The fishing tales they can tell

CorrespondentSeptember 11, 2013 

Eventual winning angler C.J. Dugan, right, of the Old South Marlin Club East Coast Team gets into position to tag a 280-pound Pacific blue marlin with help from Mate Tobin Hudgins aboard the Silky, captained by John Bagwell, early in the Hawaii International Billfish Tournament out of Kona, Hawaii, in August.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN BRIGGS

The Old South Marlin Club is as much about storytelling as it is about fishing, which is not a bad thing, considering the storybook ending from their adventure in Hawaii.

The story goes that angler C.J. Dugan of Fort Bragg gives up his spot on the club’s East Coast team so friend, business partner and fellow wounded Army veteran Dan Briggs can experience marlin fishing. Then the generous friend gets to fish the next year and catches his first blue marlin, which wins the club’s second world title in a row.

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the club who would want it to end any other way,” said member Jim Godwin, president of Godwin Elevator Co. in Raleigh.

The club makes memories sometimes about fishing and often about helping wounded military personnel, some who venture to Hawaii and others who join an Army-vs.-Marine Corps fall wahoo outing in North Carolina.

The story from the 54th Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, held Aug. 5-9 in Kona, will stand out for a while. As the team trailed in points with hours left in the five-day event, the rotation of anglers put Dugan in the fishing chair. Forty-two minutes passed without a bite.

“I had three minutes left on my watch for the chair, and at that point the marlin came up and hit the bait,” said Dugan, who remains on active duty in the Army as he recovers from a traumatic brain injury and shrapnel wounds from a 2009 grenade attack in Iraq. “I was 10 or 15 minutes into it before I really realized that it was a large marlin.

After an hourlong fight – “one of the most physically intense things that I have dealt with,” Dugan said – came a stressful wait while another team fought and lost a potential 1,000-pounder. Dugan’s team won with a 588-pound “amazing, epic godsend of a beautiful, beautiful fish.”

Dugan credited catching bluefin tuna out of Oregon Inlet with enabling him to finesse the marlin to the 45-foot charter boat Silky on 80-pound test line.

“C.J. did a nice job. Captain John Bagwell did, too,” said Briggs, a master sergeant and Distinguished Service Cross recipient whose story includes a two-year hospitalization because of a suicide bomber.

Through their aviation company, Dugan, Briggs and Associates in Pinehurst, Briggs and Dugan focus on their eventual retirements to civilian live, and they volunteer to help wounded veterans move to civilian careers.

They also fish with Old South, which had 19 anglers forming five of the Hawaii tournament’s 38 teams from 14 countries. The event does not have a monetary prize. Only national pride is on the line.

“It’s like the Olympics of billfishing,” club co-founder R. Lupton Pittman III, owner of Ballistic Solution Technologies in Raleigh, said, adding that the world-class quality of the teams made being in position to win difficult.

But Old South’s East Coast team was in position again, topping teams from California and Australia to match the title won by its West Coast team last year.

Old South soon heads to another tournament closer to home at Wrightsville Beach on Oct 17-18. Members will help host Hope for the Warriors’ sixth Oorah vs. Hooah Fishing Battle pitting 20 wounded Marines from Camp Lejeune against wounded Army soldiers from Fort Bragg. Dugan and Briggs will help.

Briggs cherishes his fishing friendships, including tuna trips out of Oregon Inlet with Old South mentor and Raleigh lawyer Karl Knudsen.

“You won’t find a better group of patriots,” Briggs said.

What’s happening with your club? Tell us at outdoors@newsobserver.com.

Boggess: boggess.teri@gmail.com

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