In 2006, Jim Dalrymple, a veteran Florida Keys guide and accomplished tournament competitor, was invited to check out his friend’s new bay boat. The two decided to put the sleek new craft to the test. Braving choppy four‑foot seas, they set their sights on sailfish. After loading the boat with the necessary gear and netting a well full of ballyhoo on the reef, the two determined anglers headed straight to the edge off Islamorada, FL.
As they enjoyed a hot bite releasing fish after fish, the pair of excited fishermen began tossing around the idea of a sailfish tournament limited only to bay boats. It didn’t take long for a decision to be made and after countless phone calls they officially had eight teams signed up for an inaugural event later that season. Participants, who were much more adept at chasing snook than sailfish, actually had an exceptional experience pushing their backcountry boats to the limit on the open seas and vastly broadening their horizons from the backcountry fisheries they were most accustomed to.
Word continued to spread and soon bay boat owners outside of the Florida Keys wanted in…the only option was to broaden the spectrum of The Bay Boat Billfish Tournament and create an entire series of sailfish competitions…
As the festivities eventually winded down and the smoke began to clear, participants raved about how thrilling it was to target billfish out of their bay boats and claimed if there were a similar event the following year, they would certainly participate. So in 2007, The Bay Boat Billfish Tournament was officially conceived and has been a success ever since. Even though the boats are smaller, what you’ll find here are many of the same rules and regulations as the much larger and vastly successful sailfish tournaments held across the Keys.
Over the next few years, interest and participation continued to grow and soon sponsors took notice and jumped aboard to support the exciting format. Most notably, Ranger Boats stepped up to the plate in a big way and is now the official title sponsor. As the years passed, adventurous anglers thoroughly enjoyed fishing The Bay Boat Billfish Tournament out of Islamorada, sharing stories, winning bragging rights and taking home respectable cash and prizes.
Word continued to spread and soon bay boat owners outside of the Florida Keys wanted in. The decision was easy and to accommodate interested parties—limited exclusively to bay boats in the 19- to 25-foot range—the only option was to broaden the spectrum of The Bay Boat Billfish Tournament and create an entire series of sailfish competitions around South Florida’s most popular inlets. This past winter marked the inaugural season of the exciting new series and saw exciting action and stiff competition. Current rules state that teams are limited to no more than five lines in the water at any one time, with a 20 lb. test class limit. Fishing live bait is permitted, as is live chumming. Tournament approved circle-hooks are mandatory and all sailfish catches must be videotaped through the release for proper verification.
So far, participation has been steadily growing, with scheduled events in December, January and February out of Jupiter Inlet, Lake Worth Inlet, Hillsboro Inlet, Government Cut and of course, Islamorada. There’s also a championship event in Miami, where an overall winner will be crowned on March 1, 2014. The champion will also receive a non-transferable $5,000 gift certificate toward a brand new Ranger bay boat. Another exciting twist in the works is a ladies only bay boat sailfish tournament, which will soon be added to the mix.
The hope with The Bay Boat Billfish Tournament Series is to show the versatility and capability of crafts typically found exploring the shallows. Modern bay boats aren’t just limited to fishing the backcountry in water barely waist deep. Today’s versatile workhorses are well equipped and extremely capable of taking on the high seas. The bottom line is that you don’t need a large sportfish yacht or high performance center console to enjoy the excitement and thrills that come with one of the world’s most majestic pelagic predators—the Atlantic sailfish.
For more information on The Bay Boat Billfish Tournament Series, visit bayboatbillfishtournamentseries.com. You can also check them out and receive regular updates on Facebook, or contact Carol Ensor at 305.509.1078.