Now in its 84th year, West Palm Beach, Florida’s Silver Sailfish Derby is celebrated as the world’s oldest sailfish tournament. In keeping with those historic traditions, which includes the presentation of the Mrs. Henry R. Rea perpetual trophy—a magnificent silver sailfish sculpture awarded to the top individual angler, which dates back to the event’s origin in 1935—this year’s tournament was a mix of nostalgia and excitement as the participants eagerly awaited the first day of fishing.
While early January can be a toss-up when it comes to the weather off Palm Beach, this year’s fleet of 47 boats was greeted on Day One by reasonably good conditions. The first release occurred just 14 minutes after the call for lines in echoed across the VHF radio: Ian Goldstein on the 37-foot SeaVee ShellYeah drew first blood. The releases steadily continued as the clock marched toward lines out later that afternoon.
By the end of the day, the competition was well underway, with Capt. Ryan McBride’s Gator One team releasing eight sailfish to win the daily aboard their 39-foot Yellowfin. Capt. Mark Lamb and the Doing It All/ Hardway team, fishing a 39-foot Contender, posted seven sailfish releases for the day to land in second, with four of those coming from top daily angler Daryl Deka. Fish On, captained by Andrew Dotterweich, was third for the day with seven releases on the 48-foot Viking, just missing second place on time of release.
The second and final day of the tournament saw a slowdown in fishing, meaning that teams had to take full advantage of every bite. The wind also switched around, howling from the west, building seas and scrambling the conditions offshore. The ability to read a change in conditions from one day to the next is one of the most important paths to triumph; that was the case with the Miss Texas team, fishing aboard a 40-foot Gamefisherman with Capt. Matt Bierley at the helm. They scored eight sailfish releases on the second day to win the daily, kite-fishing south of Palm Beach Inlet. The crew of Gregg Hemingway, York Pottratz, Chris Hodge, Paul Murray, Chris Gilbane, Freddy David, Joey Salvo and Tom Land claimed their spot in the history books as the winners of this year’s Derby with a total of 12 sailfish releases.
The Silver Sailfish Derby uses video verification in order to score releases, with each team required to clearly show the species identification as well as a successful release. Unfortunately the tournament rules committee was forced to disqualify a fish in this year’s event that proved costly. Priceless, a 48-foot Viking captained by Nick Carullo, was pushing hard to catch Miss Texas on Day Two, but one of their videos didn’t have all the required elements, resulting in a second-place finish with 11 confirmed sailfish releases.
Doing It All/Hardway started Day Two with a doubleheader and high expectations, but unfortunately blanked the rest of the day to finish in third place overall with nine total releases. A similar fate befell Gator One, who added just one more fish to their column on the leaderboard on the second day of fishing—they returned to their first-day hotspot only to find that the conditions had changed and the fish had moved on, resulting in a fourth-place finish for the team.
The changing conditions, however, were a blessing to Capt. Dave McGaha’s team, KiteKeeper. Fishing aboard a 35-foot Strike, the team released nine sailfish to earn the title of top small boat and fifth place overall. Mike Simko was on the rod for all nine, winning top angler. The team managed to tag each of their fish to win top tagging team honors as well. Simko’s name will be added to the long list of those before him on the Rea Trophy, which is on display year-round at the West Palm Beach Fishing Club.
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The Top Lady Angler trophy is sponsored by the Hampp family of New Jersey in memory of Rose Hampp, who won the honor in the 1957 Derby. Carly Desmond was this year’s recipient, releasing five sailfish for the 48-foot Viking Day Sea.
The Silver Sailfish Derby is produced by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club and continues to be the organization’s marquee event. From the club’s inception, it has played an important role in conservation, innovation and education. In 1938, the club was the first to develop and promote the use of red release pennants as an alternative to bringing sailfish back to the dock. For this year’s tournament, 196 sailfish were released over two days of fishing, 25 of which were tagged.