After a two-year sabbatical to the Dominican Republic, owner Billy Ingram and his veteran crew aboard Reel Passion were back in familiar territory in the summer of 2015 – along the South Carolina coast and atop the standings in the S. C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series.
Ingram and his crew, led by Capt. Gary Richardson, captured the Governor's Cup title in 2011 in record-breaking fashion, accumulating a series record 6,075 points during the five tournaments. In 2012, Reel Passion finished ninth after competing in a limited portion of the Governor's Cup schedule.
Reel Passion then spent the next two fishing seasons in the Dominican Republic, with the crew honing their craft on the prolific billfish action available just offshore of the Caribbean island nation.
Ingram had the boat returned to Charleston and the South Carolina coast to fish the entire 2015 Governor's Cup, which was reduced to four tournaments this season.
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Real Passion won two of the four with consecutive victories in the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament and the Carolina Billfish Classic and was tabbed the unofficial series winner Saturday at the conclusion on the series finale, the MEGADOCK Billfishing Tournament at Charleston City Marina.
The crew released seven blue marlin and three white marlin for 5,175 points in the four events to finish ahead of runner-up Miss Wy, a Georgetown Landing Marina entrant. Miss Wy won the first tournament of the series, the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament, and finished with six blue marlin releases for 3,675 points.
After winning the series for the second time in as many full-time tries, Ingram credited the Reel Passion crew's experience in the Dominican Republic.
Reel Passion won the first Marina Casa de Campo Cup this spring by releasing 29 blue marlin in 21 fishing days during the month-long tournament, which was staged March 15 to April 15.
“We had seen a lot of fish already and we came up here and were very, very consistent,” said Ingram. “We saw fish, we caught them. No misses, no tackle failures. In the Dominican Republic, the fishing season started on January 1 so we got an early start from a fishing perspective.”
Ingram gave a pat on the back to Richardson and the rest of the crew – including first mate Ross Thames of McClellanville, Ford Rivers of Charleston and Barry Richardson of Virginia Beach, Va.
“They all had a heckuva season,” said Ingram, who works with Wells-Fargo in Charlotte, N.C., but owns a pair of Georgetown County plantations, Rice Hope and Moreland.
Ingram was left longing for a fifth tournament in the series, which would have given the crew a shot at breaking its own series points record.
“With the crew's ability to score that many points in a four-tournament series, we could have had a shot at breaking our all-time record (with a fifth tournament),” said Ingram.
The boat is now headed to the mid-Atlantic to fish in the White Marlin Open (Aug. 3-7) in Ocean City, Md., which is dubbed as the World's Largest Billfish Tournament, among other billfish tournaments.
Despite his fishing travels, the part-time Georgetown County resident prefers the Palmetto State's coast.
“(The Dominican Republic is) a great place to fish, but I was so glad to be home,'' said Ingram. “There's nothing like fishing out of Charleston and the Governor's Cup. I'd give it all up for fishing out of South Carolina. There's just something about it.”
Artemis was the winning boat in the MEGADOCK tournament, releasing two blue marlin for 1,200 points. Sportin' Life and Can't Complain finished second and third with five sailfish releases each good for 1,000 points.
Go to www.govcup.dnr.sc.gov for full results from the MEGADOCK tournament and the series.
Capt. Matt Wilkinson, a Georgetown native, operates the Miss Wy for owner Ed Holder with Georgetown Landing Marina serving as the boat's home port.
Crew member Lee Prickett pointed out the crew released six of seven blue marlin they encountered in the series.
“Capt. Matt consistently put us on the fish and we were able to make the most of our opportunities,” said Prickett. “(I) wish we could have come out on top in the series but you've got to tip your hat to the guys on Reel Passion. They consistently put up points every tournament. We just needed a few more shots but it sure was fun being in the hunt until the last day.”