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Sailfish Season Less Than Stellar

Cold didn't blow sails into south Florida for annual tournaments

By: Cash W. Lambert,

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- South Florida fishermen weren’t expecting the 2012-2013 sailfish season to break records like last season, but most were expecting it to be better than “woeful.”

The sailfish migration didn’t concentrate this year like it usually does,” said Tony Rizzo, captain of Natural Sportsfishing Charters in Stuart, Fla. “I’ve seen years similarly, but not quite as inconsistent as this one.”

Weston Russell, owner of Reel Intense Fishing Charters in Palm Beach, agreed.

"It’s been a slow season, and since most tournaments’ boundary lines end before Ft. Pierce, we haven’t been able to catch many,” Russell said.

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With a less than stellar season almost in the books, some have worried that the sailfish fishery is in trouble. Tom Twyford, the President of the West Palm Beach Fishing Club, thinks that such thoughts are overreactions, especially when considering the historic averages.

"Sailfishing is a game of timing,” he said. “When the timing of tournaments coincides with a cold front, you will have good numbers. But this year, we’ve had very few significant cold fronts.”

The sailfish season, which usually spans from November until February, with January being the peak, was crippled by the weather. Cold fronts cause the fish to concentrate as they swim south. But a mild winter in South Florida kept the sailfish spread out and many remained north.

In West Palm Beach, the Silver Sailfish Derby, which is run by Twyford’s West Palm Beach Fishing Club, has been the baseline for the sailfish season. During the 2011-2012 season, the date for the tournament was nearly perfect. A cold front pushed through the area and brought the coldest temperatures of the year.

"We had 46 boats with the best live bait in position to intercept the concentrated sailfish,” said Twyford, noting the result was a world record catch of 1,174 sailfish.

Twyford believes that “personal perspective” will dictate whether the 2012-2013 season was just slow or a bust.

The historic catch per boat day average in the Silver Sailfish Derby has been between 1.3 and 1.5 sails,” he said. “The catch rate this year averages out to be 1.4 sails per boat day. So even though it seems like it was woefully slow fishing this year, it really falls within our historic average.”

The 2012 contest saw 8.5 sails per boat day, and that throws comparisons out the porthole.

"This year was definitely slow compared to the previous, but that was a shattering year,” he said.

When sailfish haven’t been biting, which has been the case thus far in the season, “a lot of bottom fish have been biting, like king mackerel, some yellowtail, and some 30 pound dolphin,” said Tom Schwier, captain of Sail King Fishing Charters in Jupiter.

Mike Mercado, captain of Right Hook Fishing Charters, said he’s seen a lot of fish that haven’t been worth keeping.

"There hasn’t been a lot of gamefish biting,” he said.

Strong cold fronts are slated to push through Central and South Florida in the coming weeks, something that’s highly anticipated throughout the marinas. Every captain is hoping to score big sailfish numbers to make up for the subpar season and to end it on a high note.

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