Crew members for Trading Time carry a 35-pound tuna to the scales during the Cayman Billfish Rundown tournament on Friday. – Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

There were fewer fish than a lot of participants were hoping for, but plenty of cash awards as the first Cayman Billfish Rundown wrapped up three days of competition on Friday.

No one caught a record breaking marlin, which would have resulted in a $240,000 prize, but there was still over half a million dollars in guaranteed prize money doled out among the 230 anglers and crews of the 41 boats in the tournament.

It took Baron Jacob until noon of the third day of fishing to hook the heaviest wahoo of the tournament. He stood at the centre of Camana Bay’s banner-strewn crescent next to the slender fish that was as nearly as long as he is tall, and watched it tip the scales at 39.2 pounds. He did not know for certain that he’d won at that moment, but he could not stop grinning about his catch.

“We’ll see,” he said of his chances for the $10,000 prize for the biggest wahoo. “There’s still two more boats to come in. At least we’re on the podium.”

Many of the competitors in the event said they fish tournaments throughout the year in the Caribbean. Some boats do nothing but travel from one tournament to another. But Jacob, a Cayman resident, said he only fishes one or two per year. The inaugural billfish rundown, he said, hooked him.

“I think it’s great for Cayman this time of year,” Jacob said. “We don’t celebrate this enough, what you can do in Cayman. It’s another element of what Cayman can bring to the world.”

Tournament weighmaster Dayne Grady said the event went well for its first year.

“I think it turned out a whole lot better than what we planned on,” Grady said. “A lot of people went above and beyond to put on a very professional tournament.”

A short-lived protest brought an additional element of drama into the final proceedings before Uno Mas, a well-known tournament boat from Florida, was given the top prize for most billfish releases, along with the Captain’s Award. The team walked away with more than $137,000 in various prize monies.

Grady said he was pleased that the team had come all the way from Florida and that other boats came in from Jamaica to compete. He’s hoping for more international entries in the future.

“We look to draw from Mexico and Puerto Rico as word gets out,” he said.

Grady said the Cayman event is one of the richest tournaments in the Caribbean, with $760,000 in potential prize money.

“I think next year, we’ll top $1 million,” he said.

Charles Ebanks is captain of the Cayman-based Trading Time. He said he fishes every tournament in Cayman. In fact, while others were celebrating Friday night, he was packing up to head to Cayman Brac for a tournament there. He said the billfish rundown was a success.

“For short notice, there were a lot of boats that participated, a lot of foreign boats and anglers,” he said. “It takes stuff like this to boost the economy and to boost our international way of doing stuff.”

His crew grabbed only a few hundred dollars in prize money. The first day, they caught and released a marlin, and after no action on the second day, they returned to port Friday with a 35-pound tuna, far from the 77-pound giant that Shaun Bodden of Cool Change brought in.

Still, Ebanks said, “I’m looking forward to next year. “

One of the top anglers was Nicole Spenc, who writes an adventure blog and has popular YouTube and Facebook sites. She was invited from Venice, Louisiana by the tournament directors and was the only angler on the Ricochet to hook any fish, bringing in two wahoo (one took third place) and a mahi mahi. She was pleased to hear that tournament directors plan to add women’s and youth categories next year.

“I think they should definitely have a lady angler [division],” Spenc said. “I would have at least taken home something.” Others did go home empty handed.

Dave DaCosta, captain of Daddy’s Dream, said his crew got completely skunked all three days of the tournament.

“No hits at all,” DaCosta said. “Absolutely zilch.”

That did not sour him on the tournament.

“It’s named fishing, not catching,” he said. “Any day on the water is a good day. We’re coming back next year again, for sure.”