June 4, 2023
Racing again to the dock after a day of marlin fishing within the Abacos.
Courtesy Debra Todd Pictures

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After the 9/11 terrorist assaults on the USA, Hipkneetized’s Steve Roy, HT Hook’s Harry Shufflebarger and Merritt’s Boat & Engine Works’ Roy Merritt approached Capt. Skip Smith about making a match to boost cash for the victims. The writing on the wall was fast-approaching, maybe unknowingly, for the Bertram-Hatteras Shootout and the Bacardi Billfish Match—each tournaments dissolving in 2012—whose participation was dwindling even because the Nice Recession loomed 5 years sooner or later. And, sadly, the Bahamas Billfish Championship wasn’t too far behind. It was as if a fissure was simply starting to open in fishing historical past; a distinct segment was slowly making itself seen, one the Customized Shootout was destined to fill. Nothing could be prefer it, and it’s possible nothing will probably be prefer it ever once more. And so, the story begins.

Maybe these 4 gents, these consultants who graced—and proceed to grace—the business for a few years, could possibly be thought-about the speculators of match fishing as a result of what has transpired over the previous 20 years has been nothing in need of revolutionary. In 2001, it was the necessity to rejoice American ingenuity, in addition to a possibility for fellowship to evolve and philanthropy to prove. And it did, in true neighborhood style.

Whereas the unique Customized Shootout idea had the boatbuilders paying to have their builds enter the competitors, Merritt politely objected, and the conception would now hinge on the house owners paying their very own manner. In any case, in the event that they had been capable of buy a multimillion-dollar {custom} boat, then they might afford just a few days of pleasant ­competitors within the Bahamas for trigger.

A man and woman post and smile for a picture at the Abaco Beach Resort & Boat Harbour Marina.
Smith (on left) depends on good pal and longtime Abaco Seashore Resort & Boat Harbour Marina supervisor Kevie Thomas not just for tournament-related logistics, however for his Hurricane Dorian reduction efforts as properly.
Courtesy Debra Todd Pictures

Because the custom-boat builders supported the general thought, the particulars had been hashed out to incorporate an all-release format, and it was settled on Chub Cay within the southern Berry Islands of the Bahamas as the primary Customized Shootout vacation spot.

Chub is an iconic place, virtually hauntingly so. Positioned simply 125 miles from Florida, the “Billfish Capital of the Bahamas” legacy is, based on the 40-plus-year-old Chub Cay Membership, “greater than only a fisherman’s paradise.” Its sovereign ­border could be thought-about a growing nation to First World nations, however its connection to ­fishermen elevated it to world-class standing due to its proximity to the Pocket—a dynamic piece of ­fishing actual property that’s situated within the northwest nook of the Tongue of the Ocean, subsumed in one of many Atlantic Ocean’s 11 deepwater trenches.

Watch: The Marlin staff explores the fishery of the Andaman Sea off Myanmar on this episode of Bluewater Chronicles.

Chub to Harbour Island to Boat Harbour

Lots of the best billfishermen lower their tooth in Chub, and lots of large fish have been pulled from these waters over the a long time. Chub is particular, ­particularly in late winter and early spring, the place it presents groups grand-slam alternatives when the climate gods align themselves—­southeast-to-east winds, and loads of them. It’s no marvel that Chub was chosen to fill a ­much-needed ­tournament-venue hole.

“The primary time you go to the Bahamas, whether or not it’s by boat or particularly by aircraft, the sheer great thing about the water that surrounds the islands is breathtaking,” Smith says. “In the event you consider all of the document catches, Ernest Hemingway, the lobsters, the conchs, you instantly really feel the relaxed vibe that’s island life.” And he’s proper. It by no means appears that the Bahamas is dashing you to do something. Nobody’s in a rush to take your cash, that’s for certain, but it surely does mark a welcome departure from the hustle and bustle of South Florida.
Nonetheless, Chub simply wasn’t prepared for what was about to return that fateful January in 2002. Capable of deal with solely 20 boats, the quaint lodge, restaurant and bar, though legendary, actually couldn’t maintain the 100-plus people who had been able to descend on its facilities and wind down after day of competitors.

