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Blue water dreamin'

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 14, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- When people hear the word marlin, they think of Hawaii or Venezuela, not Florida. Especially not the gulf side of Florida.

But Chris Turner wants to change all that.

"Blue water fishing here on the west coast?" Turner said. "It is not a matter of if but when."

Turner, the 39-year-old son of legendary kingfisherman Gene Turner, has been running big boats to deep water longer than he has driven an automobile.

"It is a whole other world out there," he said. "Up in the northeast, people think nothing about running 60 to 120 miles one way just to chase billfish. But here on the west coast of Florida, if you talk about running 100 miles offshore, people want to lock you up in the psychiatric ward."

Turner feels so strongly about the undeveloped potential of deep-water fishing in the Gulf of Mexico he has opened a store called Fathoms to cater to the blue water angler.

And to show people what they can look forward to, Turner bought one of the largest blue marlins caught on rod and reel and hung it on the wall of his store.

"We figured the fish would get their blood pumping," Turner said. "There are fish that big out there just waiting to be caught."

And while the 1,656-pound Pacific blue is not a world record (the International Game Fish Association is very particular how fish are caught when awarding records), the marlin, caught in 1984 off the coast of Kona, Hawaii, is impressive.

"There are probably 100 boats in the Tampa Bay area capable of doing this kind of fishing," Turner said. "I want to bring them all together, share information and put on a tournament."

When heading 100 miles or more offshore, there is safety in numbers. Turner thinks more would fish deep water if they knew other anglers were there in case something goes wrong.

"I'd like to develop a network, free of charge, to help blue water anglers keep in touch," Turner said. "The people are out there, they just need somebody to bring them together."

Many tournament kingfisherman have the equipment, fast boats with multiple engines and the tackle to land big fish in deep water. In addition to marlin, the blue water holds blackfin tuna, wahoo, sailfish and dolphin.

"You start to see the blue marlin show up at the 100 Fathom line," Turner said. "Unfortunately, that is where most people turn around and head back like they have hit the edge of the world."

Turner developed a custom chart to take some of the guesswork out of deep-water trolling. His chart, which should be on the market in a few weeks, will have a grid system to make it easier for anglers to communicate their locations offshore.

"Offshore fishing is all about camaraderie," he said. "You are more likely to head 100 miles offshore if you know there is somebody else out there."

Once a fishery is established, Turner thinks the west coast can host billfish tournaments equal to those in other parts of the country.

"I would put money on it that if you took all the top guns of Florida and put them on the west coast of Florida for a blue water fishing tournament they would catch more fish than they do at any tournament in the Bahamas," Turner said.

If Chris Turner has his way, time will tell.

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