It takes more than just an appreciation for the fishery off the Palm Beaches to successfully catch and release the esteemed sailfish. This angling spectacle continues to challenge some of the finest captains and crews during the Silver Sailfish Derby at the height of sailfish season in early January. A sold out 50 boat fleet celebrated this crown jewel of sportfishing once again fishing just four lines, a rule rooted in the history of the tournament. With limited baits in the water there’s only so much ground to gain on fellow Derby participants. Every bite counts. Landing multiple fish hooked up at the same time is a true test of angling skill and teamwork, but one necessary to climb the competitive leaderboard. Captain Art Sapp and the Native Son capitalized on each fish in the spread to come back on the final day of fishing and win the 87th running of The World’s Oldest Sailfish Tournament.
A total of 149 Atlantic sailfish were released over the duration of the 2024 Derby and 13 sails were tagged. Calm conditions offshore and light rain showers on the first day weren’t ideally suited for flying kites and presenting live baits. Participants and spectators alike who follow the tournament each year have a great perspective on the fleet’s sailfishing prowess. It seems Derby boats have always managed to catch sailfish despite the conditions. The tournament was headquartered out of Sailfish Marina on Palm Beach Shores where the 48’ Viking, Priceless, has docked seasonally for some time. The Priceless won the Derby in 2023. This naturally had other tournament boats anxious after seeing them get off to another hot start. Capt. Jorge Sanchez and crew had 7 sailfish releases after Day 1 of fishing and took Top Daily Boat honors. They would ultimately finish 3rd Place Overall recording 1 additional release on Day 2, bringing their tournament total to 8 releases. Captain Bryan Boyle and the ADHD/Deadicated, a 62’ Viking, finished with 6 releases for a 4th Place Overall finish, similarly having a big first day with not much to show Day 2.
Captain Jamie Barnett and the Catch N Reese, a 45’ Hatteras, made a splash this year among their sailfishing colleagues finishing 2ndPlace Overall. This was their best finish to date. While the captain certainly deserves credit running the boat, having exceptional anglers is a must to successfully hook sailfish and wind the 15 foot leader within grasp of the mate. Kris Meola of Marblehead, Massachusetts caught 6 of Catch N Reese’s 9 fish. Kris would earn the title of Top Angler Overall in the 2024 Derby for his accomplishment tangling with sailfish on 20 pound test line. This honor is awarded with the Mrs. Henry R. Rea trophy, a magnificent silver sailfish sculpture that dates back to the event’s origin in 1935 and is sponsored by Elizabeth Richebourg Rea of Connecticut.
The second and final day of the Derby would produce 9 more fish than the previous day. A persistent south wind built throughout the night and would continue to grow throughout the day of fishing. It especially picked up in the final few hours of the tournament. When the weather makes drastic changes from one day to the next, there’s opportunity for teams to go from zero to hero adapting to the new conditions offshore. Captain Art Sapp and the Native Son, a 39’ SeaVee, had just 2 fish the first day. Their goal for Day 2 was to close the gap and make a comeback; they would do just that.
Their first fish on Day 2 would not come until 11:24 am, nearly 3 and a half hours after the 8 am “Lines-in” call sounded over the VHF radio. That fish was quickly followed by two more. Native Son successfully released this “double” before noon, and the best was yet to come. Their afternoon would consist of 6 more fish, bringing their daily total to 9 sailfish releases. With 11 releases overall, Native Songot it done and made their mark as the winners of the 87th annual Silver Sailfish Derby. Captain Art Sapp and other crew members on the boat had won the Derby previously in 2016 as team Liquid. Art said they had not lost faith after the first day this year noting, “that’s exactly what happened last time, 2 fish the first day, 9 the second day.” Sapp was awarded the Top Captain Trophy presented in memory of the late Jack Morrow, a legendary sportfishing captain from the Palm Beaches.
The Top Lady Angler trophy is sponsored by the Hampp Family of New Jersey in memory of Rose Hampp, who won the honor in the 1957 Derby along with many other awards throughout her accomplished angling career. This year’s winner has pieced together quite the accomplished Derby resume herself. Fifteen-year-old Myla Alligood of North Palm Beach was awarded the trophy releasing 4 sails aboard the 90’ Viking, Just Chillin. This award is always highly sought after by many lady anglers participating. Not only was Myla the Top Lady, but she was also the Top Junior Angler, an honor she’s now earned three years in a row. All things considered, her 4 releases were good enough to also walk away as the 4th Place Angler Overall across the entire Derby fleet. These awards are extra special once again because Myla’s father, Matt, was captaining the boat.
Captain Tore Turney and the Reel Lucky took Top Small Boat honors with 4 releases aboard the 29’ Contender center console. So much has changed in the world of fishing since the Derby’s inception. Bigger faster boats create more accessibility to where teams can fish and how many crew members can ride along to provide a helping hand. This makes the top small boat achievement only more impressive each year. The largest vessel in the 2024 fleet measured 92 feet in length.
The Top Tag Team trophy was awarded to the Off Course, a 43’ Freeman. Captain Luke Davis and crew tagged 3 sailfish.
The Silver Sailfish Derby has been hosted by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club since 1935 and continues to be the organization’s marquee event. The WPBFC is proud to continue this tradition that represents an important part of its region’s unique identity.