BY CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A Traverse City-based fishing team tested its prowess against the best anglers in the world last weekend.
The Wet Dream Fishing Team didn't disappoint either, finishing fifth out of 68 teams in the Offshore World Championships in Costa Rica. Some 31 countries were represented.
The team — comprised of Sam Worden, Kevin Clark and Sherry White, as well as Philadelphia residents Michelle Di Matta and Mike Slocum — hauled in 20 fish over the four-day tournament, exceeding the number they caught when they won the same tournament in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico two years ago and coming within one catch from finishing third.
"It's the Olympics of sport fishing," said Clark, who returned to Traverse City on Wednesday after two weeks in Costa Rica. "It's the most prestigious tournament in the world and it was the largest field they've ever had."
Worden was the most prolific fisherman, catching 10 of the team's fish to end as the No. 4 angler overall out of 324. For two days of the tournament, Worden was No. 1.
Each day teams drew a number and were assigned a different charter boat and captain before they went out on the water. The idea was to level the playing field and avoid giving any sort of advantage to any specific team. From there, teams were out on the water from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. for extremely long days of trolling bait.
The Traverse City-based team battled the ups and downs of the four days to claim a top-five finish. In 19th place after the first day of competition, Wet Dream climbed into eighth after catching six fish the second day, then used a great start to the third day to move into first for a period of time. It took a 12-fish haul in the afternoon by the team from Papua New Guinea to push Wet Dream into second heading into the final day.
A slow start on the last day dropped them into 12th place — they went several hours without landing a fish — but with less than a half-hour left to fish they managed to catch three fish within five minutes to earn the fifth-place spot.
"It went from being a hard day to everyone jumping around and high-fiving," Worden said of the late flurry of catches. "It's humbling because it's easy to get discouraged."
A team from the Bahamas won the tournament, using a 16-fish haul on the last day to surge into the lead. Papua New Guinea ended up placing second.
Among the fish the TC team caught were a 200-pound blue marlin by Clark and a 36-pound wahoo by Worden. Both of those fish were pulled in on the team's big third day and contributed mightily to their time at the top of the standings.
"It's a different kind of fishing," said Clark. "We had a lot of misses. We probably missed 25 fish. There's an acute timing thing that takes getting used to."
The tournament had been held in Mexico for several years, but was switched to Costa Rica this year, a move that presented a challenge because of the unfamiliarity of the area. It proved to be a positive experience, even though teams had only one day to practice before the tournament started.
"Costa Rica was evenly matched," said Clark. "Mexico I can't say the same thing. There the captains did not want to work for you. There was a little less ethical sportsmanship on the part of the Mexican captains. In Costa Rica all the boats were sharing information. All they wanted was for everyone to catch fish. It was just a conversion of opportunities."
Already Clark and crew are looking ahead to next year's competition, where they are hoping to better this year's showing and get back to the top of the standings.
"It was respectable," Clark said of the fifth-place finish. "It was a lot of fun and we can't wait to be back next year."
Though he just returned from the trip, Worden wouldn't hesitate to turn around and get right back to Costa Rica.
"It was the best trip of my lifetime because it was all able to come together," he said. "It was an epic battle for all of us being in a new place and the style of fishing was nothing we'd done before. We were all going into a third-world country and the fishing was unbelievable."