The Silver Sailfish Derby was established by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club in January 1935, and while it’s structured a bit differently today, it’s the oldest sailfish tournament in the world, missing only a brief two-year period during World War II. Today, the venerable West Palm Beach Fishing Club continues to host the Derby, which represents an important part of the club’s identity, as well as that of the local sport-fishing community.
This year’s event celebrated its 85th year in early January with a sold-out fleet of 50 boats. It’s apparent that this crown jewel of the sport not only remains special, but that it also seems to be improving with age. The nostalgia surrounding the event continues to captivate some of the finest anglers, captains and crews; as soon as the 8 a.m. call for lines in sounds over the VHF, the baits hit the water and the teams put forth their best efforts to achieve victory.
The first release came just three minutes into the tournament when Gator One, a 39-foot Yellowfin skippered by Capt. Ryan McBride, called in a sailfish for angler John Moore. Gator One continued their run to third place overall with a total of seven sailfish releases in the two days of competition. That first sailfish was also a sign of good things to come for Moore; he would earn the overall angler title with five of his team’s seven fish to top the individual-angler standings this year. This achievement is accompanied by the Mrs. Henry R. Rea trophy, a magnificent perpetual trophy topped by a beautiful silver sailfish sculpture that dates back to the event’s origin; it is sponsored by Elizabeth Richebourg Rea.
A total of 142 sailfish were released, and 22 of them were tagged. The first day of fishing would actually be the best bite in some time off the Palm beaches. The all-too-familiar warm winters don’t always make for productive days offshore, but temperatures dropped into the low 60s that first morning, a pleasant sign of what was to come. The crisp morning also produced a surprising northwest wind, originally forecast to be dead west. Still, helium balloons tethered to the kites were paired with lighter leaders to target wary sailfish feeding in the calm seas.
Capt. Luke Davis and his team aboard the 42-foot Freeman Off Course posted an impressive seven releases on Day One to win Top Daily Boat. Similar to their competitive colleagues on Gator One, Off Course posted just one additional fish on Day Two, and so they would finish in second place overall with eight total releases.
One of the Derby’s many hallmarks is its strong ties to billfish conservation; participants continue to support this conservation ethic to ensure that the fishery stays healthy for many years to come. Off Course took the additional time to tag six of their sailfish, finishing as the top tagging team as well.
The second and final day of the Derby would produce 24 fewer fish than the previous day, with the fleet recording 59 sails. The docks of Sailfish Marina on Singer Island, Florida, were calm that morning, as a west wind produced slick seas for tournament boats. Gratiot Beach, a 60-foot Hatteras, had tallied five releases on the first day of fishing; this strong start had the crew headed into the final day with high hopes. These expectations would quickly be met with an interesting start as they encountered engine trouble right at the start of fishing. With a slow drift and repairs underway, they still deployed the baits and hooked a double on the flat lines.
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Successfully landing one of those fish put Gratiot Beach in position to finish in fourth place in the tournament.
Capt. John Gambino and the Floridita team won Top Small Boat honors with two releases aboard their 33-foot Grady-White center-console. The highly coveted 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, along with many other awards throughout her accomplished angling career. Rebecca Patterson was awarded the trophy this year, releasing four sailfish aboard the 68-foot Michael Rybovich & Sons Lady Rebecca. Not to be outdone by Patterson, another lady angler made waves in the 2022 Derby—13-year-old Myla Alligood was named the tournament’s top junior angler. She released two sailfish aboard the 76-foot Viking Just Chillin’. The West Palm Beach Fishing Club puts a strong emphasis on engaging the next generation of anglers and keeping kids excited about fishing; Myla’s award was extra special this year because her father, Matt Alligood, was captaining the boat.
But the real story of the tournament was that of speed, endurance and persistence. The team on Goombay Smash/Remix, a quad-outboard-powered 42-foot Invincible, pushed to the edge of the tournament’s distant northern boundary after checking out of Palm Beach’s Lake Worth inlet each morning. Capt. Nick Carullo bested the fleet on Day Two with five sailfish releases to claim Top Daily Boat honors, and the crew’s tournament accolades would not stop there. Adding to their five releases from Day One, the Goombay Smash/Remix team tallied 10 total releases to move to the top of the fleet, claiming their spot in the history books.
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Marlin.