The 60th Anniversary of the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament kicked off at Whale Harbor hosting 70 anglers, captains and mates, plus friends and family with a grand buffet. Under good sail fishing conditions, anglers competed for three days until lines out of the water was called at 3PM on Sunday December 3rd. Captain Brian Cone led anglers Mark Mitchell and Kenneth Padgett of Charlotte, NC along with Travis Bennett, Arek Wojcik and junior angler Andy Cone all from Tavernier, FL to victory with a total of 11 releases for a second win in a row. The team, including mates Justin Matson and Brett Shahlamain, took home beautiful hand carved sailfish trophies with diamonds in their eyes created by Doug Berry and sponsored by Caribee Boat Sales and Yamaha Outboards along 60th anniversary coffee mugs and a check for $38,548.00.
Anglers were greeted with east winds on Friday morning, the first day of fishing. By the end of the day, Captain Marty Lewis would lead the crew aboard the Main One into the lead with 5 sailfish releases. Angler Robert Richardson Sr. aboard the Yabba Dabba Doo would have 4 releases as well as team Tackle Center with 4. Trophy Hunter would have a release by junior angler Andy Cone, one each for Travis Bennet and Kenneth Padgett.
Day two would start out early for Killbox as Captain Cody Darbie called in a hook up only three minutes after lines in. The fish was released minutes later, giving the Killbox a total of two fish for the two days. But the day would belong to the Back in Business and captain Robert Collin’s team. They released five sails landing them in second place at the end of the second day with a total of 7 releases. Trophy Hunter anglers would release four sails and be in the lead on time with 7 releases.
On the final day of fishing the winds laid down but good fishing continued. Captain Sean O’Donnell on the Carolina Reel Men would call in the tournaments’ only triple header of sails at 10:38. Mates Sam Milazzo and Hudson Wampler were able to grab all the leaders releasing all three along with two other fish that day propelling them into second place with a total of 9 released sails. Anglers Lee Gahagen, Jimmy Hendrix and Ramiro Hildalgo-gato all from Islamorada FL along with Sam Milazzo of Tavernier FL and Brandon Simmons from Marathon FL took home amazing Tackle Center of Islamorada sponsored hand carved second place awards. The team received a check for $19,526.00. Trophy Hunter continued to pick at the sails all day releasing 4 more for their total of eleven releases over the three days. Team Killbox anglers Tyler Kelley from Bartow FL along with Philip Bryan, Corbin Buckley and KC Spaulding all from Islamorada and Marathon FL residents Joe Marina and Clint “Digger” Rodamer fought off all the competition to take third place with 8 sailfish releases. They too received hand carved original pieces and a check for $12,620.00.
Yabba Dabba Doo angler Robert Richardson Senior won Top Male Angler and the Bill Hirni Memorial High Point Angler award with five releases. Bill Hirni was a major player over the Islamorada Sailfish Tournaments rich 60 year history, before his passing in 2005. His daughter and granddaughter presented the award along with an amazing double sided hand carved trophy with diamond eyes created by Doug Berry for this special anniversary. Top lady angler Seanna Lindback was awarded a similar hand carved trophy. She released one sailfish during the event while fishing aboard the Tiki. 13 year old angler Andy Cone would release a second fish and win the Top Junior Angler award with two releases on the Trophy Hunter. Most Tagged Fish team awards went to Indiana anglers Chris Chastain from Noblesville, Sam Chastain of Morrisville, Alan Sutkowski from Plainfield, Nathan Burns from Stilesville, and Colby Mason of Islamorada, FL with 3 tagged fish aboard Captain Alex Adler’s Kalex. Madison Wright from Islamorada, FL won the Most Outstanding Catch award with a 31.5 pound African Pompano that ate a kite bait. Konnor Ross from Tavernier, FL fishing aboard the Relentless, weighed in a blackfin tuna at 19.5 pounds to take the Largest Tuna award. Cloud Nine angler Eric Ehlers won the largest mackerel award with a 17.1 pound kingfish. The largest dolphin of the tournament was caught by Marathon resident Joe Marino and weighed in at 8.5 pounds.
Overall 76 Sailfish were released out of the 87 called in hook ups with nearly $80,000.00 awarded to the winners. The Islamorada Sailfish Tournament is the first leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Sailfish Championship. The Trophy Hunter is currently in the lead with 11 fish. Second place in the Gold Cup is the Carolina Reel Men with 9 releases and third is the Killbox with 8 releases. The next leg of the series is at the Islamorada Fishing Club’s Sailfish Tournament January 17th and the champions will be crowned at the Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament January 20thand 21st 2024.
“Whale Harbor served up another great event,” stated tournament director Dianne Harbaugh. “The stone crabs at the kick off buffet and the amazing wood fired steaks along with snow crab and all the fixings for the awards, made this 60th anniversary amazing.” 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