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$EA DOLLAR$ Tuna Tradition Endures

September 1st, 2019

seadollarscrew $EA DOLLAR$ Tuna Tradition Endures

The winning crew of $EA DOLLAR$, from left to right, Mark Yamaguchi, Mark Budzise, Brandon Rowan, Brandon Nelson, Adam Lewis, Brad Bull, Gary Hervey, Scott Pantle, Randy King, Kurt Pantle, Matt Taylor, Jack Beal, Ace Nelson and Fred Pyle.

Good karma and tuna tenacity fuel a continued tradition of wins at the Texas Billfish Classic

By Brandon Rowan

High stakes and hot fishing are the name of the game every year at the Texas Billfish Classic and 2019 was no different. I was back on board Jack Beal’s 60’ Bertram, $EA DOLLAR$, to keep the night crew’s tuna win streak going. Last year, we hauled in a 90 lb yellowfin tuna that fell just three pounds short of first place. That was tough. We had our sights set on being No. 1 this time around.

Jasen Gast and the whole TBC team put on a killer kick-off party at Freeport RiverPlace the night before fishing started. The next day, we were locked, loaded and ready to head out far into the wild blue of the Gulf. We had a game plan and wasted no time putting it into action.

There were old and new faces on board for this year’s tourney. Introductions and catching up were in order as we roared out to pelagic possibilities. Plenty of laughs and colorful conversation (you guys know who you are) kept us entertained as we neared our first stop.

juvenile mahi mahi $EA DOLLAR$ Tuna Tradition Endures

You never know what you will find out there. Adam Lewis holds up our “trophy” mahi.

TUNA MACHINE

As the sun set on our fishing destination, the night crew geared up and went to work. We had Capt. Mark Yamaguchi at the wheel, Matt Taylor, Kurt Pantle, his cousin Scott, and myself down in the cockpit. Several of the guys on the day crew helped out early in the night and first mate Adam Lewis made many important gaff shots.

It didn’t take long for us to put a nice yellowfin on the deck and crack open the celebration brews. $EA DOLLAR$’ night crew is a well-oiled machine of jig, pop, chum, drift, catch, gaff, rinse and repeat.

The night stayed lively as schools of fish periodically found their way into our chum line and lights. Multiple hook ups on yellowfin and big bruiser 20-30 lb blackfin tuna kept us going until sunrise.

I was absolutely stoked for Kurt’s cousin, Scott, when he landed his first yellowfin tuna, on topwater no less!

“I saw tuna busting on top, luckily I had the popper rod right next to me. I quickly cast it out and after the second pop it was on!” Scott Pantle said.

I’m real happy he got a warm welcome to Texas

 tuna fishing. Scott is from Florida, where blackfin tuna is the target species, not the bait. I was lucky enough to witness that tuna crush the OTI Wombat Popper he had tied on and oh man, it was a beautiful sight to behold.

Every one of us put a yellow on the deck that night. At sunrise, it was time to tally things up. We had 6 yellowfin in the box, including an odd fish I caught on a Williamson Benthos jig. All other fish came from drifting chunks and Scott’s one on the popper. The flying fish piercing parlor was open for business but the tuna were indifferent to our winged offerings.

After a hot shower and a good meal, I hit the bunk with explicit instructions for the trolling guys to come smack me awake if they got into a good fish. The chance to photograph a big blue marlin jumping for the sky takes priority over sleep. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

MEET JJ: The legend himself, JJ. We rescued this Pelican from the middle of the Gulf during the tournament. We were ready to turn him over to Parks & Wildlife but he jumped ship when we reached land.

FREE BIRD FRIDAY

After a good day’s rest, I was back up with camera in hand, waiting for the afternoon billfish bite. The marlin never materialized, but things stayed interesting nonetheless. We spotted a brown pelican bobbing up and down near the rig as we trolled around. We were a good 170 miles out in the middle of the ocean. This bird was in trouble.

We maneuvered over and tried to lure the pelican in through the tuna door with some bait. The poor guy was so weak, he couldn’t even muster the energy to come on board. Our flying fish net became a bird net and we scooped him up and in. We made a cozy spot in the corner with an old towel and named him “Jack Jr.”

We fed JJ as much fish as he wanted and after about 10 pieces and some water, he was content. We don’t know how he got so far out, but this lucky bird nearly became shark bait. JJ rested happily in the corner and regained his strength as he oversaw our tuna operation.

This night began much the same as the last one with a hot bite early. Line peeled away from my reel on the first drift and after a surprisingly short fight I had a respectable yellowfin tuna on the deck. The wheels of our tuna machine kept turning but that was the last yellow of the trip. But again, things stayed interesting.

JJ quickly regained his vigor and, well, actually became something of a terror. He bit Fred and a few others as they walked past. Them birds have some range with that neck! JJ’s happy little corner was on top of the livewell, so depositing flying fish in the tank became a careful procedure.

They say you don’t bite the hand that feeds you, but we forgive you JJ. A sportfisher is no place for a pelican.

