CaptainTommy LaRonge & Jimmy Houston
Saving the Yellow Tail from Sharks CaptainTommy LaRonge & Jimmy Houston

The Reel Life

The BVI is the Backdrop for Fishing Superstars, Jimmy Houston and Misty Wells.

Jimmy (left) and Misty aboard Ruckus

Take a primarily fresh water fisherman known as an “outdoor icon” in his field, lure him with the warmth and beauty of the tropics, offer to put him aboard a 61’ Viking Sport Fishing Yacht, and give him a chance to land a 107 pound wahoo – and you have the makings of some great fishing stories. Jimmy Houston, known in the US as the eternally tanned and grinning host of “America’s Favorite Fisherman,” visited the BVI recently to film some Caribbean fishing segments for his popular outdoor television show, currently airing on 10 networks.

Misty Wells, a female professional angler, whose name and brand are also growing in the popular fishing culture, joined the venture with the two camera crew. Misty, who hosts “Lets Take it Outside” TV and Radio show and served as the coordinator for the trip, explained why the BVI was chosen for the show. “I had looked up many exotic locations worldwide for the TV shoot, but the minute Tommy sent me photos from the BVI, I knew we found our perfect place to film.“ Tommy LaRonge is captain of the privately owned 61’ Viking yacht, Ruckus, docked at Scrub Island and also happens to be Misty’s boyfriend. Ah, ha – killing two birds with one stone, a chance to visit her favorite captain and explore the BVI waters.

Misty grew up in Florida and recalls loving fishing with her father off the jetty as a child. Although a lifelong hobby, her interest in fishing really took off in 2009, when she was asked to join a professional tournament team, called the “Reel Darlings.”  “My life really changed at this point,” she laughed, I realized I could follow my passion and actually make a living doing it.” 

For Jimmy Houston, however, world travel in his quest for the “ultimate catch” has been a lifestyle for over 30 years and his many viewers get to travel with him and experience his expertise on the rod and reel – close up and personal. He really doesn’t have to travel far to fish, as his vast Oklahoma ranch has two man-made lakes, the largest comprising 125 acres, which he keeps stocked with fish. His three-day fishing expedition in the BVI was a great blend of what the BVI waters have to offer an avid fisherman. There was a day dedicated to bone fishing on the “flats,” a day to take a small boat out for fishing in the lee of the islands (avoiding the blustery seasonal winds of December and January), and of course a deep sea fishing trip to the famous  “North Drop,” 12 miles off Virgin Gorda.

Houston, an award winning bass fisherman and in the Hall of Fame for more titles than you can count, is used to reeling in some fish that give him a fight, but landing the large wahoo was worth a blow by blow recounting of the exciting experience. “First of all when you get a strike (bite on the line) you can tell how big a fish it is by how fast he runs with the line and how far he goes,” Houston explained. A wahoo is the second fastest fish in the world (sailfish the fastest) and can swim as fast as 70mph. “Once he’s out there 500 yards, you’re looking at about four football fields of length to reel him in.”

At the strike, Jimmy recalls, he hopped in the fishing chair and was harnessed in. The harness is a vest or belt with clips that clip on the mounts on the rod. The end of the rod is then put in a holder called a “gimble,” where the grooves slot it into a secure hold. The advantage to using the chair versus doing a standing catch is pretty obvious.  In Jimmy’s words, “A large fish can literally take your equipment right from you and pull you overboard. Fishermen don’t like to lose their costly rods and reels, ” he laughed. The chair, gives you the ability to use your back muscles along with your feet on the chair platform.

The lures at the end of these lines are a sight to see – not your average little hook and sinker with a wiggly bait. Weighing almost a pound or more these heavy duty lures, have heads made out of an almost unbreakable heavy plastic composite, some painted with eyes to resemble a fish or octopus. They are surrounded by an eight inch “skirt” anchored by an enormous hook. One gets respect for the size and speed of these large fish, who can swallow a whole lure, bait and all and keep swimming.

Misty Wells (left) and Jimmy Houston
displaying one of his heavy duty lures.

 

The “fight” for the fish is a battle of wills, so to speak. The fish will toss, turn, run and even “sound” (dive deep to break the line).  The captain has to artfully back the boat up, trying to give the angler more time to take in line as the fish fights, but often this can be against the waves, which means a likely saltwater shower for all. The angler has to keep reeling in the line in a game of tug of war. A marlin catch can take up to two hours or more depending on the size.

“Some fisherman think they have the victory before the fish is landed and that’s a real mistake,” Jimmy emphasized. “What happens when the fish gets close to the boat is the most critical point of the catch. If the fish gets underneath the boat, he can get injured by the prop or barnacles or the line can get cut,” he explained. He also is prey for other fish (think sharks or barracudas), who, will pick up the “stress” signals the fish puts out and come quickly for a ready caught meal.

In Jimmy’s wahoo adventure, he was able to reel his wahoo in after a 20-minute fight, in some fairly rough seas and a saltwater bath for all on board. Bringing the wahoo close to the boat was another challenge, as there was a little competition in the form of an eight-foot hammerhead shark, circling. In Misty’s words “ I was just praying the whole time that hammerhead would lose interest and go away.” Somehow, her prayers were answered, as the wahoo got close, the captain and crew gaffed the wahoo and got him on board. A collective sigh of relief went up from all on board. The wahoo weighed in at 107 pounds and an estimated 6’ length.

Jimmy, Misty and Tommy show off a 107 pound wahoo.

Misty got to prove her prowess as well, landing a respectable 42-pound wahoo. She and Jimmy are still competitively joking about who will bring in the bigger one next time. Misty is on a mission to see more women take up the sport seriously. A primarily father-son tradition, Misty feels getting young girls involved early on and encouraging them to pursue fishing on a professional level will increase their self-confidence in many other areas. And hey, the “coolest social fishing forecast app” out now called Fishbrain, gives you a world map with what’s biting in the region you want to fish, along with constant updates and reports from fellow anglers. Fishing just moved up a notch for the “tech-set.”

The blonde mop-headed smiling Jimmy Houston, America’s fishing icon can now add another fishing destination to his impressive international list.  As he expressed, “Although we had some pretty windy days, the fishing was great and everyone welcomed us with open arms and made us feel like we belonged in the BVI.”

As for Misty, she is already proverbially “hooked” and laughed, “Fishing in the BVI with Jimmy Houston was a dream come true for me. I can’t wait to come back and hook my first marlin with Captain Tommy aboard Ruckus”.

Both veteran fisherman Jimmy Houston and rising star Misty Wells hope for others to catch the passion and see a next generation of enthusiastic outdoorsmen and women!

 

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Official webpage of The BVI Welcome Guide. Source of information for everything in the British Virgin Islands since 1971.

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