A crew pulls a blue marlin boatside.
The Out Islands of the Bahamas continues to show its value relating to match ­billfishing.
Courtesy Debra Todd Pictures

Because the match committee mulled over a transfer of venues, Harbour Island, whereas not ­optimum, was better-armed in each nice eating and ingesting choices, in addition to having loads of lodging. For the subsequent eight years, the Customized Shootout continued to develop. However when the Bertram-Hatteras Shootout lastly folded, it was time to swoop in on the subsequent factor the match may hope for: Marsh Harbour’s Abaco Seashore Resort & Boat Harbour Marina.

“When you may maintain 60 to 70 boats in a single location, that is without doubt one of the secrets and techniques to success,” Smith says. “And when you may have entry to an air-conditioned tent that holds tons of of individuals, on-property lodging, and nice meals and drinks, it may possibly’t be matched. The crews and house owners can spend high quality time collectively, and that camaraderie is what makes it much more particular.”

Smith should be proper. The Customized Shootout has managed to solidify its place within the match market, smack-dab in the midst of the Abacos, the place his members can fish, dine, reminisce and get together to their hearts’ content material. It’s a recipe that appears to be holding its personal within the dog-eat-dog world of match fishing.

The match just about remained on cruise management for the subsequent eight years, till September 1, 2019, when a catastrophic Class 5 hurricane named Dorian destroyed the Abacos within the worst pure catastrophe ever recorded within the ­historical past of the Bahamas.

An aerial view of a resort marina with boats docked.
From 2004 to 2011, the Customized Shootout referred to as Harbour Island dwelling.
Courtesy Debra Todd Pictures

Whereas the fishing business rallied to assistance from the Bahamians, Smith walked Abaco Seashore Resort and its surrounding areas with supervisor Kevie Thomas to see the carnage for himself. “On my first go to after the storm, I believed there was no manner the resort could be prepared for our 2020 occasion. The docks had been gone; solely pilings caught up out of the water. There have been no doorways on the lodge rooms, the cottages had been gone, and boats had been scattered across the resort,” he recollects. “After I returned a few months later, the lodge and the docks had been repaired and prepared, but it surely was like Disneyland in a conflict zone: Outdoors the gates, Marsh Harbour was a multitude, and it was heartbreaking.”

Returning to the States and unwilling to take a loss, Smith instantly crafted an electronic mail to the CSO members and his sources, and earlier than he knew it, this mobilization raised $200,000 very quickly. “We despatched over meals and roofing supplies for the Bahamians, and Kevie was answerable for getting the objects on to the folks in order that we didn’t lose any cash to the large ­organizations” that had been establishing a number of different help ­campaigns of their very own.

By springtime, Abaco Seashore Resort had rebuilt the docks, changed the match tent, and restored the ability, however the coronavirus was standing by to place one other wrench within the plan, and the occasion was canceled in 2020 as a consequence of journey ­restrictions in an try to sluggish the unfold.

The Customized-Boat Angle

With the match now capped at 60 boats, the Customized Shootout ready listing is outrageously lengthy. And with the newest boat growth, that listing is hardly dwindling. Deciding simply who advances to competitors is just not solely based mostly on which staff is grandfathered in, but it surely additionally, fittingly, makes the builders exempt. “They’re those who make this match particular,” Smith says, and with as much as a dozen of the best builders within the US attending and making themselves accessible to their shoppers—house owners and crews alike—it’s what units this occasion aside from all of the others.

A crew pulls a marlin boat side.
Bree angler Rick Chapman and his staff launch a pleasant Bahamas blue marlin—a fish value 600 factors in Smith’s Customized Shootout.
Courtesy Debra Todd Pictures

The Customized Shootout is ready up as an invitation-only occasion, with the earlier years’ members getting the primary of the coveted summonses. Ought to a staff not have the ability to attend, then the ready listing is consulted. The longer the staff has remained on the listing, the extra possible they are going to be invited the subsequent time. That’s commonplace working process for many invitationals, but it surely doesn’t appear to discourage new house owners from in search of a spot in line. Everybody who owns a {custom} boat needs to fish the Customized Shootout. It’s a ceremony {of professional} passage of types, as a result of as soon as the kites are put away, the discuss in fishing circles often revolves round it. It actually makes no by no means thoughts in case your {custom} journey is a month outdated or 50 years outdated; if you happen to’re invited, you do your damnedest to be there. And if you happen to occur to win, your title is cemented in Customized Shootout historical past—­rivaling those that’ve received a number of the most prestigious tournaments on the planet.

