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This year’s Challenge went down to the final gun with the winner decided by a tie-breaker.
By Fred Golofaro
Sam Dibner's 5.85-pound black sea bass earned him 10 points with a first place finish in that category.

Another season of The Fisherman Magazine’s Dream Boat Challenge is in the books and what a season it was as the top two contestants battled right down to the final day of competition before a winner emerged. Even then, it took a tie-breaker to decide the winner of this year’s Grand Prize, a Steiger Craft 23 DV Miami powered by a 250 HP Evinrude E-TEC and outfitted with a Lowrance HDS Carbon 9 with Structurescan 3D Bundle. Also included is a mount of the winner’s choice from Global Fish Mounts and an Engel EN80 cooler.

Capturing the title of Grand Prize winner is never an easy task. To participate, you must be a Fisherman subscriber. Counted among those subscribers are some of the most dedicated and committed anglers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and securing a place on the Dream Boat leaderboard is truly a challenge as evidenced by the final standings.

The winning angler must accumulate the most total points by catching the heaviest fish across a field of eight eligible species (porgy/scup, weakfish, fluke, sea robin, mahi mahi, bluefish, black sea bass and blackfish/tautog). Subscribers are allowed to submit as many entries in excess of the minimum weight as they wish, however, only the heaviest one in each species category is eligible and tallied for points. This allows you to enter a heavier fish than your previous entry in a given species category to move up the leaderboard, but you cannot hold multiple spots for any single species. Points are awarded to each of the top 10 entries for the heaviest fish in each of the eight species categories with 10 points for the heaviest fish in each category, 9 points for second, 8 points for third place, and down to one (1) point for the 10th heaviest fish in that division. The key to winning the Grand Prize in 2018 was not only to land the heaviest fish, but to do so across as many of the eligible species as possible, which is just how this year’s leaders locked up the top spots.

The 2018 Fisherman Magazine’s Dream Boat Challenge Grand Prize, a Steiger Craft 23 Miami boat with Evinrude E-TEC G2 250 HP Outboard Motor; Lowrance HDS Carbon 9 with StructureScan 3D Bundle; one Engel EN80 Cooler; and a fish mount from Global Fish Mounts.

At stake in addition to the Grand Prize, is a 3-night stay with fishing out of spectacular Zancudo Lodge in beautiful Costa Rica for the second place winner and one guest. The third prize winner will receive a versatile Sea Eagle FishSkiff. There are also prizes for the heaviest fish entered for each of the eight eligible species. This year’s “Largest of Species” winners will each receive a Shimano Saragosa 6000 SW Reel matched to a St. Croix Mojo MIS70MHF rod; a fish mount from Global Fish Mounts of the fish entered, and a 1-year premium membership to Fishtrack.com and Bouyweather.com. Those earning Fish of the Month honors receive a pair of Costa Sunglasses and a Dexter Russell Fillet Knife. Each of the 80 finalists on the leader board at the conclusion of the challenge will also be rewarded a prize package consisting of a package of Owner America Hooks and a pack of Tsunami Holographic Swim Shads. On the freshwater side, the angler catching and weighing the largest king salmon will receive a pair of Costa Sunglasses.

This year’s contest was especially dramatic with both Sam Dibner of Woodbury, CT and Garrett Weir of Long Island battling it out for first place throughout the year. Ultimately the two impressive anglers ended up in a tie for the top spot. What broke the tie was Sam Dibner’s 16.12-pound bluefish, which was the heaviest fish entered by the two anglers, which complies with Dream Boat Challenge rules, which specifically state, “In the event of a tie for any of the above prizes, the contestant who's entry with the heaviest fish weighed-in, signed and dated (by the tackle shop authorized personnel) first will be declared the winner."

