Costa Rica never disappoints; calm seas, a world class fleet and fast billfishing for 30 Master Anglers who gathered together at Los Suenos on January 24th for the annual boat draw. Veteran anglers welcomed five “freshmen” into the club and after greeting old friends, the Rules Committee reviewed a new scoring procedure for fighting marlin. Marlin scores were first introduced in 2022 and the anglers embraced the change.
Today the Masters abide by nearly the same rules that John Rybovich and his dock partners penned in 1963. Two anglers fish two rods each and never fish with the same partner twice. In order to level the playing field, anglers rotate boats each day. Upon hook up, captains offer one bump in reverse and are permitted to only spin the cockpit toward the fish at the angler’s direction. Anglers fight dead-boat while a stop watch ticks away the seconds. Scores are based on :30 second fractions. A fish released in under :30 seconds scores 100 points and an overtime fish (over 10 minutes) earns just 5. The addition of marlin as an eligible catch earns the angler the same score as sailfish if he fights with boat assistance (backdown) and double the score if they fight the marlin from a dead-boat.
The first release of the tournament could have been a precursor of things to come with Pat Healey of Ocean City, New Jersey on a sailfish with a fight time of 3 minutes 15 seconds. But it was Chris Lazzara hailing from Palm Beach that stole the show. Fishing aboard the Mama C, Lazzara racked up 9 releases, including one of the tournament’s six blue marlin, for a score of 570 points. Freshman angler Chris Jessen of Sarasota had a great first day with 365 points and Angler X rounded out the top three with 350 points. In order to abide by the rules of rotating boats and anglers, a friend of the Masters is sometimes invited to fish as Angler X. Unfortunately for this angler from New Smyrna Beach, Angler X is not eligible to win the Masters.
Anglers met early for breakfast and the tradition of busting each other’s chops then left the dock by 6:30. First fish went to Sam Peters of Savannah who summed the competition up nicely “The Masters is the only tournament where I don’t have a team; the good and the bad, it all comes down to just me.” Carmine Galati of Holmes Beach, Florida took top honors with 395 points, but it was the combined efforts of Karen Comstock of Fort Lauderdale and Geoff Mayfield of Stuart that brought the Amarula Sun and Capt. Danny Vied Daily High Boat honors with seven fish on time. The Master anglers logged 63 fish for the day including two overtime fights.
Day Three was a fight to the finish! Angler X came on strong with Karen Comstock and Pat Healey trading scores for top angler throughout the day. The Fastest Fish of the event, also known as the Pete Boinis Award, was released in a mere :54 seconds by Lach Cheatham of North Palm Beach. The Huntress with Capt. Jamie Esfeller at the helm was on fire as Angler X and Freshman angler, Mike Ivancevic, went 9 for 9 on the day and earned Daily High Boat in the process.
The Masters Awards dinner is far from a stuffy affair although Rybovich’s tradition of men wearing jackets is still strictly enforced. Chris Lazzara, Masters Chairman, reported the tournament stats for the event including 212 sailfish, 6 blue marlin, 1 black marlin, 7 overtime fish and 2 broken lines. Broken lines and strikes are especially painful as anglers are penalized with negative scores. Anglers also fought one triple and five double headers, including a fight by angler Burt Moss of Pompano Beach, who took advantage of the one deviation from IGFA rules – anglers may switch between rods when they hook a double.
Congratulations and awards were presented to the top boats who are tallied on fish totals. Third High Boat honors went to the 58’ Viking Dealers Choice and Capt. Scotty Jones with 20 points. The Second High Boat, 64’ Viking Team Galati captained by Tony Carrizoza scored 21 points and the 60th Masters High Boat award went to Miss AC, 52’ Ricky Scarborough and Capt. Rob Mahoney.
Top angler awards included the toughest award to win, the Masters Freshman Angler Award. Mike Ivancevic of Palm Beach Gardens scored 535 points in his first Masters including a double header and the veterans agreed he is definitely one to keep an eye on. Third High Angler honors went to Karen Comstock with 730 points total, a Masters first for a lady angler. The microphone was then passed to Vice Chairman, Lach Cheatham, who presented Chris Lazzara with the Second High Angler award. Chris logged 790 points in three days.
The 2023 Master Angler John Rybovich Award was presented to Pat Healey, who also scored the most fish on time. His 12 releases earned 815 points and a Hat Trick for Healey who won the Masters back to back in 2011 and 2012. Healey was presented with the traditional custom designed bronze sculpture of Hemingway’s iconic character, Santiago, in the fight of his life. The sculpture epitomizes Rybovich’s vision for the Masters and the true heart of the fight – 60 years in the making.