88 anglers vied for $80,000 in prize money

Team Trophy Hunters takes first place in the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament. TIM RAHN PHOTOGRAPHY/Contributed

The 59th annual Islamorada Sailfish Tournament kicked off at Whale Harbor, hosting 88 anglers. Under rough conditions and tough fishing, anglers competed for three days until lines were out of the water at 3 p.m. on Dec. 4. A total of 42 sailfish were released out of the 54 called-in hookups with nearly $80,000 in prize money on the line.

Captain Brian Cone led anglers Mark Mitchell and Kenneth Padgett of Charlotte, North Carolina, along with Travis Bennett, Brett Shahlamian and junior angler Andy Cone, all from Tavernier, to victory with a total of four releases on time. The team took home sailfish Gyotaku prints by Lisa Herman’s Gallery of the Arts, sponsored by Caribee Boat Sales and Yamaha Outboards, along with Smith sunglasses, Papa’s Pilar rum and a check. 

Anglers were greeted with wind and salt spray as the morning bite began. By 12:15 p.m. the Tackle Center’s angler Donny Lange, of Tavernier, had three fish and the team was in the lead. As the day progressed Hillbilly Deluxe would be hot on their heels with three releases of their own. Trophy Hunter would have a release by junior angler Andy Cone and one for boat owner Mark Mitchell.

Day two started out early for Remix as Captain JC Cleare called in a hookup only three minutes after lines in. The fish was released just two minutes later, giving the Remix a total of two fish for the two days. But the day would belong to the Dirty Boat and captain Kit Carson’s team. They released three sails landing them in third place at the end of the second day. Trophy Hunter angler Mark Mitchell released the last fish of the day at 3:48 p.m., moving them into fourth place with a two-day total of three releases.

On the final day of fishing, the weather improved, and so did the fishing. Captain Justin Baker called in the first fish of the day for angler Blake Johnston aboard the Pressure Drop placing them fifth on the list of boats with three fish. Que Mas’ angler Gary Benney released his first-ever sailfish, adding the Que Mas to the list of boats with three releases. At 8:38 a.m., Trophy Hunter called in a hookup. It would be mates Sean O’Donnell and Justin Matson working as a team to make sure angler Kenneth Padgett would get the fish. At 8:56 a.m., the fish was released and Trophy Hunter now had the lead with four fish. 

As others joined the list of three releases, angler Jess Jorgensen of Tavernier, aboard the Hillbilly Deluxe released their team’s fourth fish at noon. The Hillbilly Deluxe, captained by Trevor Frins, with anglers Gus Solis, Chris Trentine, Tyler Webb, Cody Gunther and Hank Pinder, all from Tavernier, along with Parker Cox of Key Largo and Marc Toledo from Hollywood, took home second place. They received Gyotaku awards, a check and other goodies. Remix added two more to their total by 12:17 p.m., giving them four fish.

Anglers Bill Danko of Cincinnati, Jorge Corzo and Ryan Alexander of Miami and Rick Arnold of Islamorada won third-place money and Gyotaku prints sponsored by Island Arms and Indoor Range. Tackle Center angler Donny Lange won Top Male Angler and the Bill Hirni Memorial High Point Angler award with his three releases. Top Lady Angler was Nicole Paul-Hus from Pompano Beach, with one release on time aboard the Skip Jac. Andy Cone’s release on day one would make him the top Junior Angler. Most tagged fish team awards went to anglers Chris Chastain from Noblesville, Indiana, Sam Chastain of Morrisville, Indiana along with Alan Sutkowski from Plainfield, Indiana and Colby Mason of Islamorada, with two tagged fish aboard Captain Alex Adler’s Kalex. 

Alan Sutkowski was also awarded the most outstanding catch for a 31-pound African pompano. Joe Peros of Pompano Beach won the Largest Tuna award with a 15-pounder aboard the Skip Jac. Leg A Sea angler Matt Konopauki of Tavernier landed the largest dolphin — a 13.6-pounder. The Largest Mackerel award went to Ian Klein, of Pompano, with a 24.2-pound fish aboard the Goombay Smash.

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 four fish. Second place belongs to Hillbilly Deluxe with four releases and third place is the Remix with four releases. The next leg of the series is the Islamorada Fishing Club’s Sailfish Tournament Jan. 18, 2023 and the champions will be crowned at the Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament, held Jan. 21-22, 2023.

More information on the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament is at