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The sailfish tournament season adds to the local marine economy.
Treasure Coast Newspapers
When the cool winds blow out of the Northeast and the waves offshore get large enough to be described as “sporty” or “dusty,” it’s time for the big boys to get rolling.
Sailfish season has arrived.
From November until February, blue-water anglers begin seeking fewer bites from dolphin and kingfish. Instead, they turn their attention to catching and releasing the wily, adrenaline-inducing sailfish. Five tournaments targeting sailfish will take place along Treasure Coast waters between Dec. 1 and Jan. 9.
Fred Hardwick, angler on team Showtime!, reels in a sailfish Dec. 13 offshore of Stuart. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BARBARA EVANS)
The oldest and longest-running tournament — the 67th annual Light Tackle Sailfish Tournament hosted by the Stuart Sailfish Club — will be the event featuring the most changes to its format and schedule.
Organizers have chosen to benefit the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast and the family of Victory Leidner, a young girl who is battling T-cell lymphoma.
They have also decided to cut the Light Tackle to two days of fishing followed by a women’s tournament on the third day. Both events are open to anyone who would like to fish, said Capt. Patrick Price, owner of DayMaker charters in Stuart, a past Light Tackle winner and one of the committee members organizing this year’s event.
Images from aboard the Showtime! boat during the second day of the third annual Fish Heads of Stuart Sailfish Invitational on Wednesday, December 2, 2015. (SAM WOLFE/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS) (Photo: SAM WOLFE)
“We want everyone to know this isn’t restricted to just Sailfish Club members; it’s open to anyone,” Price said. “I think there was an underlying feeling that people weren’t supposed to fish these tournaments unless they were members of the club. That’s not what we want. Especially the ladies day. If somebody wants to go, come on out and fish and have a good time.”
Price said the Light Tackle, long considered the most prestigious sailfish tournament on the Treasure Coast, was shortened to two days, but will remain a dead-bait tournament.
That means fishing teams will not be able to fish with live bait as they do in sailfish tournaments from the Palm Beaches to the Florida Keys. However, for the women’s tournament, live bait is allowed, and Price is arranging for Bryan Sperau to have his live-bait boat selling bait for the day.
A sailfish leaps behind Showtime! as angler Nancy Hardwick of Sailfish Point reels it in during a tournament in October. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY FRED HARDWICK)
Another change to the Light Tackle is the payout. For decades, very little cash was paid to winners, but Price said $1,000 from each boat’s entry fee will go toward a winner-take-all, top-boat cash prize.
“If we get 15 boats entered, that means the top boat receives $15,000 in addition to any Calcutta money,” he said.
Capt. V.J. Bell, operator of Stuart Big Game Fishing charters, a past Light Tackle winner and another co-organizer, said there are plenty of great reasons for anglers to get involved, but helping out a good cause is chief among them.
“I’ve known Billy Leidner for a long time and he is a straight shooter. Watching what they have been going through for the past year has been heartbreaking, so a bunch of us tried to figure out a way we could help,” Bell said.
Victory Leidner, 7, of Stuart, has been undergoing treatment for T-cell lymphoma for over a year. Last month, Bell and Price offered fishing charters by selling 100 squares to bidders.
Bell said as many as six more of the area’s top charter captains have offered charters for another round of raffles that will become available online soon. The tournament will also have numerous silent auction items to benefit both charities.
Two-time defending Light Tackle champion InTents, led by Capt. Rhett Bailey of Jensen Beach and boat owner Alan Sadler of Jupiter, is a team with hopes of gathering more hardware this year.
Catch 23, owned by basketball hall of famer and part-time Jupiter resident Michael Jordan, fished the event last year.
The 64th, 65th and 66th Light Tackle tournaments were all plagued by rough seas and scarce sailfish action. Maybe that will change this year, Bell said.
“There was a little showing of sailfish last week right out in front of St. Lucie Inlet,” he said. “We caught two out of three bites.
“I would hope these cold fronts would help move fish south and into our area. I’m usually an optimist, so once we get a few days like this behind us, and we get a few more boats out fishing for these fish with proper gear, a spread of baits and using the same techniques, I’m confident we’ll find out where they are,” he said.
Nov. 30-Dec. 2 — Fish Heads of Stuart Quickie, Stuart
Dec. 3-6 — Pirates Cove Resort Sailfish Classic, Stuart
Dec. 9-12 — Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament, Stuart
Jan. 1-9, 2021 — Lenny Schelin Memorial Tournament, Treasure Coast
Jan. 4-9, 2021 — Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, Fort Pierce
Top sailfish days
- Jan. 10, 2019: 712 sailfish on Day Two of Pelican Yacht Club Invitational
- Dec. 9, 1997: 382 sailfish on Day One of Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle
- Jan. 13, 2012: 269 sailfish on Day Three of Pelican Yacht Club Invitational
- Jan. 12, 2012: 259 sailfish on Day Two of the Pelican Yacht Club Invitational
Top 10 catch totals for fleets
- 969: 2019 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 30 boats
- 736: 2012 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 29 boats
- 538: 1997 Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament, 45 boats
- 408: 2010 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 29 boats
- 386: 2004 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 52 boats
- 377: 2011 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 30 boats
- 377: 2011 Pirates Cove Resort Sailfish Classic, 27 boats
- 373: 2018 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 25 boats
- 348: 2009 Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament, 21 boats
- 343: 2017 Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational, 23 boats
2019-20 tournament winners
- Fish Heads Quickie: Floridian, Capt. Glenn Cameron
- Pirates Cove Sailfish Classic: Showtime!, Capt. Jon Meade
- Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle: InTents, Capt. Rhett Bailey
- Pelican Yacht Club Billfish Invitational: Wrapped Up, Capt. Patrick Price
Ed Killer is TCPalm’s outdoors writer. To interact with Ed, friend him on Facebook at Ed Killer, follow him on Twitter @tcpalmekiller or email him at [email protected]