The profitable additionally spills over into some good ­recognition for the builders. The championship staff concurrently represents the builder within the competitors to amass the Producer’s Cup, an accolade that’s valued not solely by the builder himself, however can also be a testomony to the standard and craftsmanship every maker can carry dwelling to its staff of staff, affirming the truth that all of their arduous work pays off in spades. It’s the one award of its form; it’s based mostly on match finishes alone; and up to now, Spencer Yachts has produced essentially the most Cup wins with eight, adopted by Tribute Efficiency Boats with three, and Rybovich and Garlington with two wins every.

Learn Subsequent: We rejoice 4 a long time of Marlin.

Nowhere else will you discover the assembling of ­custom-boat builders multi functional place such as you would on the Customized Shootout—all prepared to speak store, take heed to their shoppers, discuss to potential shoppers, work together with the members, and to go fishing, identical to regular folks. The affect these builders have made within the boating and fishing business over the a long time is actual, however we’re additionally reminded right here that they’re human—and approachable. And they’ve simply as a lot enjoyable as everybody else, even when they are particular visitors come match time.

A Spencer Yachts sport-fishing boat cruises along the water.
Capt. Mark McDevitt runs within the 60-foot Spencer Electrical Invoice after anglers Matthew Cox, John Michael Eargle, Mike Ebert, Douglas Jennings and Chad Sanders scored a complete of three,200 factors to win the 2022 Customized Shootout.
© Scott Kerrigan / www.aquapaparazzi.com

Philanthropy and the Future

The Customized Shootout is a real 501(c)(3) ­charitable group, based on Smith, that has raised over $1 million in help to profit the Breast Most cancers Analysis Basis, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Joe DiMaggio Youngsters’s Hospital, the fallen heroes of 9/11, and the Hurricane Katrina Crimson Cross Reduction Fund, in addition to many others, together with its personal endeavor to assist the residents of Marsh Harbour get again up on their toes after the Hurricane Dorian disaster.

“We began out with the 9/11 victims, the Crimson Cross, leukemia and lymphoma,” Smith says, “however we shifted focus when Steve Roy’s spouse, Sheryl, handed away, and we nonetheless assist the Breast Most cancers Analysis Basis to at the present time.” The BCRF is, based on its web site, “devoted to ending breast most cancers by advancing the world’s most promising analysis” and “is the biggest non-public funder of breast most cancers analysis—and metastatic breast most cancers analysis—worldwide and is the very best rated breast most cancers group within the [US].” With yearly instances approaching 260,000 within the US alone, this basis looks like the worthiest of causes.

The Customized Shootout is dedicated to supporting organizations in want of rapid recuperative funds and ongoing analysis, and leans closely on the generosity of its members and staff members to help in that dedication. Whereas the funds raised by the match could be appropriated on a year-by-year foundation relying on the place the committee feels the monies could be greatest allotted, it nonetheless maintains that any charity that’s credible and stands for the higher good is deserving, particularly relating to points that immediately have an effect on the folks of the Bahamas, ­hurricane victims, veterans, and family members.

A man celebrates near an award at the Custom Shootout.
Builder Paul Spencer chalks up one other win for Spencer Yachts.
Courtesy Debra Todd Pictures

On the twentieth anniversary of the Customized Shootout, Smith is hesitant to share the internal secrets and techniques of how he plans to maintain it on observe for the subsequent 20 years, however he does each credit score and curse the early-summer Bahamian climate and unpredictable fishing. So, what lies forward for the Customized Shootout? Extra of the identical, I believe. Smith is on no account considering of retiring anytime quickly. His match has survived pure disasters, excessive gasoline costs, a pandemic, unhealthy climate and sluggish fishing, however challenges reminiscent of these simply hold him shifting ahead.

“With all of the assist we get from our sponsors and the members, this occasion ought to go on perpetually. We had a number of the greatest fishing ever final yr, and that alone helps immensely,” Smith says. “I’ll simply hold telling outdated fish tales till I can’t do it any longer. I’ve been very blessed to have the ability to do what I’ve achieved, each on The Hooker and with Skip’s Tournaments, and particularly the Customized Shootout. So long as you might be proud of what you might be doing, contemplate your self a fortunate particular person.” And fortunate he’s certainly.

