The eighth annual Jimmy Johnson’s National Billfish Championship kicked off March 2, at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida, with one of the most extravagant poolside celebrations in tournament fishing. Preparty events began with contenders visiting the famed Gifting Suite, where sponsors and tournament officials filled the anglers’, crews’ and owners’ bags with gifts to the tune of more than $5,000 worth of gear. This year’s purse topped all others in the past, boasting the world’s richest: Guaranteed at $1.75 million.
Following the one-day pro-am event, the National Billfish Championship hosted 108 of the globe’s best live-bait sailfishing teams—all going for the cash and a chance to wear the custom championship winner’s ring. Just seven minutes into competition, the radio fired off with Nicolas Perez releasing the first sailfish of the tournament aboard the 39-foot Sea Hunter, Knot 4 Play. Thirty-seven fish later, the eventual Day One daily winner, LUNÁTICO, started its ascent by catching a total of eight video-verified sailfish before heading into Day Two of the competition.
Knot 4 Play bagged the first release (again) just five minutes into Day Two, but this day belonged to the big custom boats—the locals. Before lines in, Seraphim was holding at seven releases on time over BAR South, with Sandman just one fish behind. And by lunchtime, Seraphim‘s Capt. Jerry Pohl was ahead of both his adversaries.
A nearly five-hour lull plagued Capt. John Louis Dudas, who finally released another fish at 2:52 pm, making it the last of his tournament for the 63-foot Spencer, Sandman. A similar situation thwarted Capt. Raul Gonzalez and his BAR South team, who released one mid-day triple for the day, ultimately bringing his tally to 10.
Learn more about the Seraphim team here.
Consistency paid off for the Seraphim team—Carl Lindner IV, Vanessa Lindner, Richard Peeples, Pat Brown, Albert Hernandez, and Greg Thomas—who went on to catch two more sails and secure the win with 12 verified releases and $405,000 of the total purse. Sandman‘s Sandra MacMillan was named Top Female Angler, helping lead her team to a second-place finish by releasing six of the team’s 11 fish, netting a $165,000 chunk of the purse, and Master Angler award winner Rob Gothier’s BAR South took third, earning his team $100,000.
A total of 310 sailfish—and one blue marlin, landed by Contender One—were scored and released in the two-day event, proving yet again that when the competition is this fierce, you can’t afford to miss.