Big Rock memory … revisited

Long before he became “The Voice of the Big Rock,” board member Randy Ramsey was a tournament captain, preparing his charter boat for the start of competition.

Then Ramsey got the phone call he dreaded most. Ramsey was asked to take a news reporter offshore on the opening day of the 34thBig Rock.

While history did not capture Ramsey’s unsuccessful argument against hosting the reporter, what follows next is the account of what actually happened that sunny day in June …

Randy Ramsey, captain of the charter boat Sensation, out of Harkers Island, was steering his way through the slough at Cape Lookout shoals when a fog came out of nowhere. It was just a few hours before the start of the 1992 Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. It was no time to run aground on the shallow shoals.

But limited visibility hardly bothered the seasoned captain, fishing in his 11th Big Rock tourney, as he guided his 52-foot custom-built Jarrett Bay craft through the narrow passage.

“That’s the slough,” Ramsey said as the fog lifted and his boat cleared the last of the shoals. It was a tone of voice reserved for rookies (this reporter) who had never made the passage out into blue marlin waters.

Below deck, a trio of anglers from Benson, Bobby “Roho” Barefoot, Donnie Dean McLamb and John Allen made the best of the 90-minute ride offshore. They ate, slept and smoked cigars, in that order. The smoke got so thick in the flying bridge that Ramsey put the boat on auto pilot and headed down the ladder.

“Sure … and leave me with the smoke,” Curtis Pearson, owner of the Bert’s Surf Shop chain, said to Ramsey after he came back to the bridge.

“You could have gone below,” Ramsey retorted. “We all could have. The boat knows the way by itself.”

That might have been stretching things a bit, but the boat sure knew what to do once it got on station. At 9 a.m., when the 1992 Big Rock got under way, Pearson and Sensation mate Joey Johnson quickly got all the lines set on the spreaders and into the water. Ramsey began a systematic pattern of trolling for a blue marlin. The time for joking was over.

… Except for the “Benson boys,” who continued to eat, sleep and smoke cigars. For them it was a day at the beach, in a manner of speaking. The only thing missing was the sand.

But all that changed when Ramsey put the lines over a hungry blue marlin. The centrally stationed Penn Reel began to sing out, and the entire crew sprang into action. Johnson and Pearson wound in the other reels while Barefoot was strapped into the chair. Even this reporter helped out by falling down the ladder to get out of the way. It was 10:15 a.m.

Ramsey backed the boat down and “Roho” cranked the fish up. Soon the leader was in sight … then the fish.

The blue marlin, which was judged to be 250 pounds, was tagged and released by Pierson and Johnson after a 15-minute fight. A brief round of congratulations swept through the boat, but there wasn’t much time to waste on that. Lines were re-threaded on the spreaders and the boat got back to trolling. It was tournament time. Hearts would beat hard for a while in a personal celebration of the catch.

But they pumped up to full speed again at 2:30 p.m., when Ramsey once again got a marlin to go after his bait. This time, McLamb got a turn in the chair and reeled in an estimated 200-pounder for the tag in less than 20 minutes. The crew tried, without success, to hook up a third fish in the nine minutes left before the 3 p.m. deadline. Still, they agreed it had been a most successful day.

“This was the best day I’ve had in 11 years,” Ramsey said, smiling. “You just don’t know how special this day has been. They say the odds of hooking a blue marlin are 1 in 22 trips. What happened today was extra special.”

Barefoot, a commercial catfish farmer whose right hand was swollen twice normal size from a bout with poisonous catfish spines, agreed. “I haven’t been able to do anything with this hand for a week,” he said. “I was so excited when we hooked up the fish I didn’t even feel the pain while I was cranking.”

The “Benson boys” and crew of the Sensation made port at Calico Jack’s on Harkers Island and prepared for the next day of fishing. Johnson cleaned the boat and prepared bait. Ramsey arranged for the fuel. Allen smoked another cigar.

The cigar smoke wasn’t quite as thick as the fog at the beginning of the trip, but it filled the air. Still … nobody seemed to mind after such a great day of fishing.

Hooking up two blue marlins in one day has a way of making everything else seem unimportant.

Author’s note: The reporter who went offshore that day has been to every Big Rock since. Big Rock competition gets in your blood. At least that’s what happened to me.