72nd Annual Silver Sailfish Derby

Big Game Angling off Palm Beach

Capt. Steve Dougherty April 9, 2009

Infact, the Derby’s presence on South Florida sailfishing is so well fortified that it’s responsible for developing the red release pennant! Established in 1935, this prestigious event is the longest running billfish tournament in the entire world, and during its 72-year history the only time the Silver Sailfish Derby wasn’t held were three years during the 1940s when recreational angling took a backseat to World War II. As a World Billfish Series sanctioned event, the Silver Sailfish Derby routinely draws the areas most competitive sailfish crews. One of the first tournaments credited with promoting catch and release, as well as incorporating tagging into a competitive tournament format, the Silver Sailfish Derby has been at the forefront of conservation and continues to be the leader in protecting Florida’s greatest game fish.

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Photo: Steve Dougherty

Big game angling is not a novel concept in Palm Beach County. In fact, during the early 1900s, anglers made the first successful ventures offshore in small wooden boats rowed from the sunny shores of Palm Beach. As the fishing scene grew, Palm Beach boat builders designed the first sportfishing boats for offshore angling. Fast-forward 100-years and Palm Beach is now the epicenter for anglers interested in partaking in South Florida’s red-hot sailfish bite. The well-being of South Florida’s most reliable game fish is so important that all participants are required to fish tournament approved zero-degree offset Eagle Claw L2004EL circle-hooks. Circle-hooks are scientifically proven to increase release survivability when compared to traditional J-hooks. To keep the playing field even, crews are allowed to fish a maximum of four lines at once and angling boundaries are set at Fort Pierce Inlet to the north and Port Everglades to the south.

On Thursday morning the excitement on the docks at Sailfish Marina was electric. All of the crews were anxious and excited to strut their stuff…

Fishing with Captain Chip Sheehan and Team Scales aboard Chips Ahoy, I was excited to take place in this prestigious event. While I had high hopes, I knew that with an approaching cold front and veering winds from the northwest the conditions were ideal for success.

Let The Games Begin!
On Thursday morning the excitement on the docks at Sailfish Marina was electric. All of the crews were anxious and excited to strut their stuff in this prestigious bragging rights only event. On the Derby’s first morning, light northwest winds and brisk 50-degree temperatures welcomed the fleet of 35 superbly equipped fishing machines. With ideal conditions, the competitors were anxious to partake in what they hoped would be a full-on sailfish blitz. As the fleet checked out of Palm Beach Inlet, the success of many crews was to be determined at this very crucial moment. After clearing the last buoy a handful of boats headed north, while most of the fleet turned south and aimed for the always-fishy waters between the Boynton Inlet and Lake Worth Pier. As the crews to the south reached their target destination, they setup their spreads only to be greeted by a slow moving current. Did the boats that ventured north make the right decision?

Within minutes of setting up our spread we watched free-jumpers heading east in 400-feet of water. Witnessing this unusual behavior, we knew it was going to be a tough day. Consistently getting on the fish under these conditions is really just blind luck. With the first release called in only 16-minutes after lines in, Bac In Five was already on the leaderboard. This early indicator was only a tease, as the action was going to be slow the entire day. With the trollers to the north faring better than the anglers fishing kites and live bait to the south, Barefoot ended the day on top with four releases, while Kemosabe, Anita L and Bac In Five all posted three releases. The fishing was so slow that 27 out of 35 boats posted one release or less for Day One. With the winds expected to turn to the northeast the fleet was hopeful the bite would turn on for Day Two.

On Day Two, Captain Chip pulled the trigger and ventured north as we headed out of Palm Beach Inlet. We were greeted with a stiff northeast breeze and crisp three-footers, and while we didn’t know what the days fishing would entail, one thing was for sure, we wouldn’t have any issues flying our kites! Captain Chip located a beautiful edge in 140-feet just north of Jupiter Inlet, and we knew that we finally found what we were looking for. Only minutes after lines in we were hooked up and released the tournaments first fish of the day at 8:11 a.m. We continued to work the well-defined edge but to our amazement, the fish just weren’t aggressively feeding. Throughout the course of the day we had several fish swim through our spread, only to lazily check out our perfect offerings before slowly swimming off in the opposite direction.

