Record-setting Silver Sailfish Derby


By Willie Howard

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

For the second time in six years, teams of talented sailfish anglers broke fishing records last week during the West Palm Beach Fishing Club’s 75th Annual Silver Sailfish Derby.

The bite started out strong on the morning of Jan. 5 following a cold front that pushed sailfish south.

“One minute after lines were in, fish were being caught,” said Paul Sabayrac, captain of the 33-foot Goin’ Raptor. “We caught five fish in the first 30 minutes.”

Anglers found the fish leaping from the water and “tailing” in waves.

The result: Derby fishing teams fishing on 46 boats released 659 sails on the first day of the three-day tournament, shattering the Derby’s previous one-day record of 397 releases, set in 2006.

Other records set during this year’s Derby:

• Total sailfish released – 1,174 by 46 boats in three days of fishing. (The previous record was 958 releases by 50 boats during the 69th Derby in 2006.)

• The most sailfish released by one boat in one day of fishing – 36 by Get Lit on Jan. 5. (The previous record of 35 was set by Get Lit under a different captain in 2006.)

• Highest average catch – 14.3 sails per boat on Day 1.

Captain Quinton Dieterle of Miami and his team on Get Lit won the Derby, with a three-day total of 58 releases.

Get Lit angler Kitt Toomey said the team had four sails hooked up at the same time several times on Day 1, but said the team tended to lose one because they had only three anglers – himself, Peter Miller and Bill Danko. (Danko won top Derby angler with 24 releases).

Dieterle said Get Lit’s 36 releases on Jan. 5 broke his personal record of 29. On that first day, Dieterle said, they could see the sailfish moving south in the waves, some of them 5 to 6 feet below the surface. Baits, he said, had to be presented within a few feet of the sails or they would swim by them.

When the sailfish spotted the baits – live goggle-eyes and threadfin herrings – they would “light up,” or flash their bright colors before feeding, Dieterle said.

“It was cool,” he said. “It was great fishing.”

Captain George LaBonte, author of Sportsman’s Best: Sailfish, said the cold weather created a “perfect storm” of sorts that chilled the surface of the ocean to the north and funneled sailfish south in droves just as the Derby began on Jan. 5.

“The tournament playing out like it did is unlikely to happen again anytime soon,” LaBonte said.

Others credit the use of circle hooks in billfish tournaments and other conservation measures with improving the sailfish population.

Some billfish researchers believe that there are two groups of sailfish in the western Atlantic – northern and southern – and that the northern group is good shape, said Ellen Peel, president of The Billfish Foundation.

“These results seem to confirm that idea,” Peel said.

The West Palm Beach Fishing Club introduced the practice of flying red pennants from the outriggers of boats to show the release of sailfish as an alternative to killing sailfish during the 1938 Derby.

“The release ethic has helped,” said John Jolley, a fishing club board member and former sailfish researcher. “Our forefathers deserve a lot of credit, and we’ve been able to improve on it.”

The use of non-offset circle hooks, which minimize damage to sailfish and other fish, has been mandatory in the Derby since 2004. NOAA Fisheries has required the use of circle hooks in all billfish tournaments since 2007.

FINAL RESULTS OF THE 75TH ANNUAL SILVER SAILFISH DERBY

Number of sailfish released by 46 boats each day:

Day 1: 659

Day 2: 365

Day 3: 150

Total: 1,174

Top anglers with boat name and number of sailfish released:

1. Bill Danko, Get Lit, 24

2. Adam Cohen, Tales Gone Wild, 22

3. Tony Greaton, Native Son, 20 (based on time)

4. Ricky Quataheta, Jichi, 20

Top boats with captain and number of sailfish released over three days:

1. Get Lit, Quinton Dieterle, 58

2. Jichi, Jimmy David, 44

3. Sandman, Scott Leon, 42

4. El Palacio de los Jugos, Ben Sharpe, 41

Top tag team:

Team Murray, Rob Murray, 19 tagged fish

Top weight fish with boat name and fish size:

• Mike Wells, Petunia, 59.3-pound wahoo

• Chad Fair, Cha Ching, 24.8-pound cobia

• Nadia Bohlman, Cha Ching, 25.6-pound cobia

Most outstanding catch:

Virginia Turney Adams, Reel Lucky (82-year-old angler had two sailfish releases)

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