Sailfish specialists ready for tournament time

PORT SALERNO — The turkey day leftovers are put away and holiday decorations are being hung. For scores of area anglers, it’s time to focus on one of the Treasure Coast’s most exciting portions of the fishing year: Sailfish tournament season.

During the two-week period beginning Monday, three of the area’s five sailfish tournaments will run their course. Teams will fish to catch — and then safely release — fast-swimming, often acrobatic sailfish, one of the sea’s most remarkable and majestic fishing targets.

Treasure Coast winter sailfish often measure up to 6 feet in length and are capable of burst speeds of up to 40 knots. Sometimes, when hooked, they spend as much time leaping out of the water as they do peeling off drag.

Champions will be celebrated in events that require hard work, good sea legs and the ability to remain focused through a significant amount of sleep deprivation. Anglers, mates and captains who do not enjoy a regular dousing of sea water, riding up and down waves 6 to 8 feet high, or temperatures that can plunge into the 30s, need not apply.

ADDICTIVE FUN

Catching sailfish for this group of competitors is a fun and addictive sport. Especially as catch totals in recent tournaments and the number of sailfish encountered daily in bait spreads has climbed to heights some local experts could have never imagined.

Last season’s sailfish numbers reached epic proportions.

Two local tournaments set new high marks for total catches as did the nation’s oldest sailfish tournament in West Palm Beach.

The Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament, in early January of this year, destroyed its 32-year record when 29 boats racked up an eye-popping 736 sailfish catches. The Pirates Cove Sailfish Classic last December, lifted its new mark to 374 set by a fleet of 27 boats.

BETTER THAN GOOD-OLD DAYS

Capt. Rob Moore of Jupiter, skipper of perennial tournament winner Fa La Me, grew up in the 1980s and 1990s working as a mate on the sport fishing boats docked in Fort Pierce. He learned his skills working for and alongside veteran tournament winning skippers like Dave Berard, Sam Crutchfield and Chip Shafer.

Moore said, in those days, it took a lot less to be viewed as a sailfishing hero.

“If you had four or five sailfish bites in a day, you had a great day,” said Moore, who will lead Fa La Me, a 2012 70-foot Viking, through four Treasure Coast tournaments this season.

“Now, when you leave the dock, you expect to have 10 bites and hope for more and you’re surprised if you don’t get them.”

Since 2003, Moore has been working as a captain for Fa La Me owners Frank and Mary Ellen Rodriguez of Tampa.

This spring and summer, the boat went on a three-month tour of billfish and tuna tournaments where they seemingly could not be beat. They won the coveted five-tournament Bahamas Billfish Championship and, barely a week after it was completed, won the first event of the Bermuda Triple Crown.

At the completion of that series a few weeks later, Fa La Me was named its champion, too.

After competing in some white marlin tournaments in the Mid- Atlantic states, they cruised as far north as Nantucket, where they nearly won a bluefin tuna tournament, catching the event’s largest bluefin at 289 pounds and placing second overall for number of releases.

Moore and Rodriguez have enjoyed some down time this fall, but are now eager to get back out onto the water Sunday to begin practicing for sailfish.

SAILFISH SEASON SET TO KICK OFF

On Monday, they will be among the expected fleet of about 20 boats that will gather for the Finest Kind Quickie, the kickoff affair for the area’s busy and compact tournament season.

Marty Romstadt of Finest Kind Tackle Shop said the fresh ballyhoo have been ordered, but windy conditions in the Florida Keys is hampering efforts by bait sellers to catch them.

“The bite should be pretty good,” Romstadt said. “There has been good charter fishing, even though it’s been a little rough. It’s winter time fishing, so it is what it is.”

Romstadt said, in between rough seas, boats have been catching good numbers of dolphin, blackfin tuna, bonito and sailfish.

Moore knows he can’t count his sailfish before they are teased up. He said his team’s strategy will be to focus on what can be managed.

“Our biggest thing will be to control what we can control,” Moore said. “We can make sure our anglers are ready, our crew is ready, our boat is ready and our tackle is ready. That’s all we can do.”

Team Fa La Me will consist of Moore, Frank Rodriguez, Steve Butcher, Dave Berard, Greg Carpino and mates Taylor and Tyler Beckford.

