Eager anglers charge sailfish season as soon as they can feel it in the air. Preparation for the Silver Sailfish Derby starts well before the week of tournament as crews aim to dial in all the details that could make or break their chance to become a part of the storied 4-line tournament history. The Derby celebrated its 85th year with a sold out 50 boat fleet in early January. It’s apparent this crown jewel of sportfishing off the Palm Beaches not only remains special to area boats in South Florida, but seems to only get better with age. The nostalgic excitement surrounding the event continues to captivate some of the finest anglers, captains and crews. As soon as the 8 am “lines-in” sounds over the VHF radio, baits hit the water and crews embark on their best effort to win the World’s Oldest Sailfish Tournament.
The first release in the West Palm Beach Fishing Club’s (WPBFC) 2022 Silver Sailfish Derby came just 3 minutes into the start of the tournament. Team Gator One, a 39’ Yellowfin led by Capt. Ryan McBride, released the sailfish with angler John Moore of Lighthouse Point on the rod. Tangling with these acrobatic pelagics is not an easy task. Sometimes they tailwalk the surface in a fury, slashing their bill side to side as they race toward the boat, challenging the angler to quickly gain back their line. Other times they’ll pull line away and dig down deep unseen for an endurance match. Either way, it’s the angler’s responsibility to keep them on the line until a successful leader touch can be made by the crew. Gator One would continue onto a Third Place Overall finish with a total of 7 releases. That very first sailfish was a sign of good things to come for John Moore, as he would earn the title of Top Angler Overall in the 2022 Derby. Moore caught 5 of their 7 total, the most releases of any individual angler in the tournament this year. 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.
A total of 142 Atlantic sailfish were released over the duration of the two-day tournament and 22 sails were tagged. The first day of fishing would actually be the best bite in some time off the Palm Beaches. The all-too-familiar warm winters don’t always make for productive days offshore, but temperatures dropped into the low 60’s that morning. This was a pleasant sign for what was to come. The crisp morning saw surprising north west wind, originally forecasted to be dead west. Still, helium balloons on the kites were paired with lighter leaders for lackadaisical sailfish feeding in the calm seas.
Capt. Luke Davis and the 42’ Freeman, Off Course, posted an impressive 7 releases Day 1 to win Top Daily Boat. Similar to their competitive colleagues on Gator One, the Off Course posted just one more fish on Day 2. They would finish Second Place Overall with 8 total releases. The Derby’s hallmark is its great ties to early billfish conservation and participants continue to support this strong conservation ethic to ensure their fishery stays healthy for many years to come. Off Course also took the time to tag 6 of their sailfish, finishing as the Top Tag Team as well.
The 2nd and final day of the Derby would produce 24 less fish than the previous day, as the fleet recorded 59 sails. The docks of Sailfish Marina on Singer Island were calm that morning. A west wind again alluded to slick seas for tournament boats. The Gratiot Beach, a 60’ Hatteras, recorded 5 releases Day 1. This strong start had the crew headed into the final day with high hopes. These expectations would quickly be met with an interesting start as they encountered engine troubles right at the start of fishing Day 2. With a slow drift they still deployed baits and hooked a double on the flat lines. Successfully landing one of those put Gratiot Beach in position to finish Fourth Place Overall in the tournament.
The Goombay Smash/Remix, a quad outboard 42’ Invincible, pushed to the edge of the northern boundary in their high-powered vessel after checking out of Palm Beach Inlet each morning. They picked their spot and stuck to it both days. Capt. Nick Carullo bested the fleet Day 2 with 5 releases to claim Top Daily Boat. The crew’s tournament accolades would not stop there. They left no room for mistakes and their focus was sharp, making the most of each shot as the bites trickled in. Not only did they stick with their fishing spot, but they came to play with their usual crew. Consistency really was key when it came down to where they fished and who they fished with this year. Adding to their 5 releases from Day 1, the Goombay Smash/Remix totaled 10 releases atop the 50 boat fleet. The crew (Capt. Nick Carullo, Nicholas Vidal, JC Cleare, Jorge Corzo, Alex De Izaguirre, Matt Martinez, Paul Bruno, and Jason Spiewak) claimed their spot in the sailfishing history books as the winners of the 85th annual Silver Sailfish Derby.
Capt. John Gambino and the Floridita took Top Small Boat honors with 2 releases aboard their 33.6’ Grady White center console. The heaviest meat fish was really impressive in the 2022 Derby. When you spend time on the water, and have baits ready to deploy, there’s a chance you might come across something special. Angler Connor Barry aboard the 39’ Contender, Goin’ Raptor, fed a fish close to the boat. It was a 49.62 pound cobia that that placed as the Top Meat Fish.
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. Rebecca Patterson of Malvern, PA was awarded the trophy releasing 4 sailfish aboard the 68’ Michael Rybovich the Lady Rebecca. This award is always highly coveted. Many of these lady anglers have proven they’re just as skilled tangling with sailfish on 20 pound test line as any other crew member who might grab the rod.
Not to be outdone by Rebecca, another lady angler made waves in the 2022 Derby. Thirteen-year-old, Myla Alligood, was named Top Junior Angler. She released 2 sailfish aboard the 76’ Viking, Just Chillin. The WPBFC puts a strong emphasis on engaging the next generation of anglers and keeping kids excited about fishing. The award was extra special this year because Myla’s father Matt was captaining the boat.
The Silver Sailfish Derby, is produced by the West Palm Beach Fishing Club and continues to be the organization’s marquee event. The WPBFC is proud to host this tournament that represents an important part of its region’s unique identity.