JJ stayed on board for the rest of the night and watched the day crew score a white marlin and wahoo at sunrise. He didn’t care at all for the way we screamed back towards land for the weigh-in. Jack Sr. had Parks and Wildlife on the phone, but once we broke the jetties, JJ spotted some of his pelican brethren and left us behind.

“Fishermen and hunters always get a bad rap but we’re all about conservation,” Jack Beal said.

Matt Taylor, Scott Pantle and Kurt Pantle at the Texas Billfish Classic weigh in.

MOMENT OF TRUTH

Good karma paid off. When it was all said and done, we had 7 yellowfin tuna on ice, although no hundred pounders. We weren’t sure what to expect since our 90 lb fish last year was only good enough for second place. We held our breath at the weigh-in as they hung up our first fish. The scales’ flashed “49” and it was high fives and shouts all around! Not only was our win confirmed, but we also took second place with a 47 lb fish.

“If your next paycheck depended on catching a big yellowfin tuna, I would recommend you call the night crew of $EA DOLLAR$!” Matt Taylor said.

$EA DOLLAR$ was presented with a check for a cool $40,500 at the TBC awards dinner later that night. As a bonus, the whole crew walked away with bags of fresh tuna and a story we won’t soon forget.

You never know what you may see when you venture out into the Gulf of Mexico. I can’t help but imagine the sideways and disbelieving glances the other pelicans throw at JJ when he tells his tale. He came away with a strange new story to tell his buddies and so did we.

Fred Pyle and Jack Beal show off the goods.

$EA DOLLAR$ Tuna Tradition Continues

September 1st, 2018

TBC tuna $EA DOLLAR$ Tuna Tradition Continues

Brandon Rowan, Matt Taylor, first mate Adam and Kurt Pantle with our 90 lb. tuna.

I went from reporting on the Texas Billfish Classic to fishing it

By Brandon Rowan

It was Wednesday night and the Texas Billfish Classic’s Kick Off Party was in full swing. It was good times, great food, cold drinks and plenty of early entry giveaways from Costa Del Mar, YETI and more. Tournament director Jasen Gast and company put on one hell of an event.

As the party was winding down, for some of us, my wife Meagan and I said our goodbyes. We headed to the truck and I spotted an old friend I’ve fished with many times over the years.

“YAMAGUCHI!” I yelled.

Capt. Mark Yamaguchi and I shook hands and instead of a hello/goodbye I got an invitation.

“Hey man, we need you. We’re short and need someone who can fish tuna.”

For someone who is, uh, not much of a morning person, tuna fishing until sunrise is one of my favorites. After a thumbs up from my better half, it was game on and I rushed home to prep my gear.

jack beal $EA DOLLAR$ Tuna Tradition Continues

Capt. Mark Yamaguchi and $ea Dollar$ owner Jack Beal.

The next morning I met the crew and we headed out from Freeport. Jack Beal, owner of $EA DOLLAR$, runs a tight ship with a solid crew. First mate Adam was the youngest of us but already boasts years of experience in multiple fisheries. I also met trolling experts Fred, who has fished with Jack for over 25 years, and Gary who has over 30 years experience in various countries. On night crew with Mark and I, was Matt and Kurt who brought in first place tuna during last year’s tournament.

The first night of fishing started out promising. We had cooperative seas, bait in our lights, a few fish early on poppers and easy jigging for blackfin. But our optimism faded as the hours dragged on and the sun began to rise. We busted our asses all night with no yellowfin tuna to show for it.

On Friday, conditions grew worse. The seas tumbled higher and rain pelted the boat. No matter; the sun set again and the night crew went back to work. But our luck started to change, as the air grew thick with flying fish. We netted well over a dozen flyers and sent them back out wearing circle hook jewelry. But drift after drift, we came up empty. Around 2 a.m., Mark made the call.

“Alright bring them in and lets make another drift.”

Those were the magic words. Kurt’s reel started screaming and it was fish on! The line continued to quickly peel away as Matt and I strapped him into the harness.

We knew this was a good fish but we didn’t realize how tough this one would be. A battle of wills began. Kurt gained yards and yards of line only to have the fish to strip it all away in an instant. This tug of war went on at least a dozen times before we finally saw color. Twenty minutes into the fight we were greeted with a tail, instead of the big head and open beak of a yellowfin tuna.

“She’s tail wrapped!” Adam said, gaff in hand.

The tuna must have heard him and sped back down to the deep, taking advantage by kicking that big tail, as we were unable to turn her head.

Thanks to the teamwork of the whole crew, Kurt’s unwillingness to give up and some attentive driving from Mark, we finally got the fish back to the boat. This time the line came free of her tail and the familiar circling of a doomed tuna began. We were ready.

Adam was quick with the gaff and close to 100 pounds of fresh sashimi hit the deck. It took 45 minutes of grit and hard work but she was finally in the boat. It was high fives all around!