It was unfortunate there could only be one winner as the two anglers went all out to secure the top spot. Sam Dibner shared his feelings as the season progressed and winning the Dream Boat Challenge went from an unlikely dream to an obsession. “I started off just thinking of possibly getting a monthly winner fish. I really wanted a pair of those COSTA sunglasses. Then little by little I began accumulating points and eventually found myself in the lead. I held the lead for a good while until Garrett Weir at one point took over first place. Even though I was genuinely happy for him, I told my wife how determined I was to get the lead back, which I managed to do. Proud to say, Garrett gave me a fight to the bitter end, and I said to all my friends, he (Garrett) would have to pull a jackrabbit out of a hat to win at this point. That was the last week of the contest and no sooner had I said that, then he did just that. Garrett weighed in a 5.75-pound black sea bass on 11/30/18 - the very last day of the tournament – to move into a tie for first place! I was fortunate to benefit from the tiebreaker but my hat is off to Garrett as he knows the struggle it was to get to the top. I’ll be rooting for him in 2019. The time and effort that went into this was the ultimate fishing challenge. I would say to anyone hoping to win the Dream Boat Challenge, be prepared to put in a lot of time, along with lots of luck, confidence in your fishing ability, and endurance over the course of a season to make the dream come true.”

I had the opportunity to speak to Garrett Weir after the final results were posted, and he explained how he became driven to win the Dream Boat Challenge. It started with him catching a 13-pound fluke and then getting on the board with a sea bass. At that point he began to believe he really had a chance at winning. Competitive by nature, he began plotting every opportunity to score a leaderboard fish in the eligible categories, traveling as far as Rhode Island to find a qualifying fish. Despite this targeted effort, his sea robin points came while he was hoping for a big fluke or weakfish while bucktailing in Jamaica Bay.

Garrett Weir's 5.75-pound black sea bass, caught on the last day of the Challenge, plunged him into a first place tie with Sam Dibner.

As the contest wound down, and after trading first place with Sam, he was determined to put a big blackfish on the board. After all, blackfish are a species he specializes in, and he has numerous double-digit tog to his credit. But despite fishing for them every day of the last week with some of the best blackfish anglers in the region, that one big tog eluded him. On the last day of the contest he decided on an offshore wreck trip and it was there that he caught the big sea bass that moved him into a tie with Sam. That fish was also part of a doubleheader that included the pool-winning pollock.

Losing the contest to a tiebreaker was bittersweet for Garrett, but he praised Sam for his win, knowing full well the effort that Sam also expended in quest for the Dream Boat. He added that the whole experience left him with a desire to be more involved in the fishing world, perhaps even making it a career at some point down the road. Our hats off to Garrett for the commitment, effort, time and energy he put into his dream, no easy task with a full time job and a young family to attend to. I’m sure we will be hearing from him again.

Back to our winner, Sam wanted to thank his wife, Deb, for the support, confidence, courage and love she provided during the season, stating that, “she always motivates me to be the best that I can be.” He also wanted to thank The Fisherman Magazine, Steiger Craft, Evinrude and all the sponsors for making the Dream Boat Challenge possible, and gave credit to all of his friends/fishing buddies who took the time throughout the years to teach him fishing techniques and skills, and to help motivate him to get out on the water and keep fishing this season.

Sam Dibner’s 16.12-pound bluefish, which was the heaviest fish entered by the two anglers, broke the tie and secured the win for him.

Sam scored his 35 points with a 1st place finish in sea bass, an 8th place dolphin (mahi), 3rd place porgy, 4th place bluefish and a 4th place blackfish. This year for the first time, sea robins were added to the eligible species list to give a broader range of subscribers an opportunity to score points. Ironically, Sam spent many hours and days specifically targeting the “lowly” sea robin but was unable to crack the leaderboard in that category.

There was also some irony in that Sam and his wife Deb had been shopping for a new boat at the Newport Boat Show and spent considerable time checking out 28 and 31 Steiger Crafts with builder Al Steiger (whom he called a “true craftsman”) and Carl from Diamond Marina. Now he finds himself in the position of possibly upgrading his new 23 DV Miami to a larger Steiger Craft so he can fish offshore with the comfort and safety afforded by one of the larger models.

Most of Sam’s fishing is done off of the Rhode Island Coast and the waters surrounding Block Island, and he is equally at home pursuing the inshore and offshore species that inhabit these waters. Several health issues contributed to the challenge he faced in making this dream come true, along with his desire to live every day as if it were his last. He advises others to, “keep whatever dreams you have, to keep them alive – dreams are what you make of them.”

Congratulations to Sam – a humble and very deserving winner of the 2018 Fisherman Dream Boat Challenge.

CLICK HERE for more information on the Dream Boat Fishing Challenge.

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