Conditions were downright ugly for the Islamorada Dolphin Tournament, which took place on June 4th and 5th, but not unfishable. Capt. Luis M Perez, Ryan Smith, Audie Lim Sang, Mike Walker and Ray Ragolta pulled off the dock Saturday morning with a full load of goggle eyes.
The plan for the tournament, run-and-gun using feeding birds to locate the dolphin that were pushing up bait from below. “Run” might be an overstatement, as 10-12 foot seas made the going slow and the visibility challenging. The rig of choice: size 65 Cedros baitfeeder spinning reels loaded with Sunline 40-pound mono. 60-pound leaders, looped via Bimini Twist and finished with 8/0 Gamakatsu offset hooks. Live goggle eyes were cast to schools, baitfeeder released to allow the bait to swim freely, then wait for the take. Allowing plenty of time to eat the bait, with a turn of the reel handle the baitfeeding function is ceased and the drag system engaged. A straightforward approach, and in calmer conditions, a ton of fun.
Thirty miles Southeast of Islamorada, the birds became plentiful, as did the fish. The problem…small fish. Loads of 5- to 8-pound models. A dime a dozen. The kind of fish that make for a fun day, but not a tournament win. In the Islamorada Dolphin Tournament, teams are allowed to weigh just 2 fish a day, with the top three fish creating the final team weight (if a team weighs 4, the smallest is dropped). Quantity in this case is of little value, it’s quality and locating good fish on each day that wins.
Taking a beating at every turn only to find ongoing numbers of small fish, Team Rezkill changed the plan mid-morning. Instead of looking for the next school in hopes of scoring a quick big fish, they chose to sit on a large school in hopes of working a larger fish from below the more aggressive bailers. The tactic produced a standout 9-pound fish in fairly short order. Sticking with the approach then yielded the first really solid fish, an 18-pound cow, but no more from the school. Rezkill is forced to go back on the hunt.
Now getting late, the next batch of birds has just two fish beneath it. One beautiful bull that takes 2 baits but spits them both, and a 20-pound cow that finishes Rezkill’s day one total weight of roughly 38-pounds.
Day two is no nicer than day one, although Rezkill’s 38-pounds has them in second place behind a weight of 42-pounds. In the running, motivation is as high as the seas.
Fishing is tough. Again lots of small fish, but no quality. The day becomes a long grind and finally after 3pm, the bow is pointed for the marina. Still working for fish on the way in, a very thin weed line shows off the starboard side. With no fish on board and a never-give-up attitude, two baits are set to slow troll the edge of the weeds on Cedros CLD-20 lever drag reels, custom rods and the same line/leader setups.
Not 30 minutes into the trolling effort a 17-pound cow awakens a clicker. Now with one worthy fish on the boat, the visions of a second place finish are growing stronger. Short on time, new baits are slid out the back and it takes less than 10 minutes for a 27-pound bull, the big fish of the tournament, to inhale the bait. Bottom of the ninth, two outs and Rezkill jacks one out of the yard.
In baseball the game would be complete, but in sport fishing you have to make the dock. With less than an hour and a half to make weigh-in and still over 20 miles out, Rezkill had to press the 36′ Contender and triple Yamaha 300’s through the still relentless 10- to 12-footers. Victory often comes with a bit of a price.
The last minute 27-pounder sealed up first place honors paying $6,000 and the tournament’s big fish honors, worth another $1,000. Bragging rights until 2012, however, are “priceless”.
Congratulations to Team Rezkill from all of us at Okuma!