Every few years or so, things come together just so, igniting a bite along Florida’s famed Sailfish Alley that’s hard to comprehend. Luckily for the 46 boats fishing in the 75th Annual Silver Sailfish Derby out of the Sailfish Marina in West Palm Beach, Florida, this one was one of those years.
A cold front pushed through the day of the captains’ meeting, ending a long warm spell that had shut down the sailfish bite in south Florida. As Tom Twyford, president of the hosting West Palm Beach Fishing Club, began preparing for the meeting, he started getting reports from friends offshore that the sail bite had started to heat up. “A phenomenal bite started south of Palm Beach Inlet during the captains’ meeting, so we were kind of prepped for a big first day, but had no idea it would go off like it did. If we had been fishing two weeks ago, we might have caught 200 over the entire event. It was like summertime around here,” Twyford says.
Instead, the 46-boat fleet, comprised of some of the best live-bait fishermen in the world, racked up 659 releases the first day, logging a sailfish release every 43.7 seconds.
Capt. Quinton Dieterle on Get Lit, the eventual tournament winner with 58 releases, said that the first day “was picture perfect. A cold northwest wind blew at about 20, and the sails were slowly tailing to the south. That made it easy to place the kite baits in front of them. Some of the bunches had up to 20 fish.
The sailfish were in the 25- to 35-pound range, which meant we could catch them quick — an important factor if you’re going for numbers. After the hookup, most of the fish continued to the south, so it was easy with the new Get Lit (Spencer 60) to catch up to them running down-sea. It surely was a sight to see when you looked around and saw everybody hooked up! We were literally talking to the other boat captains while shuffling through the spreads fighting our fish.”
Get Lit spent most of its time making long drifts from Juno to about three miles north of Jupiter Inlet, getting most of their bites in depths ranging from 160 to 200 feet. “We would move east or west to jump in front of the tailing fish as we drifted north,” Dieterle says. Get Lit went on to catch 36 that first day to put them in a good spot for their eventual win.
The wind kicked over to the west for the tournament’s second day, slowing the bite a bit. “Some say the action died some on the second day, but we still caught 16 fish,” Dieterle says. “So it’s hard to say it died. But I guess when you consider the fishing on the first day, it did. We still saw plenty of fish tailing, but they were going east, which changed our strategy. We motored more to the north to try to intercept the fish as they pushed off the reef.”
Understandably excited for both his tournament and his anglers, Twyford was still quick to point out that there are several possible explanations for the outstanding bite. “Everybody in the tournament was happy, because they all knew they were part of something special … our previous record was 958 in 2006. There’s no question that the weather had a lot to do with it, and the teams we had. The teams are so much more efficient and prepared that it’s just crazy. And I really think that our investments in the whole catch-and-release ethic are starting to bear fruit. The whole idea of release started right here at the West Palm Beach Fishing Club in the 1930s. It was unheard of at that time, but has come to be embraced by the recreational angling community. And the use of circle hooks plays a part as well. I’m absolutely certain that all of these efforts have paid off. Who knows, even the net ban and the longline closures might have helped us as well in making sure the bait is here. All of those things combined is resulting in what we saw last week, and it’s wonderful! I’ve been here 25 years, and I think it’s one of the best saltwater conservation stories that there is!”
Top Ten Boats:
Get Lit — 58
Jichi — 44
Sandman — 42
El Palacio — 41
Princess Lily — 38
Barefoot — 36 (on time)
Finding Nino — 36
Miss Annie — 35 (on time)
Weez in the Keys — 35
Double Diamond — 34
Top Four Anglers:
Bill Danko, Get Lit — 24
Adam Cohen, Tales Gone Wild — 22
Tony Greaton, Native Son — 20 (on time)
Ricky Quataheta, Jichi — 20