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Offshore fishing league wants to emulate NFL

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Offshore Fishing League, launched Wednesday on the eve of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, wants to bring the excitement, passionate fan base and profits of the National Football League to big-game tournament fishing.

“I see a lot of big boys (anglers) here,” The Billfish Foundation president Ellen Peel said at the league’s debut in Fort Lauderdale. “That’s what we need for the OFL. This is for guys and ladies who are serious sportfishing people who can showcase their skills on national TV.”

League CEO Carlos Suito said the OFL, “the first professional saltwater sportfishing league,” will build a fan base and sponsorship revenue by televising its 14-tournament season in prime time on the NBC Sports Network, starting in May. Fans will follow “their team,” catching the fishing fever, the action, preparation, strategy sessions and the interaction of anglers, captain and crew — all filmed by onboard cameramen.

“It’ll be like a reality TV show,” tournament director Sam White said. “You’ll see high-tension action, the personality of the teams, their skills.”

Teams will campaign boats at least 42 feet long, fish 14 four-day-long tournaments, take a mother ship with them on the tournament trail, if they wish, and have a captain, two deckhands and three anglers. Fishing is tag-and-release, White said, and points are awarded based on the species caught and the line class used to catch it. At the end of the season in April, the high-point team is named league champion.

The league will have a maximum of 30 teams, who will own the league and share sponsorship revenue at season’s end based on team points. Part of the revenue will go to The Billfish Foundation and the International Game Fish Association for conservation.

The tournament circuit will cover 5,000 nautical miles in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

The OFL has a strong base of support: The IGFA and Billfish Foundation, journalist, angler and conservationist Capt. Peter Wright, who will be the league’s commissioner, and legendary anglers Ron Hamlin, Bark Garnsey and Charles Perry, and George Sawley, who will be advisers.

“It’s a revolutionary concept,” Peel said. “It’s never been done before.”