The Mastery 2012
Like the fish that swim in the ocean, fishing competitions come in all shapes and sizes. But back in 1963 Palm Beach boat builder, John Rybovich, Jr. devised an event that evolved into what would be known as the International Masters Angling Tournament. As a renown boat builder and sport fishing expert, John Rybovich was no stranger to the ways an angler could benefit with a skilled captain peering down from the tuna tower and verbally advising the angler which rod to pick up, when to drop back the bait and set the hook. Years before the inaugural event and often at the prestigious Sailfish Club of Palm Beach, Florida, Rybovich discussed many of his thoughts and observations with fellow members about what type of fishing competition would truly test the angler’s ability. He believed a set of rules was needed to define the true merit of an angler’s skill, devoid of outside help from the crew. If a group of experienced fishermen would agree to the rules and be willing to compete against each other, it would be accurate to call the winner of the competition “The Master.” The camaraderie and competition alone might seem sufficient, but Rybovich was a thinker and reached out to his friend Ernest Hemingway on one of his trips to Cuba. He approached the novelist, a big-game angler in his own right, with the idea of the tournament, and explained how a “Master” trophy that would feature Hemingway’s protagonist Santiago in his small boat with a leaping marlin from his novella, Old Man and the Sea would be a fitting honor. Hemingway agreed and also provided Rybovich with a signed copy of the book.
The original rules are essentially the same as they were instituted nearly 50 years ago and there are four pages of them! A summary of the highlights indicates the amount of detail that John Rybovich and his associates deemed necessary to make this a truly, incomparable competition. A tournament committee was formed and anglers wishing to participate had to be sponsored by a current or past participant, and seconded by two additional current or past participants. To draw new blood into the event, the committee would discuss a list of possible “Freshmen” anglers and vote to extend an invitation to participate.
A limited number of boats and crews necessitate restricting the total of entries although each boat will carry two anglers during the four days of fishing. A random drawing determines boat and angler assignments. No angler will fish on the same boat or with the same partner more than once. The anglers may supply their own IGFA 20 lb. class tackle. The hooks and line are supplied by the tournament committee. Comparable Dacron line is permitted with the prior approval of the committee.
Each angler fishes a flat line and an outrigger and they switch sides every hour. Eligible fish are sails and white marlin only. A fish is considered officially caught when the angler reels the wind-on leader through the first rod guide, or when the swivel reaches the rod tip, if a wind-on leader is not used.
This is a dead boat, dead bait tournament with a strict time limit. Once a hook up occurs the captain must stop the boat’s forward motion with a quick engine shift to reverse. From that point on, he can only use the engines to keep the transom facing the fish. No other backing motion is allowed. Timing commences when the fish is hooked and line peels from the reel with the drag engaged, or the angler can reel. Each fish is worth 100 points for the first 30 seconds calculated by the skipper with a stop watch. Five points drops with each 30 second period. At the end of 10 minutes the fish is considered “overtime’ and is worth five points. Broken lines and bad knots are subject to point penalties and fish may be disqualified on well-explained technicalities. Double hook-ups or both anglers tied into fish simultaneously add another level of complexity. Surely a lot can happen in the six-and-a-half hours of fishing time each day. But that’s what John Rybovich had in mind and the tournament winner is clearly a Master Angler because he has done it all by himself.
With its strict rules and hotly competitive anglers, the International Master’s Angling Tournament presents a unique challenge to the individual. It offers no money to be won. Alas, the winner gets the privilege of picking up the bar tab after the Awards Ceremony. But it also offers a mainline connection to sportfishing history and the chance, even if only for the moment, to appreciate what Hemingway’s Santiago might have felt and thought alone in that small boat bobbing in the ocean one-on-one with a special fish. As two-time Master Angler Wayne Whippen remarked, “It isn’t about drag and snag and the boat catching the fish. It is all about an angler and a fish. To me, it is the perfect combination.”
The 2012 International Masters Angling Tournament returned to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, after a successful event in 2011. Once again, the Casa Rolandi would serve as tournament accommodation headquarters and use the nearby Villa Vera Marina as the base of operations for the boats and tournament scoring. Because the Masters is every bit a social affair as well, events for the angler’s wives include meetings, luncheons, cocktail parties, gourmet cooking classes and visits throughout the local community.
