Molt reels in top prizes, $40K at Tuna Challenge
If you want to know what it takes to catch almost 1,600 pounds of tuna, try asking Isaac Molt. Molt, captain of the Redemption, took the top prizes at the 2023 Boothbay Harbor Tuna Challenge, winning a total of $40,000. He and crewmate Steve Termine caught the heaviest fish, a 749.5-pound tuna on Sept. 7, and a total of 1,594 pounds of tuna during the tournament to win the overall weight category.
Molt, from Bristol, said the highlight of the tournament was catching the biggest fish because “that's what we're out there to do.” He said this was one of the fattest he’s gotten, and he knew he had a good fish when it got hooked. Molt said the fight lasted an hour and a half and, even for the commercial fisherman, catching tuna is still exciting.
"You really can't explain it,” he said. “It's just a really, really powerful fish. If you've never seen a tuna fish in action, they are just incredible, they really are."
According to organizers, 75 boats participated in the competition and caught 48 tunas; 11 captains caught more than one fish, and three, including Molt, caught three fish. Overall, competitors caught 21,317.5 pounds of fish, almost the weight of a school bus. Fishing started Sept. 3 and concluded Sept. 7, and Carousel Marina hosted a lobster bake and awards ceremony Sept. 9.
In second place, Jeremy Westhaver landed a 729-pound tuna on Mistress to win $17,500; in third, Pete Speeches caught a 679-pound tuna on Erin and Sarah and won $9,500; in fourth, John White caught a 679-pound tuna on New Ledge and won $3,500; and Joe Walsh won fifth place with a 653.5-pound tuna on Fishin’ Off and won $1,500. The first place prize was $35,000 and the overall weight category prize was $5,000.
“We’re really here to give the working waterfront men and women an opportunity to get the proper payout and be rewarded for what they do,” said Jax van der Veen, chair of the tuna challenge committee. “Whether they are lobstermen that have tuna fishing rods or whether they are full-time fishermen, I think that just them having an extra opportunity, an extra stage, to present on is really important.”
The caught tuna did not go to waste. Many were processed and sold for food, but graduate students from the University of Maine Pelagic Fisheries Laboratory were there to collect unwanted parts as biological samples for ongoing research. Molt said his prize fish will go to an auction in Japan for sushi and at other restaurants. Van der Veen, whose family runs Whale's Tale & Seafarer's Pub, said she bought one and Mine Oyster bought at least two.
"We’re lucky to have connections with local fishermen and be able to buy those fish and to service people because having that opportunity to eat those fish right off the boat is not something that everybody gets to do every day," she said.
This year was the second iteration of the event, which had been a longstanding competition in the past. Van der Veen said the organizers work hard during the winter to make the event great, and she follows other tournaments to get ideas for improvements. One of those ideas came to fruition as a free app to follow progress, track leaderboards and show photos. It also gave live notifications of when a fish was caught and approximately what time it would arrive. Van der Veen said she heard it was the highlight of the tournament and helped the community get involved and stay up-to-date in real time.
This year, Van der Veen said all but two of the boats who competed last year returned. She said many competitors were local or commercial fishermen in Maine, but others were shipwrights and even fishermen in Alaska with local ties.
"It was great that guys like that that build boats, fish waters in Alaska come back here and still invest themselves and want to be a part of the fishery in Boothbay,” she said. “It kind of goes to show, too, their loyalty to the water."
Van der Veen said the Boothbay Harbor Tuna Challenge will again donate a portion of the proceeds to the Fishermen's Memorial Fund. As reported in the Register, the group gave $30,000 last February, and she said she expects to give more this time. She said funds for the prizes and donations are raised from the registration fee, community sponsors, a raffle and the lobster bake. She expects more participants and more prize money next year but wants to keep the entrance fee affordable and the tournament accessible.
For anyone interested in joining in, Molt would not divulge his winning secrets, but he did have some advice.
"Fish hard,” he said. “Put your head down and fish hard, that's pretty much all I gotta say to that."