After a third-place finish in the Sailfish 400, with a team of junior anglers all under the age of 13 years old, Capt. Mike Puller is still in disbelief. Here is his firsthand account of a day that is sure to go down in sailfishing tournament history.
I never thought something I started 15 years ago, the Fishing Experience, could turn into something so successful. The kids on this team — Jonathan Brana, Sebastian Iglesias, Kevin Lamadrid and Carlos Saladrigas — are some of the best I’ve had in the program, and they showed me a lot of qualities that some adults won’t ever get, things like patience, perseverance and humility.
On the first day of the Sailfish 400, it was almost noon and we hadn’t seen a sailfish. At 11:52 a.m., we released the first one. With that fish under our belt, we were able to start shaking off the nerves. Forty minutes later, we released another single. After an hour of nothing, we hooked a triple. The kids were shuffling around, and everyone was wound up tighter than a rubber band. Then, all of a sudden, it happened. One of the kids was fighting his fish, just chattering away, when one of my mates looked at him and said, “Hey, just stop talking and fight your fish.” It was like for a split second he forgot we were tournament fishing.
We were one or two fish from the top of the leaderboard, and everything was moving faster. The kids were focusing on their baits a little quieter, with great big smiles. And then, we hooked a six-banger. We ended up losing two of the six fish, but the kids were focused and listening to us, and they were directing traffic like pros: over, under, lift your tip, don’t touch the rigger line. We released one, then another, then another. We were down to the last fish, which went deep under the boat, but it finally came together and we released the fourth of the quad.
After the spread was back out, I looked down at the kids and said, “Hey, you guys just took the lead!” They were open-mouthed and stunned. They didn’t cheer, they didn’t high-five each other. It was like they were dreaming — any minute now, their mom was going to wake them up to tell them it was time for school. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. It was like they realized in that very moment: We can do this.
It proved to me the truth in that old cliché that I’ve believed in all my life: If you work hard, you can accomplish anything. And right there, in that very moment, they learned it. They can do anything in their lives, because they had done it here.