MOREHEAD CITY — The General put on quite a show on the final day July 27 of the 31st annual N.C. Ducks Unlimited “Band the Billfish” Tournament.
The Morehead City-based boat, captained by Wade Fickling, caught and released two blue marlin and four sailfish for 1,550 points, helping the boat run away with a comfortable victory over the field of 22 boats.
“It’s pretty cool,” Fickling said. “We had a crazy last day of fishing, and it was good enough to win it all again.”
So, was The General stacked with seasoned anglers boasting years of billfish experience? Nope, it was handled by members of the Smith family, specifically father Warren Smith III, 19-year-old Landt Smith and 9-year-old Warren Smith IV.
Both Warrens were on The General last year when it tallied 750 points to top the field. This year, Landt was the lucky charm with the release of four sailfish and a blue marlin. Smith III caught and released the other blue marlin, while Smith IV released a sailfish and weighed a 29.3-pound wahoo.
“We made it a family affair,” Smith III said. “My wife had surgery a few weeks ago and my middle daughter gets really seasick, so it ended up just being us three. It’s always exciting to catch a billfish, but watching your kids do it is something really special.”
Blue marlin are typically rare in the Crystal Coast waters this time of summer, but the tournament saw four released this year. The two caught on The General tied the total released in the previous four tournaments combined.
“I don’t know if I have a secret to it. It’s just about being patient and finding the right spot,” Fickling said. “Usually, we don’t see too many blue marlin this time of year, but it worked out for us this year.”
The wild final day of fishing landed The General more than just a victory – it also netted the team $15,725 of the tournament’s $81,700 purse.
“None of this happens without our incredible anglers and my first mate Trey Sadler,” Fickling said. “I was also really fortunate to have (Shenandoah Capt.) Alan Willis on board with us. He’s probably my closest friend. We’ve been fishing together and against each other for 16 years.”
The General had the competition already locked up on Saturday – before the second blue marlin ever got on the line. The boat’s 1,150 points were already enough to win the tournament by a whopping 550 points.
“Randy Ramsey is on the radio declaring us the official winner when all of a sudden we had another fish on,” Fickling said.
Landt was in the fighting chair when Willis hooked the blue marlin with just a few minutes left before un-hooked lines needed to come out of the water.
“I was just in the chair for the last 20 minutes of the tournament,” Landt said. “When (the blue marlin) got on the line with eight minutes left, I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m doing this.’ ”
Smith III caught the first blue marlin earlier that day, per an arrangement he made with his children.
“We had a deal when we went out on Saturday,” Landt said. “Because my brother and I were fighting for two different categories, my dad let us catch sailfish. But if we had a blue marlin on the line, my dad would get it since it was for the most points.”
Landt was looking to avenge two lost sailfish from an offshore fishing expedition on July 4. If given the opportunity, she would gladly fish another tournament.
“It was an awesome experience and a great tournament to fish in,” Landt said. “Wade is an amazing captain, and Trey is an incredible first mate. I told Wade, ‘If you ever need a lady angler for a tournament, just call me. I’ll gladly do it.’ ”
Landt wasn’t on the boat for last year’s “Band the Billfish” Tournament, but Smith IV was and took full advantage with his first-ever billfish release. The sailfish he pulled in on the final day was just his second ever.
“It was really fun,” he said. “I love every part of fishing. I was tired, but it was really cool. It was kind of an experience of a lifetime.”
Needless to say, both Smith children wound up winning their divisions, Landt in the Lady Angler and Smith IV in the Junior Angler divisions. The 29.3-pound wahoo also won the sportfish category to give Smith IV his second solo victory.
It was a fishing day of a lifetime, but both blue marlin anglers were quick to point out the role that luck plays in offshore fishing tournaments.
“Fishing is 50 percent you and 50 percent luck,” Landt said. “We could have gone out there all day and done the same things and caught nothing. EZ Boy was right next to us almost all day Saturday, and they only caught dolphin. So, it’s really about the luck when you’re out there and you’re in the chair.
“It’s not all skill. There’s a lot of luck involved, Smith III said. “We were just in the right place at the right time.”