There are many effective tactics for catching billfish. Trolling large plugs and/or dead baits has accounted for scores of marlin, like the Gulf of Mexico record, a 1,054.6-pounder landed by Barry Carr aboard Sea Wolff in 2002. In more recent years, live baiting tuna has produced several winning ECBC fish. But this season, one boat in particular shifted to techniques that have been honed in big-game hot spots like Costa Rica and the Mid-Atlantic. To say that shift was successful is an understatement.

Quantified, a 64 Spencer based at South Padre Island, Texas, set a new tournament record by releasing two blue marlin, seven white marlin and three sailfish, earning Top Release Team and Crew honors. That performance was also worth a payout of $245,505. The boat also won large checks for release prizes in other Gulf events and topped the season by winning the Sport Fishing Championship in August in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Capt. Justin Drummond is Quantified’s skipper.

“I’ve been working on boats first as a mate and then captain for 17 years,” he says. “I’ve fished all over, too. Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, the Virgin Islands, the East Coast and some of the guys I fished with as a mate used the light tackle/dredge and teaser approach.

“I was live baiting 15 years ago before it became so popular.” Drummond adds. “Almost everyone was trolling back then. I was running Pipe Dream and we won the last Baypoint Invitational (665 blue in 2011) and live baiting was all we used to do. You could slide in and soak a bait and level the playing field. It was highly efficient. Now there are so many boats live baiting we decided to mix it up.”

Quantified’s two mates are Matt Driscoll and Cyler Pape, Drummond’s son. Instead of using heavy tackle and fighting chairs, the deckhands rig light stand-up outfits. Plain or skirted ballyhoo are trolled behind umbrella-like dredges made from dead baits to simulate a school and teasers that create commotion and bubble trails in the water behind the transom. Billfish are attracted to the spread, the hook baits are dropped back to them and the fish eat. If a large marlin appears, a larger pitch bait is always at the ready. Aggressive boat handling shortens the fights and allows for quick, verified releases.

“We decided to throw a curve ball and attack the release divisions using dredges and natural baits,” Drummond explains. “We figured it would be a better return on our entry investments by playing the odds.”

Instead of concentrating around the oil and gas rigs in the central Gulf, Drummond and his team concentrate on open water. He looks for temperature breaks, desirable current and other features like weed lines and color changes. He uses several forecasting services to pinpoint favorable areas.

“You have to put it all together and compare,” he adds. “You’ve got to use all the tools available to be successful.” He’s also a firm believer in spending as much time as possible offshore to prep for an event.

“We pretty much have the same team most of the time, so everyone knows their roles,” Drummond adds. “Our success this year is due to an excellent crew. Matt and Cyler put in a tremendous amount of work and dedication to our game plan. It would not be possible without them buying in. I just drive the bus.”