Twenty teams of saltwater fly rod anglers came together from eight states across the US and Canada to compete in the Eleventh Annual Islamorada Sailfly Championship in the Florida Keys on January 12-13. In chilly weather and often-lumpy seas, eight of the 20 teams in this challenging event produced 14 hook ups and 8 releases.
At 8:25 on Wednesday morning Mike Rempe of Windsor, Co. hooked the first sailfish of the day aboard Miami Capt. Ray Rosher’s Miss Britt. After 12 minutes, they maneuvered close enough to bring the nail knot inside the tiptop earning 50 points but shortly after, the tippet parted, denying them the 150 points for billing and removing the fly. At 9 am, master angler and multiple IGFA World Champion, Robert Collins hooked his first ever Atlantic Sailfish on fly aboard The Reel McCoy with Capt. George McElven and team mate, Mark Gilman all of Islamorada. After a grueling hour and twenty-six minutes, the fish was billed and the fly removed for 150 points and the lead. Two more fish were caught for score on Wednesday.
Thursday morning brought 25 mile an hour winds, 56 degrees and very choppy seas or conditions known as “Sailfish Weather” in the Keys; however, the numbers of aggressive fish anticipated did not materialize. Some teams had over a dozen shots but others had slim pickings for the day. Six more fish were billed but no team caught two, and The Reel McCoy took Grand Champion honors with the first fish caught.
Second place went to Al McLead and Ben Ekblom aboard Yo Ho Ho with Capt. Charlie Scoble. For the second year in a row, third place honors went to Capt. Billy Bishop of Islamorada with father and son team John David Eaton and John Eaton of Canada aboard Sally Margaret.
Tournament Director Sandy Moret said, “Atlantic Sailfish are rarely fished for with fly rod in the US. Our event attracts some very devoted and hard-core fly fishers with a tremendous amount of talent. In our first year, 14 teams competed catching zero fish and a 14-way tie for first place was declared. The event has gained in popularity ever since. I believe this may be the most difficult fishing tournament in the Florida Keys. Because the fishery is primarily live bait oriented, transferring a teased sailfish to a feathered fly is very difficult.”
The invitational tournament is an all release team event using 16-pound class (8 kg) tippet supplied by the tournament. Each team is allowed two anglers who may cast, hook and fight the fish and anyone on board can tease the fish with live or dead hookless teasers making the “bait and switch.” A release is accomplished when the connection of fly line to leader is brought into the tiptop of the fly rod. If that occurs in more than 60 seconds after hook up, then 50 points are earned. Leaders must be less than 12 feet in length. If the fish is billed and the fly retrieved, the catch then counts for 150 points.
The Islamorada Sailfly Championship is sponsored by Florida Keys Outfitters, Rich Products Corporation, The Green Turtle Inn, Craig Reagor of Riverwood Art Farms and Kaiyo’s Restaurant.