Photos by Tim Rahn Photography
The 57th Annual Islamorada Sailfish Tournament kicked off at the Whale Harbor seafood buffet all with social distancing and covid restrictions in place. The sailfish action started on Friday morning and continued over the next two days concluding on December 6th. Captain Brian Cone aboard his charter boat Contagious led anglers Mark Mitchell and Kenneth Padgett both from Charleston, NC, Travis Bennett and Andy Cone from Tavernier, FL and Greg Tolpin from Key Largo, FL to the winner’s circle with a total of 11 sailfish releases. The team took home beautiful sailfish sculptures sponsored by Caribee Boat Sales and Yamaha Out boards along with a check for $42,390.00. Over the three days of fishing 90 sailfish were released out of 103 called in hookups with over $90,000.00 paid to the winners.
The Keys first cold front of the season greeted 98 anglers fishing on 21 boats. Juan Vilorio aboard the Hellreyzer would release the first sailfish of the three day tournament while the Cloud Nine was fighting a double header. At the end of day one 32 sailfish were released and the Cloud Nine was in the lead with 5fish.
Day two would start out early for Tackle Center as captain Charlie Scoble called in a triple header of sailfish at 8:42 AM followed by Last Dance calling in a double. The Tackle Center would release two of the fish quickly but the third fish was not going to be easy. 11 other sails were released before Donny Lange released the third fish of the triple header at 10:12AM. As the day ended Tackle Center would be in the lead with a total of 8 releases followed by the Contagious with 6 and the Cloud Nine with 5.
The final day of fishing was calm and cloudy. The bite started out slow but Contagious would pick at the sails all day. In the end the Contagious would take home the top honors with their 11 releases. Contagious angler and the Keys Gentle Dentist Travis Bennett would release 5 of those fish winning the Bill Hirni highpoint angler award as well as a Sammy Milazzo original painting. Junior angler 10 year old Andy Cone would take first place in the junior division with three releases.
Anglers Donny and Brad Lange along with Jeffery Dickman and Fritz Zeher all from Tavernier FL would add another sail to the Tackle Centers tally and take home their very own Tackle Center of Islamorada sponsored second place sailfish trophies with a total of 9 releases. With Captain Justin Baker at the helm, the Yellow Tale would edge out the Cloud nine by one fish on the final day. Anglers Clarke and Phil Harlow, Patrick Nutt, Nick Caito, Ken Stiles and Eric Turnoff all from Ft. Lauderdale along with Islamorada’s Jimi Fickling “the worm” would release 7 sailfish on the Yellow Tale and be awarded the third place trophies.
Debbie David of Hollywood FL fishing aboard the Relentless with Captain Paul Ross would release 3 sailfish winning the Top Lady Angler award. Second and Third Place Junior Angler awards would go to Laurel David with 2 releases and Christopher David with 1 release, both fishing aboard the Relentless. The Challenger took home most tagged fish team awards with 4 sailfish tagged and released.
In true Islamorada style, the sailfish weren’t the only fish biting on this beautiful weekend. The Largest Tuna was caught by Mike Slocum of Philadelphia, PA fishing aboard the Last Dance weighing in at 24 pounds. Mike also weighed in the largest Dolphin at 9.8 pounds. The largest Mackerel award went to angler Michael Varney from Tavernier FL with a 26.6 pound Kingfish.
The Islamorada Sailfish Tournament is the first leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Sailfish Championship. The Contagious is currently in the lead with 11 fish. Second place in the Gold Cup is the Tackle Center with 9 releases and third is the Yellow Tale with 7. The next leg of the series is at the Islamorada Fishing Club’s Captains Cup Sailfish Tournament on January 20th and the champions will be crowned during the Cheeca Lodge and Spa Presidential Sailfish Tournament January 23rd and 24th 2021.
“Whale Harbor served up another great event,” stated tournament director Dianne Harbaugh. “Things were a little different with all the covid protocols but everyone did a great job and had a wonderful time”. The Islamorada Sailfish Tournament is the primary fund raiser for the Islamorada Charter Boat Association. The Islamorada Sailfish Tournament will continue the fight to preserve and protect the fabulous fishing in the Florida Keys. More information on the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament can be found on the web site www.islamoradasailfishtournament.com