South Florida Slugfest at Sailfish Challenge

Three inlets, 60 teams and a hot bite
A sport-fishing team on Sandman out for a day of fishing.
Sandra MacMillan’s Sandman team, victorious in the 2024 Sailfish Challenge. Courtesy Bluewater Movements

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Fishing conditions proved favorable as the second leg of the Quest for the Crest Sailfish Series kicked off in late February. Sixty of the sport’s elite teams joined the three-inlet challenge, competing for their share of a $640,400 purse while also raising funds for The Billfish Foundation along the way. In addition to the substantial tournament purse, a Billfish Foundation-sponsored satellite tag was also awarded in the name of the tournament champions, contributing to the foundation’s ongoing research efforts.

As the kickoff of the 21st annual Sailfish Challenge drew nearer, it was clear that a hot bite was indeed happening, although a shift in conditions just before the start had teams wondering if it would hold up or not. The action on Day One answered all questions and surpassed any previous Quest series tournament, with a record-breaking 379 sailfish releases. The top five teams went fish-for-fish all day. With a late afternoon push, Capt. Andrew Dotterweich’s Fish On team surged ahead with 16 releases for the charter boat out of Sailfish Marina. In second was Capt. Jim Puller and the Osh-It team with 14 sailfish, while Sandman, with perineal front-runner Capt. John Dudas at the helm, landed in third. In fact, third-, fourth- and fifth places all had 14 releases each. Day Two was certain to be a nail-biter.

With the 8 a.m. call for lines in on Day Two—and an already high bar set from the first day of competition—the pace slowed a bit, but there were still an additional 208 ­sailfish releases. Leading the second-day charge was Capt. Eric Leech on Miss Elizabeth III with 14 releases, good for the daily as well as third place overall in the tournament with 23 sails.

But in the end, it would be boat owner Sandra MacMillan, Capt. John Dudas and the Sandman team who would emerge victorious. As Saturday afternoon wound down toward lines out, tournament committee members closely monitored the live-scoring webpage while preparing the docks at Sailfish Marina, Hillsboro Inlet and Miami Beach Marina for the teams to submit their media for verification. Sandman trailed Fish On by two and Miss Elizabeth III by one release, holding steady in third. With just 20 minutes remaining, MacMillan, named the event’s Master Angler and Top Lady Angler, released the first of her team’s final flurry of sailfish as the minutes counted down, enough to surge them to the top with a two-day total of 26 sailfish releases. Fish On held on to second, and Miss Elizabeth III placed third. Native Son finished in fourth place with 19 releases and Liquidated rounded out the top five with 18.

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