While we were working the well-defined edge, we could hear the VHF crackling release after release for the anglers that were posted up in the vicinity of the Lake Worth Pier. What a difference a day makes. We were now forced with a tough decision. Do we pickup and run to the south to fish with two-dozen other boats, or do we continue to work the well-defined edge by ourselves in hopes that the bite would turn on? After culling through several sharpnose sharks, bonito, a short cobia and a few dolphin, we finally hooked and released another sail before heading south to get in on the action. As luck would have it, by the time we arrived the bite had tapered off. At the end of the day Lady Lane was the daily leader with seven releases, while Certifiable and Double Take both managed six releases. Miss Britt and Permitted both released four fish.

On the tournaments last day, the winds were blowing light out of the east and with the previous day’s success coming from the south, we knew where we had to be. With only two releases to show for our efforts we knew we needed to step up our game. Another element we had to overcome was the Inaugural Palm Beach Shootout (second leg of the Sailfish Pro Series), which was also hosted out of Palm Beach Inlet. With a large majority of both fleets posted near the Lake Worth Pier, we decided to increase our odds by hanging out by ourselves, setting up just a bit north of the mass congregation of million dollar sportfishers. We managed two releases early in the morning, but as the day progressed our hopes slipped from underneath us. On the final day lines out was at 2:00 and after the tournament’s last fish was released, we deployed three kites and four flat lines to see what damage we could do without the tournaments four line regulation. As luck would have it, we hooked into a double header within minutes – if only it had been a few hours earlier.

While the tournament’s overall number of releases was the lowest it had been since 1996, the fleet of 35 boats managed 145 sailfish. Fishing aboard Miss Britt, David Dickerson won the coveted Mrs. Henry R. Rea Trophy, the Derby’s top angler award, by posting seven individual sailfish releases. Using Billfish Foundation nylon tags, participants tagged 15 fish, and Castings tagged four of their eight fish to win the Top Tag Team Award. When the final numbers were tallied, Certifiable came out on top with 12 releases, while Lady Lane and Bac In Five both posted 10 releases.

World Billfish Series

The World Billfish Series is comprised of over 70 prestigious billfishing tournaments from eight divisions around the world. Over 30,000 anglers participate in this highly regarded series, and anglers earn points based on participation, tournament catches and tournament finishes. At the end of the year, the top 10 anglers from each division are selected to participate in the World Billfish Series Grand Championship. In addition, the top angler from each WBS sanctioned event will receive an invitation to the Grand Championship. For more information, visit www.worldbillfishseries.com

Record Breaking

During the 2006 event, a total of 50 boats caught and released 958 sailfish. This astounding catch is believed to be a world record for the most Atlantic sailfish released during three consecutive days of tournament fishing and surpasses the Derby’s record in 2004 when 59 boats released 636 fish.

Contact Data

Sailfish Marina
561.844.1724
www.sailfishmarina.com

West Palm Beach Fishing Club
561.832.6780
www.westpalmbeachfishingclub.org

Southeast Division

Miami Billfish Tournament
April 2, 2009
www.miamibillfish.com

Islamorada Swordfish Tournament
August 28, 2009
www.miamiswordfishtournament.com

Miami Swordfish Tournament
September 24, 2009
www.miamiswordfishtournament.com

Treasure Coast Division
El Pescado Billfish Tournament October 2, 2009
www.elpescadobillfish.com

New Smyrna Beach Billfish Invitational
October 8, 2009
www.nsbbi.com

Gulf Coast Division

Old Salt Loop Tournament
June 9, 2009
www.oldsaltfishingclub.com

Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic
June 16, 2009
www.fishecbc.com

Pensacola International Billfish Tournament
July 2, 2009
www.pbgfc.com

Bay Point Billfish Invitational
July 15, 2009
www.baypointbillfish.com

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