The fleet of 30 boats fishing the Pelican Yacht Club’s Billfish Invitational in January caught and released 969 sailfish in four days including what is believed to be a “dead bait” record 712 in a single day. Photo by Ed Killer.
Article By: Ed Killer
A wild and woolly week for fishing!
What a wild, wet and woolly week it was for the fleet fishing the Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament out of Fort Pierce, Fla. Jan. 9-12.
First, the fleet of 30 fishing teams crushed all the records for the 39th annual tournament, and for the 65-year history of sailfish tournaments fished in eastern Florida waters.
The final tally was 969 sailfish caught and released.
The tournament’s second day of action wound up being the single best day in sailfish tournament history for any event fished north of Palm Beach County in waters of the Atlantic Ocean. A total of 712 sailfish were caught and released by the 27 boats on the water that day. The top three boats that day accounted for 121 sailfish by themselves — JT, led by Capt. Mark McDevitt, had 41 sailfish; Cowpoke, led by Capt. Mike Brady, had 40 sailfish; Alikai, led by Capt. Patrick Price, had 40 sailfish. The 41 by JT, owned by David Johnson of Beach Haven, N.J., stands as the new record for the tournament for a boat in a single day.
Consider also that tournament rules stipulate fishing time as 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. But since the boat departed Fort Pierce Inlet each day, and the sailfish were concentrated in an area north of Patrick Air Force Base and south of Port Canaveral’s main channel some 45-50 miles north, tournament boats were forced to sacrifice up to 1:45 of fishing time each day just to reach the best fishing.
But when they did, they were rewarded, at least for two days.
The event began Jan. 9 when Grand Slam, led by Capt. David Grubbs of New Smyrna Beach, sat down on an area so packed with hungry sailfish that it looked like a feeding frenzy under his boat. Grubbs felt it was going to yield some fish, and ran there because he knew it would produce bites. Few, if any, in the fleet knew his plan. By noon, the cat was out of the bag. Big time.
He wound up with a Treasure Coast area then single-day record 38 sailfish catches that day and a substantial lead on his competitors, known to be some of the best sailfish skippers in the western hemisphere.
Teams racked up catches of an incredible 86 double-headers, 45 triples and 15 quads.
It was truly staggering.
Jan. 10, the fleet followed the leader, Grubbs and crew, to the fertile fishing grounds off the Space Coast and helped him achieve something many experienced sailfish specialists thought could only be accomplished in Mexico or Costa Rica.
The captains called it epic and incredible, unbelievable and amazing.
But it wouldn’t last. Jan. 11, the fish had either scattered a bit, moved back north out of range, or simply quit biting, like fish of any species do. The fleet of 27 fishing that day picked up “just” 93 releases. Saturday, with a smaller fleet fishing because of lay days mandated by tournament rules, those numbers dwindled more. The final day anglers tallied only 29 releases, reminiscent of the season’s start in December when sailfish bites were very hard to come by.
1. 73, Grand Slam, Capt. David Grubbs
2. 66, Cowpoke, Capt. Mike Brady
3. 58, Champagne Lady, Capt. Josh Chaney
4. 49, Intents, Capt. Rhett Bailey
5. 49, Goose, Capt. Brett Jamison
Fleet totals: 969 sailfish, 30 boats.
Daily award winners:
Wednesday: 38, Grand Slam, Capt. David Grubbs
Thursday: 41, JT, Capt. Mark McDevitt
Friday: 21, Goose, Capt. Brett Jamison
Saturday: 5, Anticipation, Capt. Harvey Shiflet
Top sailfish days on the Treasure Coast:
Jan. 10, 2019: 712 sailfish on Day Two of Pelican Yacht Club Invitational
Dec. 9, 1997: 382 sailfish on Day One of Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle
Jan. 13, 2012: 269 sailfish on Day Three of Pelican Yacht Club Invitational
Jan. 12, 2012: 259 sailfish on Day Two of the Pelican Yacht Club Invitational
Top five catch totals for a Treasure Coast sailfish tournament
969: 2019 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 30 boats
736: 2012 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 29 boats
538: 1997 Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament, 45 boats
408: 2010 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 29 boats
386: 2004 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 52 boats