Fleet ready to sail in Pelican Billfish tourney

FORT PIERCE — For about a week every January for more than 15 years, the Pelican Yacht Club in Fort Pierce has welcomed guests who love the sport of sailfishing.

What began as a tournament among members of the yacht club more than three decades ago has evolved into the most anticipated week on the Treasure Coast’s annual sailfish tournament calendar.

The 31st annual Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament will open Tuesday with its captains’ meeting and kickoff party. Fishing will take place from Wednesday through Jan. 7 with teams choosing to fish three of the tournament’s four days.

Adding excitement to what often has been the best sailfish action of the season is the completion of the annual Treasure Coast Sailfish Championship. The championship is a series that runs the course of three of the area’s most prestigious sailfish tournaments.

Each year, the leaders in the fleet of about 10 boats that competes in the championship need the entire week of the invitational to sort out the season’s champion.Leading the 10 boats entering next week’s affair is the crew aboard the Palm Beach-based Big Oh, led by Capt. Ronnie Fields.

Fields has led the angling team of Gray Ingram, Jimmy Fields, Skip Smith and Ben Horning to a catch of 43 sailfish during the championship’s first two events, including 21 on the way to winning the Stuart Sailfish Club’s 58th annual Light Tackle Sailfish Tournament three weeks ago. It was the first Treasure Coast sailfish tournament win for Fields and his team.

Fields was proud of his team’s first win where trolling still is the method used by fishing teams instead of live baiting, which is more common in tournaments from Jupiter to Key West.

“This was our first Stuart win,” Fields said. “We compete against this group of captains from Stuart all the time, and they are a tough bunch.”

Fields and other sailfish skippers will be looking for well-defined cold fronts to group up the sailfish and make for good fishing again. The past two years, Pelican Yacht Club tournament fleets of 30 and 29 boats caught 377 and a tournament-record 408 sailfish in 2010, respectively.

Captains are hoping to see more of the blue and dry skies, not gray and rainy as it was during the first three sailfish tournaments fished in early December.

“We really like it when it’s cold and clear,” Fields said with a laugh. “Rain can really make it tough to see what we want to see. It’s hard to see the fish and tell what the water looks like, and nobody likes fishing in the rain.”

In order to try to hold on for Big Oh’s first Treasure Coast Sailfish Championship title, they will have to keep pace with teams that are capable of piling up multiple sailfish releases in short order.

Cowpoke led by Capt. Mike Brady and with owner Cruiser Crews, Chester Chambers, Dave Meyer and Greg Jones stand second with 39 releases.

Capt. Ed Nicolace has Rough’N It with 33 releases and Capt. Rob Valko has Chasin Tail fourth with 31 releases. Brady and Nicolace both have won the Pelican Invitational and know what it takes to pull out the win.

But Fields figures the best way to win the championship is to win the Pelican.

“We’ve done well every year we’ve been here,” Fields said. “I really hope we can win it and the Treasure Coast Championship.”

Follow the action during fishing hours as tournament radio operator Terry Shafer uploads scores in real time on the PYC website at www.pelicanyachtclub.com.

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