Fly anglers gathered for two days of sailfishing at the 13th Annual Islamorada SailFly Championship in mid-January. The Florida Keys-invitational sailfish tournament is an all-release fly fishing event that utililizes team work and patience.
Ballyhoo were plentiful on the reef, and with fresh 20 to 25 mile per hour winds, the sailfish were active on Wednesday, January 9. Hooking sails on fly with live teasers required teams to coordinate lots of moving parts into a limited bite "window." Heavy seas and high winds still made fishing extremely difficult.
Challenger II's Brian Devries with Capt Rob Dixon hooked up and lost a fish at 9:50 a.m., as did Jackpot at 1:42 p.m. Bernard Paul-Hus on Captain Randy Towe’s Skipjack hooked up at 2:11 p.m. They had the connection for 50 points in 3 minutes, then subsequently removed the fly at 2:40 p.m. for 150 points and the lead at the end of day one.
Light current made catching teasers (ballyhoo) difficult on Thursday, Jan. 10, burning an hour or more of fishing time for many teams. Past champion team Gotcha, with Capt Mel Walker and backcountry skiff guide brothers Tim and Robert Klein, hooked and lost a sailfish at 10:09 a.m. Less than a minute later, Tim hooked up solid and billed a fish at 10:52, moving to second place based on time.
With four teams releasing one fish each, the Grand Championship went to Skipjack, followed by Gotcha and Jackpot. “Best Other Catch” went to Capt. Kenny Spaulding’s Carib Sea for its 30-inch dolphin. Quite a few more dolphin were caught during the event, a delicious side effect.
“Most teams raised five to eight sailfish a day and about half teased well enough to make a possible connection. This great group of anglers and captains realize what a high difficulty factor is involved. They also know every team was in the game with a chance right up until the clock ran out,” said Tournament Director Sandy Moret.
Tournament rules dictated that teams could have two designated anglers who may cast, hook, and fight sailfish. Anyone on board was able to "tease" the fish into casting range, using live or dead hookless teasers. A 50-point release was accomplished when the connection of fly line to leader was brought into the tip top of the fly rod. If the fish is billed and the fly retrieved, the catch then counts for 150 points. Leaders had to be less than 12 feet in length and teams had to use 16-pound-class tippet supplied by the tournament.