The 34 teams participating in the World Sailfish Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops were greeted by breezy conditions and tough fishing on Day One.
Winds out of the southeast chopped the seas up and left the sailfish in a more curious – as opposed to ravenous – mood. In all, 46 sails were released on the first day of the three-day tournament with Viva La Vida leading the way with nine releases.
The 33-foot L&H Express leads High Standards, Lights Out, Bar South and High Tide, all of which released four sailfish on Thursday.
Dr. John Cole, owner of the Islamorada-based Viva La Vida , said his team has spent about 10 days fishing in Key West prior to the tournament. He has also spent a lot of time reading the water and studying up in anticipation of the World’s Richest Sailfish Tournament.
“I don’t think it ever necessarily goes as you planned, but we picked good water and picked a good area,” Cole said. “I’ve been looking at satellite maps, where the plankton is, looking at the current. We spent several days just riding around looking at the water. We picked the spot, dropped our lines and, before you knew it, we had a double on.”
That double, which Viva La Vida released less than 20 minutes after lines in, was the beginning of a day which would see the team go 9-for-9, despite what Cole called a “squirrelly” bite.
“The fish were biting and coming right at you, which is not necessarily what you really want to have happen,” he said. “One of the keys to succeeding in a sailfish tournament is you have to get the follow-up bites. You’ve got to be at least 75 percent to be successful and today we were 100 percent.”
One of the boats looking to make up that five-fish lead during Friday’s second round of fishing Capt. Chester Sims aboard Lights Out.
Sims and his crew out of Ocean Reef Club in the northern Keys battled a tough bite all day, taking advantage of what morning bite they could muster to keep themselves in the hunt.
“It started a little slow. During the first hour, we knew we had caught some fish in a certain area so we went there,” said Sims, who had released all four fish by about 11:30. “We just kept pounding away and it popped up for us there for a couple hours and we caught the four. It was a really long afternoon, to be honest with you. We didn’t see any fish in the afternoon.”
Seventeen of the 46 fish caught were released after noon on Thursday.
Sims said he even had a sailfish swim into the middle of his bait spread, lazily eye a bait or two and then swim away without so much as taking a swipe with its bill.
But that’s a trend that could turn at any minute in the unpredictable waters off Key West. And five fish is not a lead you can sleep on, Cole said.
“It’s going to be dealer’s choice out there tomorrow,” Cole said. “These are some of the best sailfishing teams in the world out there. You don’t come here without the intent of measuring yourself against the best in the world and that’s why we’re here. These guys are awesome and any number of boats can do a great job tomorrow and we know it.”
Image courtesy World Sailfish Championship