The tournament schedule began on Monday, April 30, 2012 at 8:00 am with a captain’s meeting at the Villa Vera Marina. With 20 anglers fishing, the fleet consisted of 10 boats, including local boats and vessels provided by tournament contenders. Rules, the scoring system and prize money were explained to the crews, and it also was announced that the top three boats are welcome to the awards banquet.
The annual meeting of the Board of Directors of the International Masters Angling Tournament took place later that morning at the Casa Rolandi. After the call to meeting order and acknowledging the presence of a quorum, the agenda began with the minutes from the January 15, 2012 meeting, which were then approved. Chairman Dale Creamer followed with the financial report including member dues and the budget allotted for the 2012 Mastery. Board member Pat Healey followed with a report on the boats that would be used during the tournament noting that the fleet was ready and he was confident each angler would have ample opportunity to compete effectively. Vice-Chairman Eddie Becker and Board member Wayne Six followed with their report from the trophy committee.
Board members Rocky Franich and John Wendkos provided a report on membership. Only one Freshman angler, Robert Guarini was participating in the 2012 tournament. Participation in this year’s event was down four members. Since getting new participants is deemed crucial to the growth and sustenance of the International Masters Angling Tournament it is important for members to reach out and encourage skilled anglers to consider the history of the tournament and what it means to the sport. More emphasis must be placed on attracting these possible candidates.
The team competition was announced by Board members Healey and Michael Blower. Each team was comprised of 10 members with the team leaders being Board Secretary Keith Beaty and Board member Pat Healey. Beaty’s Beauties included Dale Creamer, Fletch Creamer, Glen Creamer, Wayne Six, Jim Gill, Wayne Whippen, John Wendkos, Carl Doverspike, Henry Cromwell and Keith Beaty. Healey’s Hellions included Rocky Franich, Bill Evans, Randy de Leon, Pete Boinis, Chase Offield, Robert Guarini, Angler X, Jim Motsko, Eddie Becker and Pat Healey.
Chairman Creamer followed with reports on committee assignments, hotel and function schedules and the awards banquet and opening dinner plans at the Casa Rolandi.
The tournament boat drawing was followed by the introduction of the Freshman angler. Before the meeting adjourned for the welcome cocktail party at the Casa Rolandi pool patio, the Board also discussed two important items that could have far reaching effects on the future of the Masters.
The first Masters Tournament was held in January 1963 in Palm Beach with 36 anglers. James Baldwin of New York, who released 10 sailfish out of the 132 caught was the Master Angler. Since that time, the Masters has gone from where it started in Palm Beach to Cancun in 1992 and to Isla Mujeres in 2011. The largest field of anglers to participate was 64 in the 1988 tournament in Palm Beach. While 2013 is slated for a return to Isla Mujeres, a proposal is on the table for a Palm Beach event January 20-26, 2014. This would allow a choice of tournament dates that could run Monday to Friday, or Tuesday to Saturday. Also for consideration is whether to keep it a four day event or make it three. This is mentioned because winter fishing in Palm Beach often means cold weather and rough water. The Sailfish Club of Palm Beach has offered to host the tournament along with an opening night dinner and tournament banquet.
A second proposal is to develop a website for the International Masters Angling Tournament. Domain names have already been registered. The site is in the planning stages but would include sections open to the public, as well as private member only areas. The private areas would be an effective means for members to stay in close contact with each other.
The website would eliminate the need and expense for a printed Mastery, and eventually could contain current and past Mastery copies. During the tournament, daily standings could be posted. Fishing reports and pertinent announcements from members would be valuable additions to the site. Member blogs could provide fishing tips, locations, photography and other valuable information that would easily call attention to member prowess with rod and reel. The site would serve as a modern vehicle to attract interested parties who might be candidates for sponsorship to grow the membership. Additional exposure might also provide the possibility for ads and a steady revenue stream.
The Masters Angling Tournament has endured with an unmatched historical value to the sport more than any other fishing event. Changes in location and techniques such as the switch from J to circle hooks have occurred along the way, but what has not changed is John Rybovich’s vision with rules focused on fair play. The roll of distinguished anglers who have participated in the Masters Angling Tournament over the past half century represent the past, present and future of tournament sportfishing as we know it.