He said he is always excited about the prospects of facing a field of teams he considers to be some of the most talented in the sport fishing arena.

“I always look forward to going against guys like Mike Brady, Sea Check, Bone Shaker, Challenge and Outlaw, among others,” Moore said. “We’re all very excited, this boat has been awesome, and we’re really looking forward to having a good time.”

Following the Pelican Yacht Club Invitational in January and the completion of the Treasure Coast Sailfish Championship series, two events Moore has never won as a captain, Fa La Me will fish in the Jupiter Billfish Tournament and the Palm Beach Double Shot before heading to Isla Mujeres, Mexico for a month in February.

2012-13 SAILFISH TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

FINEST KIND QUICKIE

When: Monday through Wednesday

Year: 12th

Marina: Sailfish/Finest Kind, 3585 S.E. St. Lucie Blvd., Stuart

Format: Open (professional captains and mates may fight fish)

Website: www.finestkind.com

Phone: 772-223-4110PIRATES COVE SAILFISH CLASSICWhen: Nov. 29-Dec. 2

Year: 24th

Marina: Pirates Cove Resort, 4307 S.E. Bayview Drive, Port Salerno

Format: Open

Website: www.piratescovesailfishclassic.com

Phone: 772-287-2500
TREASURE COAST SAILFISH CHAMPIONSHIP
When: Nov. 29 through Jan. 12

Year: 15th

Format: Mixed

Fished: During course of three tournaments

Web: www.pelicanyachtclub.com

Phone: 772-286-9373

STUART SAILFISH CLUB LIGHT TACKLE
When: Dec. 8-11

Year: 59th

Marina: Sailfish Marina, 3565 S.E. St. Lucie Blvd., Stuart

Format: Amateur with one paid crewmen allowed

Web: www.stuartsailfishclub.com

Phone: 772-286-9373

PELICAN YACHT CLUB INVITATIONAL BILLFISH TOURNAMENT
When: Jan. 8-12, 2013

Year: 33rd

Marina: Pelican Yacht Club, 1400 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce

Format: Amateur

Website: www.pelicanyachtclub.com

Phone: 772-464-1734

SAILFISH POINT YACHT CLUB INVITATIONAL SAILFISH TOURNAMENT

When: Jan. 17-20, 2013

Year: 32nd

Marina: Sailfish Point Yacht Club and Marina, Sailfish Point

Format: Amateur

Website: www.sailfishpoint.com

Phone: 772-225-1700

2011-2012 SAILFISH TOURNAMENT RESULTS

Finest Kind Quickie: Chasin Tail, Capt. Rob Valko, 9 releases; Total: 66 releases by 17 boats

Pirates Cove Sailfish Classic: Krazy Salts, Capt. Keith Greenberg, 27 releases; Total: 374* releases by 27 boats

Light Tackle Sailfish Tournament: Big Oh, Capt. Ronnie Fields, 21 releases; Total: 202 releases by 21 boats

Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish: Bone Shaker, Capt. Scott Fawcett, 57* releases; Total: 736** releases by 29 boats

Sailfish Point Yacht Club Invitational: Miller Time, Capt. Brandon Walton, 5 releases; Total: 25 releases by 11 boats

Treasure Coast Sailfish Championship: Bone Shaker, Capt. Scott Fawcett, 86* releases; Total: 552* releases by 10 boats*-Tournament record; **-Area record

TOP 10 AREA SAILFISH TOURNAMENT TOTAL CATCHES

736: 2012 Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament, 29 boats

538: 1997 Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Sailfish Tournament, 45 boats (four fishing days)

408: 2010 Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament, 29 boats

386: 2004 Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament, 52 boats

377: 2011 Pelican Yacht Club Invitational Billfish Tournament, 30 boats

377: 2011 Pirates Cove Resort Sailfish Classic, 27 boats

348: 2009 Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Sailfish Tournament, 21 boats

330: 2006 Fort Pierce Billfish Derby, 17 boats

330: 2010 Pirates Cove Sailfish Classic, 30 boats

304: 1994 Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament, 38 boats

303: 1977 Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament, 54 boats

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