyone's talking about the green water that's moved into the area, which is anathema to marlin. You want dark blue, almost purplish water. Captain Cujo says they found birds circling an area, normally a good sign that there are small fish below, which means that's where big fish will go to eat. But the color of the water was off. "It was green," he says. "No fish."

McCullough arrives after spending the day on another charter boat. "Wasn't shit, wasn't shit," he sums up in his laconic style.

Saturday morning, however, is bright and sunny and provides hope anew. "You like to check around during prefish so you can get things straight in your mind," Darrin Isaacs explains. "The best feeling in the world is to go to sleep the night before a tournament and know exactly where you're going the next day."

Isaacs and other World Team members Flynn, McCullough, and Sam Peters, who's just arrived from Savannah, gather on a charter boat for their first day out as a team. Peters is part-owner of the family business, Release Marine, which manufactures, among other things, the "fighting" chairs bolted to the decks in the back of most fishing boats. The 42-year-old has been deep-sea fishing for 20 years but is new to the Xtreme league this year.

There's good news from the last two members, Ken Ross, the captain, and Erik Rusnick, the mate. They're on the Dream Catcher, which reportedly is repaired and underway to Antigua. Given the luck so far, no one is about to jinx the journey with hoots and a victory dance.

The team sets out just after 8 a.m. on the 45-foot Hatteras, a 34-year-old vessel that has a formidable time pushing through the eight- to 12-foot waves stacked close to one another. At times, the bow breaks through, then crashes down into the watery vale. After about an hour of this, Peters crawls down the ladder from the bridge and sheepishly admits to McCullough that he feels a bit green around the gills. Confessing to seasickness in this hypermacho world isn't easy; it's akin to a surgeon fainting at the sight of blood. McCullough roars with laughter.

Perhaps it's the power of suggestion, but at this point I begin to feel slightly queasy. I'd eaten a light breakfast, but in effect I feel as though I've been on a carnival ride for more than an hour. Soon I'm draped over the gunwale going for the "Technicolor yawn," as Norm Isaacs describes it. I crumple down near the door to the cabin, which reeks of diesel fuel. The mate hands me a black bucket.

Deep-sea fishing has one thing in common with all types of angling: There's a lot of waiting for a few episodes of exhilaration. Thus, the spectacle of someone collapsing from seasickness provides a welcome respite from tedium. "Hey, Frank," Peters whoops, his own stomach and ego apparently buoyed by the suffering of another, "I thought we had Superman, not cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, onboard." Surveying my scrunched-up remains, he announces, "Gentlemen, we just saw a six-foot man shrink to a foot and a half. It's like an alien came down and sucked his vital juices out and left a shell behind."

The anglers pull in one mahimahi, whose flopping about on the cockpit floor forces me into the gaseous cabin. Eight hours later, we dock.

Once again, no one has so much as seen a marlin. For the World Team, however, that disappointment gives way to the arrival of the Dream Catcher. The World Team will have one day to prefish as a team atop its own boat.


Flynn boards the Dream Catcher Sunday morning and regales the crew with gossip from last night, which, for Flynn, lasted until roughly 2 a.m. By Flynn's telling -- which is likely adorned for drama's sake -- he'd gone to join several people at the resort's casino bar, a group that included Cujo. The resort's dress code required men to wear long pants to the restaurants and casino in the evening, apparel that Flynn and many others had neglected to pack. So not surprisingly, Flynn was stopped last night at the casino bar entrance and told he wouldn't be allowed in with shorts. He asked to speak with a manager, then went on in anyway and joined the others, who were also wearing shorts. The manager did indeed appear but for some reason chose to lecture only Cujo about his attire.

As the boat begins to chug away from the pier, Flynn concludes the tale with flourish: "Cujo started yelling, 'Do you see the boats we're on? We're all millionaires here. I own shorts worth more than most guys' pants. '"

The 52-foot Dream Catcher is better-equipped than the Hatteras to take on the wallowing waves, and the crew is soon setting up the cockpit for marlin fishing. Going after billfish requires a finely oiled machine of people, hooks, lines, lures, and diesel engines. The crew must anticipate every potential move its quarry might make. Marlin are usually lone hunters, but the right waters will attract more than one. The hunt begins as Isaacs and Rusnick tether glittering, neon-bright lures, or teasers, the size of beer bottles to the outriggers on both sides of the boat. The outriggers are then lowered so that the hookless teaser lines run parallel to the boat. Ross controls these from the bridge and pulls a teaser in if a marlin starts chasing it. "The fish will follow the teaser all the way to the side of the boat," he says. "When I pull it out of the water, the fish will do a U-turn and go back out." By this time, the anglers will have tossed out hooks baited with large mackerels that the fish sees immediately on turning around.

It's the original bait and switch, a technique that deep-sea fishing pioneer Harlan Major described drolly as a dance between hunter and hunted in his 1939 book, Salt Water Fishing Tackle. The fish seems to grow exasperated with the teaser tango and slashes wildly. Then his eye catches a different, clumsier dancer, and he releases all his fury. "This one, however, does not dodge him; at last his pride is vindicated, and he swallows gleefully -- only to find himself hooked," Major wrote.

