The reel whirs, feverishly spinning as your line torpedoes out to sea. The spear-shaped snout of a billfish cuts through the water’s surface and dives back underneath, pulling your line even farther down. Struggle ensues. It’s you versus the billfish, a weighty marlin you captured off the coast of Ambergris Caye. The fish rushes deeper; you pull up on your pole. You try to reel the marlin in as he swims full-force forward. You’ve got fifteen grand riding on this – there’s no way you’re letting the fish break free.
Every year around Columbus Day, the Belize Yacht Club and Belikin Beer company sponsor the Belikin Spectacular Blue Water Billfish Tournament in downtown San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. The sportfishing competition lasts two days and draws out the fiercest fishers around. Competitors attend a briefing the night before the tournament to go over the rules. Although it’s a two-day competition, each day acts as an individual contest.
Fishers head out to sea in the morning and must return with their catch that evening. Tournament rules require that all lines be out of the water by 5 p.m. and boats return to the dock by 8 p.m. Only fish caught that day count towards a prize. The Belize Yacht Club’s pier fills with crowds in the evening to watch the boats come in and to watch tournament officials weigh and measure the fish upon arrival.
The designation “billfish” describes a group of large game fish with a long, needle-like snout. Some of the more well-known billfish include marlin, swordfish, and kingfish. Often very large and heavy, billfish call deep water beyond the reef home. The substantial Belize Barrier Reef makes the country a location unmatched for those looking to hook a billfish.
Anglers come in droves to win the near-obscene prizes: up to $15,000 for the heaviest fish (called the “Grand Slam” and weighing well over 500 pounds) and up to $3,000 for Top Boat. Frequently, competitors will nab a fish over 300 pounds in pursuit of the prize money or a trophy. After nearly 20 years of competition, the Belikin Spectacular persists as the most popular of the billfish tournaments in Belize. The awards banquet for the participants is legendary. Belikin Beer flows freely and the fishers party and dance the night away.
The billfish tournament also serves an educational purpose. Spectators enter deep discussions with anglers about the types of fish and fishing techniques. The Belikin Spectacular makes a great event for families with children and for people of all ages. Even if you’re not fishing, you can still take part in the festivities. People-watchers feast their eyes on the reactions of the fishers – some overjoyed about their catch, some disappointed in defeat. Emotions run high wherever there is competition, and Belizeans love to compete, especially around Pan-American Day.
Gather with the crowd on the pier in San Pedro and watch the boats bring the fish in. Learn about these massive fish who challenge the strength and skill of the world’s best anglers, and place bets with your neighbors about the weight. You may even win some money even if you don’t pick up a pole!
This year’s Belikin Spectacular Blue Water Billfish Tournament took place in downtown San Pedro on October 9 -10, 2011. Visit Belize in October 2012 to take part in Pan-American Day celebrations, including the Belikin Spectacular.