|The Billfish Diva|
Part 2: Talk about extreme fishing!
By Capt. Patrick Sciacca — March 2003
An affirmation of her big-game prowess came with a chance meeting at a restaurant with another three-peat champion named Michael Jordan. The legendary basketball player complimented Burrus on her athletic achievements and then asked for a fishing lesson. Such praise from a legendary athlete is impressive, however, it's always been the long, weary-armed, The Old Man And The Sea-type battles that best illustrate Burrus' angling skill and endurance. She's had no shortage of fishing slugfests that rival the ebb and flow of a top heavyweight fight.
One memorable pugilist-like performance came off Grand Cayman while shooting a spot for Fox Sports TV. Only a few weeks after a surgery that left her with 110 internal stitches, the trip was set, but the billfishing was slow. The poor fishing report was probably best for Burrus, who was still not 100 percent recovered. Her charter boat captain decided they would instead troll lures for wahoo, a fish that is speedy and feisty but doesn't pack the power of a blue marlin. Well, damn if Mr. Marlin didn't show up and grab that wahoo lure. Burrus took the rod and tried to fight the relatively small (135-pound) but nonetheless pugnacious pelagic from the boat's fighting chair. Unfortunately, the chair's gimbled rod holder was broken, so she fought the fish standup-style. The tough-as-nails angler eventually caught that marlin and was subsequently rushed to the hospital, where she spent two days in the intensive care unit with torn stitches. Talk about extreme fishing!
There's also the famous yellowfin tuna engagement off New Orleans, which lasted five hours and two minutes. "I'm in the cockpit by myself [when the fish hits]," Burrus recalls excitedly. She cleared the other fishing lines (her crew was sleeping) to avoid a tangle and jumped into the fighting chair. "It [the tuna] was halfway to China," Burrus adds laughingly as she describes the thunnus' opening run. The conflict waged as her boat drifted 11 miles. In the end she bagged the nearly 200-pound yellowfin on 30-pound mono (her crew woke up in time to gaff the fish), which is quite a feat when you consider the possibility for drag failure on the reel, line chafe causing a break, or a big shark taking a chunk out of the quarry when it tires.
The skill with which Burrus can hook, fight, and catch a fish seems to be a family trait. Like her father before her, this high-profile angler has passed the passion for pelagics onto her two children, David, 17, and Shelley, 11. Burrus says Shelley calls herself Billfishgirl Jr., and David can be seen fishing as part of her regular tournament team called, of course, Billfishgirl. "He [David] has turned into a great angler," the top pro and mom says proudly. And to fish an extreme-rules tournament like the BXRL takes some serious skill. In addition to being required to fight large fish on light tackle--mostly 20- and 30-pound standup gear--anglers must place tags in specific areas where the leader has to be cut in order to score points. (Points are deducted for a broken line.) To add to the pressure, a camera crew and judge are aboard each tournament boat to make the call on every hooked-up fish. For the 2001 BXRL, Burrus' team came in second place by a hair-thin margin of two points in the $500,000-plus tournament. In 2002 her team did well on a few legs of the televised tourney, but some finicky fish kept her out of the pole position. There's always 2003?
So what does an angler who has caught everything from small Atlantic sails to 700-pound-plus blue marlin fish for next? "Black marlin," Burrus says without hesitation. However, she's willing to wait a bit. She was between tournament and show seasons when we spoke, and Burrus adds that for now she's content with going for boat rides and fishing for sailfish near her recently constructed South Florida home aboard her 34-foot Venture, Wicked Wahine. But it won't be long before the blue water calls again and she hits the tournament. As Burrus says, "When I was seven years old, I went [billfishing] one time and didn't want to stop." Well, she hasn't yet, and I don't believe she will, because that's what it takes to stay the best. Besides, what would her fans watch on Saturday mornings, C-SPAN?
If it jumps, this woman will catch it. Kerri Burrus, in the lower left portion of this photo, is a WBS three-peat lady angler champion.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.