Twenty Years of Customized Shootout Historical past within the Bahamas

2002, Chub Cay

  • First Place: HT Hook
  • Second Place: Jack O’ Hearts
  • Third Place: Arc Strike
  • Prime Angler: Harry Shufflebarger
  • Prime Captain: Robbie Moore

2003, Chub Cay

  • First Place: Salem Wolf
  • Second Place: Miss Allied
  • Third Place: China Lady
  • Prime Angler: Roger Hammond
  • Prime Captain: Jake Triay

2004, Harbour Island

  • First Place: Rosemary
  • Second Place: Miss Allied
  • Third Place: Double Canine
  • Prime Angler: Terry Sherman
  • Prime Captain: Ed Nicolace

2005, Harbour Island

  • First Place: Black Out
  • Second Place: NuCO2
  • Third Place: Frantastic
  • Prime Angler: Jim Black
  • Prime Captain: Kevin Llorente

2006, Harbour Island

  • First Place: Wave Paver
  • Second Place: Cutnail
  • Third Place: Clean Test
  • Prime Angler: Jr. Davis
  • Prime Captain: Jeff Babuschak

2007, Harbour Island

  • First Place: Alican
  • Second Place: Jack O’ Hearts
  • Third Place: Meant 2 Be
  • Prime Angler: Scott Frohman
  • Prime Captain: Doug Heaton

2008, Harbour Island

  • First Place: Que Mas
  • Second Place: MIMI
  • Third Place: Reel Pleasure
  • Prime Angler: Paul Spencer
  • Prime Captain: Travis Butters

2009, Harbour Island

  • First Place: HT Hook
  • Second Place: Owl’s Nest
  • Third Place: Sandman
  • Prime Angler: Al Eldridge
  • Prime Captain: Stetson Turney

2010, Harbour Island

  • First Place: Sandman
  • Second Place: Brier Patch
  • Third Place: Svengali
  • Prime Angler: Lester Petracca
  • Prime Captain: Neil Orange

2011, Harbour Island

  • First Place: Chasin
  • Second Place: Double Canine
  • Third Place: Ravaganza
  • Prime Angler: Don McKinney
  • Prime Captain: Bennett Griffin

2012, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Wave Paver
  • Second Place: Aircraft Easy
  • Third Place: Bear Entice
  • Prime Angler: Jr. Davis
  • Prime Captain: Russell Sinclair and Jason Parker

2013, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Reel Pushy
  • Second Place: Jichi
  • Third Place: Arc Strike
  • Prime Angler: Wally Whitley
  • Prime Captain: Chris Workmon

2014, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Aircraft Easy
  • Second Place: Escapade
  • Third Place: Uno Mas
  • Prime Angler: Jim Jensen
  • Prime Captain: Jimmy Werling

2015, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Classic
  • Second Place: Reel Pushy
  • Third Place: Candy Factor
  • Prime Angler: Tony Huerta
  • Prime Captain: Kevin Paul

2016, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Lo Que Sea
  • Second Place: Two Cats
  • Third Place: Bear Entice
  • Prime Angler: Tony Huerta
  • Prime Captain: Kevin Paul

2017, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Grand Slam
  • Second Place: Gina Lisa
  • Third Place: Bear Entice
  • Prime Angler: Jr. Davis
  • Prime Captain: David Grubbs

2018, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Aircraft Easy
  • Second Place: Builder’s Selection
  • Third Place: Wave Paver
  • Prime Angler: Jerry Conell
  • Prime Captain: Jimmy Werling

2019, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Electrical Invoice
  • Second Place: Bear Entice
  • Third Place: Three Occasions L
  • Prime Angler: John Stout
  • Prime Captain: Jerry Owens

2021, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Marlin Darlin
  • Second Place: El Cazador
  • Third Place: Wave Paver
  • Prime Angler: Frank Vilasante
  • Prime Captain: Chris Kaulen

2022, Boat Harbour

  • First Place: Electrical Invoice
  • Second Place: Pescaria
  • Third Place: Lunatico
  • Prime Angler: Manny Pereira
  • Prime Captain: Mark McDevitt