KEY WEST, Fla. -- In the middle of a final day frenzy, one boat found itself the center of attention.
Team Sandman finished Saturday releasing 6 of their 7 bites, easily jumping from second place to win the World Sailfish Championship. Captain Neil Orange and his crew caught 17 sailfish for the tournament, outdistancing Team Lights Out by three fish. Team Sea Hunter/Conched Out made a late move to finish third with 12 releases.
The day belonged to Sandman, the 63-foot Spencer owned by Sandra MacMillan.
“It means a lot to us,” MacMillan said. “We’ve had a really good year. But to win the World Sailfish Championship with kite baits is amazing. It’s sinking in, but it hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The win means Orange, MacMillan and crew members Wes Stevens, Robby Waddick, Corey Ryan (all from Pompano Beach), Jason Roe (Ft. Lauderdale) and Domie Adames from Miami will take home the lion’s share of the $1 million purse. In all, 71 teams released 335 sailfish during the three-day tournament.
“2011 was our best event ever, as we topped the $2 million mark in charitable donations,” Tournament Chairman Chris King said. “When you have this level of competition, combined with the all the benefits for these amazing charities, it makes for a world class event.”
Saturday started out quickly as five fish were hooked and released in the first 10 minutes. Sandman got in on the action at 8:14 a.m., releasing the eighth fish of the day, and tying Lights Out for the overall lead.
Captain Chester Sims and Team Lights Out jumped back out front at 9:28 a.m., but that lead lasted only 57 seconds as Sandman tied them back up. MacMillan then released the first of her three Saturday releases at 9:49 a.m. and Sandman padded its lead the rest of the day.
MacMillan finished with seven releases for the tournament, earning her the Top Female Angler title.
“We were able to just key on those bites first thing in the morning,” Orange said. “We were fishing around everybody in the whole fleet. I mean, we had boats inside of us, boats outside of us and we were just that lucky boat that was able to get the bite.”
Team Lights Out managed only two fish on the final day, including their last one, which took more than hour to release but was enough to guarantee them second place for the second consecutive year.
“Today was a little slow for us, only catching two out of three bites,” Sims said. “We were hoping to do a little better and hang on to the lead, but those other guys were really on them. It just wasn’t our turn.”
Team Sea Hunter/Conched Out released two in the final 35 minutes for third place and Team Que Mas came from out of the blue to release three in the last hour to steal fourth. Team Sea Hunter/Conched Out didn’t miss a fish the entire tournament, finishing 12-for-12.
“The morning was miserable. We went to the wrong spot,” said Gary McBride, owner of Team Sea Hunter/Conched Out. “We caught probably 30 bonito and nearly burned every rig we had. It was frustrating and we thought we had lost the day.
“But we made a move and found a fish. Moved again and found another fish. Then we caught one with three minutes left and moved from sixth to third. We were just looking to get away from the bonito. If we caught another one I think our arms were going to fall off.”
For Team Sandman, the trip to Key West proved to be the continuation of what has been a great year. The team finished second in the season-opening Sailfish Cup and third in the Big Boat division of the Sailfish Kickoff before winning the Buccaneer Cup Sailfish Release Tournament in Palm Beach in January.
In this case, the difference was fishing on Friday’s off day. Orange said the team fished until about 5:30 or 6 p.m. and, more than anything, was able to rule that area out as a possible spot on Saturday.
It turned out that may have been the most important decision of the entire week.
“This is the biggest tournament of them all,” Orange said. “What a great one to win. This is our fifth year fishing this tournament and we finally got it.”
For event coverage of the World Sailfish Championships Day 1, click here. For the Day 1 photo gallery, click here.
For event coverage of the World Sailfish Championships Day 2, click here. For the Day 2 photo gallery, click here.
Photos credit Doug Cox