Orange Beach ChartersRickie McDuffie of the charter boat “Resmondo” docked at Reel Surprise Charters (www.reelsurprisecharters.com, 251-981-7173), out of SanRoc Cay is a veteran big game tournament fisherman. “I once fished more tournaments than I do now,” McDuffie says. “I currently fish the Mobile Big Game Club Memorial Day Fishing Tournament and the Labor Day Invitational Tournament. The Mobile Big Game Club rules state that you can’t bring in a blue marlin to the scales that’s less than 102 inches long from the fork of the tail to the tip of the bottom jaw and that weighs less than 450 pounds. Too, dolphin, wahoo and tuna have to weigh more than 20 pounds each before they can be brought in and entered in the Big Game tournaments. All white marlin and sailfish must be released.”

In the past if you caught two big blue marlin in one day, you could bring both fish to enter in the contest. Now each boat in the tournament only can bring in one blue marlin per day. Today big game fish tournaments post announcements every day that tell all the anglers the weight of the biggest fish entered in the tournament. If an angler has a blue marlin on the line and knows that the biggest blue marlin brought in already measures 109 inches, and the marlin he has on his line at that time measures less, then there’s no reason to bring that fish back to the dock. Tournament organizers encourage each team on every boat to release any fish caught that don’t have chances of winning the tournament. This notification system has allowed the release of many big game fish.

However, everyone wants to know who’s caught the most marlin, tuna, wahoo and dolphin. Each boat has a video camera that records the angler and the fish in the water he or she has caught. When the deckhand touches the leader line on the billfish, Orange Beach Fishingthat fish is considered caught. The anglers also given a marker provided by the tournament organizers that shows the date and the number of the fish being caught and released. When the boat returns to the tournament site, the officials review the videos. If the video meets the criteria, the fish is declared a verified catch and release. Prizes are awarded to the boats and the crew that catch and release the most fish. The video verification system, encourages anglers to catch and release all the fish that won’t win the tournament. But they still have the chance to win prizes for catching and releasing the most fish in each species.

“Because of all the new conservation rules that have been introduced to big game fishing, I don’t believe there are more than 10 or 20 big blue marlin killed in the Upper Gulf Coast every year in billfish tournaments,” McDuffie says. Anglers have learned over the years that the more value a fish has, the stronger the conservation effort has been to protect and perpetuate the species. Organizers of billfish tournaments realize that the more big game fish they catch and release, the more big game fish contestants will be able to catch every time they leave port, and the better fishing we all can experience.

For more information about Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, visit www.orangebeach.com/fishing, our easy to access fishing information pages complete with marina and charter captain listings. For any questions, call Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism’s vacation-planning specialists at 1-800-745-SAND (7263). For a list of cook-your-catch restaurants, go to www.orangebeach.com/dining-nightlife/restaurants.