The circle hook was stuck delicately in the corner of the mouth and came free too easily for comfort. We quickly put the tuna on ice and went back to work. Again, we drifted, jigged and popped until sunrise but that was it; one and done. Aside from a few badass blackfin, we only caught one yellowfin tuna, but it was the quality fish we were looking for.

On Saturday, $EA DOLLAR$ roared back into Freeport with a big tuna and a wahoo for the scales. I snapped a couple shots of Draggin’ Up weighing their big blue marlin from the water and then it was our turn. The tail rope was secured, the tuna was hoisted up and we held our breath waiting for the numbers.

TBC staff measures the tuna before weighing it.

“90 pounds on the dot!”

We had one fat tuna but it was just shy of the first place weight of 93 lbs. We took our pictures, got back on the boat, cleaned up, and made ourselves halfway presentable for the awards dinner where we were presented 2nd place tuna trophy.

Jack Beal and Kurt Pantle with the 2nd place tuna trophy.

 It was another killer event with good food and plenty of drinks for famished, thirsty crews. Draggin’ Up came in first with their big blue marlin and were named tournament champions. The first ever Billfish Classic Cup was awarded to Bimini Babe. The night ended with TBC’s Jasen Gast and the Freedom Alliance’s Pepper Ailor presenting a donated all-terrain wheelchair to veteran Jacob De La Garza, who lost his leg in Afghanistan.

Another one was in the books with many good fish weighed and several billfish released. Jack Beal’s $EA DOLLAR$ continued a tradition of bringing big tuna to the scales. I would look for it to happen again next year.

For more photography from this tournament, visit Gulf Coast Mariner’s Facebook and the Texas Billfish Classic Facebook.

Draggin’ Up Wins the 2018 Texas Billfish Classic

August 15th, 2018

team draggin up marlin Draggin Up Wins the 2018 Texas Billfish Classic

Draggin’ Up were named tournament champions and won the blue marlin division with their 514 lb fish.

The Texas Billfish Classic saw continued growth in participation and a substantial increase in prize money during its third year. The TBC fleet released eight blue marlin, one white marlin, six sailfish and weighed one big blue marlin. The TBC is one of the fastest growing billfish tournaments in Texas and the only event that allows participants to leave at noon on Thursday and begin fishing right away on the same day.

Draggin’ Up, a 74’ Viking from Houston, was the only boat to weigh a blue marlin on Saturday, Aug. 4 to claim top honors in the Blue Marlin Division. Angler Sam Rasberry’s 119.5 inch blue marlin topped the scales at 514 pounds.

“We were having a slow first day with no bites, so we decided to make a move for second day. We got the bite shortly after 9 a.m.,” said Draggin’ Up Captain Kevin Deerman. “We definitely knew the fish was a keeper after second set of jumps and got the gaffs ready. Great tournament and worked out for us betting heavy in the Blue Marlin kill pots!”

In the Billfish Release Division, Bimini Babe a 74’ Viking, took home top honors with three blue marlin releases and one sailfish, while Tico Time, a 65’ Hatteras, released one blue marlin and two sailfish to finish in second place. Over-Ride, a 64’ Titan, finished in third place releasing one blue marlin.

The Bimini Babe Team was also crowned Champions of the Billfish Classic Cup. This new event was developed to reward competitive teams fishing in both the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic and the Texas Billfish Classic. Owner Babe Appling, Captain Robert Jones and team left with an extra $10,000 and custom art to commemorate the big win!

The Tuna category was won by Clark Miller from Smoker II with a 93-pound Yellowfin. No stranger to the podium, Kurt Pantle on $EA DOLLAR$ came in second at 90 pounds, followed by Lee Bull on the REHAB at 50 pounds. A nice summer wahoo raised the bar pretty high as Jasen Gast and the REHAB crew pulled up his 51-pound fish, barely topping the second place fish brought in by Tiger Neal on the Smoker II. Brian Wood of Draggin’ Up, came in third at 29 pounds. The Dolphin category was taken with the only qualifying fish at 23 pounds by Chris Gavlick aboard the REHAB.

The Top Lady Angler was Emma Griffith on Over-Ride and the Top Junior Angler Award was presented to Ethan Middleton on the Change Order.

RESULTS:

Blue Marlin
1st- 514.0 lbs. Draggin’ Up – Angler Sam Rasberry

Catch and Release
1st – 2,000 pts – Bimini Babe – Captain Robert Jones

2nd – 1,000 pts – Tico Time – Captain Mike Hester

3rd – 600 pts – Over-Ride – Captain Jacob Dawson

Tuna
1st – 93 lbs – Smoker II – Clark Miller

2nd – 90 lbs – $ea Dollar$ – Kurt Pantle

3rd – 50 lbs – REHAB – Lee Bull

Wahoo
1st – 51 lbs – REHAB – Jasen Gast

2nd – 47 lbs – Smoker II – Tiger Neal

3rd – 29 lbs – Draggin’ Up – Brian Wood

Dolphin
1st – 23 lbs – REHAB – Chris Gavlick

Top Lady Angler
Emma Griffith on the Over-Ride

Top Junior Angler
Ethan Middleton on the Change Order