Ross is more prosaic: "He's pounding at the lure and he can't get it, and it's pissing him off."

But marlin behavior is hardly predictable. "I've seen them stick their heads up on the side of the boat looking for something to eat," Ross says. "Sometimes we've had the teaser out of the water, and it'll be rocking back and forth, and you look and there's one laying there watching it. I've seen a marlin jump into a boat next to me. Everybody was up on the bridge. He just tore the cockpit up. It died, killed itself by tearing around. People have gotten bills through the chest."

Today, however, the marlin are as predictable as past days: none shows up. Peters feels queasy again and spends part of the trip lying down in the cabin. With the help of an antiseasickness patch, I felt fine. The World Team heads to the dock by early afternoon to reconfigure its outriggers and rods. With the contest upon them tomorrow, the marlinless state of affairs has many anglers edgy. Dave Noling, captain for Team A-Fin-ity, which took first place last year and won $407,000 in prize money, chats with McCullough. A long-time charter-boat captain, Noling has helped clients land more than 5,000 billfish. He offers up the possibility that nary a billfish will be tagged during the next three days. "I'd like to see Norm deal with that one," he muses.

Marlin fishing is as much about telling and retelling events as it is about the catch. Sure, there's rivalry among the six teams, but the secrets are few because it's just no fun if you can't brag a bit about the trick you played on a crafty marlin or the discovery of the perfect deep-blue current. Besides, rum cocktails have a way of loosening even the most taciturn of tongues. No one here feels joy when a team returns from prefish with the news there "wasn't shit" out there. That deprives everyone of new stories and new hope.

The tournament's official kickoff soiree is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Piccolo Mondo, a hillside restaurant, but team members gather two hours early beside an adjoining studio for on-camera interviews by Julia Isaacs. The footage will later be edited into the series. The men are subdued, almost downcast as they wait outside for their turns. It's one thing to have a cameraman aboard filming them as they go about the task of fishing, but to sit for an interview, well, that's something to grouse about. A few of the guys kill time by razzing the captain of the Duraflame team when he kvetches about prefishing in rough waters. He'd piloted the boat 250 miles to Antigua three days earlier through brutal waters and looked like a man disembarking from a blender at trip's end. He sputters, "I've got three days of fishing coming in this mess. I don't need this recreational shit." The men chortle. "There's no way I want to fish until 4 o'clock and then go through this dog-and-pony show," he says, motioning toward the studio.

In reality, though, Xtreme tourneys are as much about television as they are about fishing. When Isaacs steps up minutes later and announces she's ready for the Duraflame team, someone tells her that the captain has been planning trouble. "He doesn't want to be difficult with me," she says. "I can make his life really difficult." She laughs. No one else does.

Most anglers show up at the party promptly at 7 p.m., no doubt coaxed by the open bar. A calypso duo strolls between tables, strumming and singing. After dinner, BXRL general manager Gautreaux reiterates the contest rules over a booming sound system. The room is quiet each time he pauses, save for the agitated voice of Frank Flynn. He and McCullough are standing together at the bar, still hashing over where they'll commence fishing in the morning. The overheard snippets are shorthand for ocean topography around Antigua. "Forget the fucking blue hole," Flynn cajoles. "If we run up there," Flynn declares during another of Gautreaux's pauses, "I guaran-fucking-tee you that everyone will be following us up there." The only thing that's certain is that Flynn will need to be up by 6 a.m.

A short time later, Flynn is laughing it up with his Antiguan buddies. Then he saunters toward the door and shouts, "C'mon, we're going to the casino." He's wearing shorts.


Five days after the tournament ends, Flynn is back in his office. Gone from his voice is the jubilation of the chase. The tournament proved as frustrating as the days leading up to it.

The first day, they headed to a patch of deep indigo just east of Antigua that seemed to offer the surest fishing. "We hooked a 450-pound marlin and worked it for three hours and 45 minutes," he recaps. "It was foul-hooked in the shoulder, which means we'd lose some points. But when we got it up to the boat, it got away, and we didn't get a tag in it. So we didn't get any points. Then after that, there was nothing."

Still, everyone onboard remained hopeful. After all, Team Freedom hooked two fish the first day and managed to tag both, though they lost points for a bad tag in one. And Sharkey's Revenge, out of Miami, tagged a 700-pound marlin for 300 points, but it broke free before they could measure it and possibly garner another 200 points for a fish longer than 115 inches.

By the third day, however, the other four teams remained scoreless. Team Freedom buzzed 70 miles to the north coast of Barbuda and tagged a fish. By midday, all the teams were in the vicinity. Only Team Freedom had any more luck, however, scoring one last fish and winning the tournament. With the exception of second-place Sharkey's Revenge, the other teams were skunked. The World Team has now dropped to third place.

But none of that bothers Flynn. "These tournaments can turn around with just one fish," he explains, gaining some vocal zest back with thoughts of the July tournament in waters around the Dominican Republic. "It's like I was just telling Rob, next time we have to fish as a team for six straight days," he says, "we need to get fishing early so that by the end of the tournament, we know exactly what we need to do and where we need to do it."

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