In 2005, Georgia hair restoration surgeon John Cole injured his foot while snowboarding in Colorado.

It was then he decided to pursue a different winter activity, so he booked a trip to the Florida Keys.

“I told my family that I was going to Florida and not staying (in Colorado) another minute with my mother-in-law,” the Alpharetta resident said.

Cole scored his first sailfish catch-and-release on that trip to Key Largo and has been hooked on sailfishing ever since.

Saturday, his Viva La Vida team won the Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament in Islamorada with nine releases.

The boat was skippered by Nick Ewald. Other anglers included Travis Upchurch of Tavernier, Fla., Jimmy Fickling of Islamorada and Eric Darville of Cutler Bay, Fla.

Three other teams finished with nine releases, but the Viva La Vida team scored their ninth fish first.

“It was a real nail biter at the end,” Cole said. “We were pretty confident we would get one more.

“The sailfish were there, but they wouldn’t eat,” he said.

Cole, who credited the win to Ewald’s efforts to build the team, said Viva La Vida anglers scored all their fish by looking for, and chasing down billfish “showering” bait on the reef line. He said live balao and pilchards were primary choices for bait.

Finishing second was the Reel McCoy, skippered by George McElveen of Islamorada, with anglers Larry Amyotte of Silver Springs, Fla., Sean Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Eric Overhardt of Key Largo, and Justin Miller of Islamorada.

In third was Silent Hunter, captained by James Platt with anglers B.J. Meyer, John Callion, Cody Darbie and Paula Marshall. The entire team is from Marathon, Fla., except for Marshall who also maintains a residence in Tulsa, Ok.

Anglers aboard 23 participating boats released 104 fish during the two-day contest, according to tournament director Liz Hill. The event was the second leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup sailfish series that is to end with the Jan. 23-24 Islamorada Fishing Club Sailfish Tournament.

Islamorada visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/islamorada or 1-800-FAB-KEYS
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