MARATHON, Florida Keys -- Many charter boat captains from Key Largo to Key West, who have been guiding their anglers to record numbers of sailfish, are calling 2006 the hottest sailfish season in 30 to 40 years.
Right in the middle of the action sits Marathon, Fla., and the eighth annual Captain Leon Shell Memorial Billfish Tournament, set for Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17-18, at Key Colony Beach Marina, mile marker 53.5 oceanside off Sadowski Causeway.
With huge schools of baitfish attracting the long-billed tail-dancers, this year's tournament promises to bring adrenalin-charged action to entrants chasing the $10,000 grand prize, which is to be awarded to the boat logging the most sailfish releases.
A junior division is to be included for anglers age 9 to 15-1/2. The winner is to be invited to the 2007 IGFA Junior Angler National Championship Tournament in Key West. First- through third-place finishers are to be awarded academic scholarships, which can be used at post-high school institutions. The first-place angler's scholarship is worth $1,000, with $500 and $300 scholarships awaiting second- and third-place anglers, respectively.
Junior anglers also can earn $100 cash prizes for winning the dolphin, wahoo, tuna or kingfish (king mackerel) divisions.
Adult anglers are to compete for a purse in excess of $15,000, with the winner taking home a $10,000 prize. A total of 10 cash and trophy prizes are to be awarded, including first, second and third place to boat and captain for the most total sailfish releases from the boat; first, second and third place to individual anglers for the most sailfish releases; and individual awards to the anglers catching the largest tuna, wahoo, dolphin and kingfish.
The tournament is to kick off with a captains meeting at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at Key Colony Beach Marina. A captain or member of each angling team must attend.
Fishing starts with lines in at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 18. Lines out is set for 3:30 p.m. Weigh-in for weight fish is to be from 4-6 p.m. at Key Colony Beach Marina.
An awards banquet, which includes prize drawings and silent auction, is to begin at 7 p.m. at the Quarterdeck Restaurant, 400 Sadowski Causeway, Key Colony Beach.
Entry fee is $300, which registers the boat, captain and first angler. Additional anglers can fish on the team for $100 per angler.
Registrations must be received by Wednesday, Feb. 15.After that date, a $25 per boat late registration fee will apply. Final registration is to take place before the captains meeting Feb. 17 from 4-6 p.m. at Key Colony Beach Marina.
Proceeds from the tournament benefit Hospice of the Florida Keys, a nonprofit organization that provides palliative care to cancer patients in need.
The tournament is named for the popular Captain Leon Shell, who skippered the party boat Puffin from 1978 until his death of cancer in 1997.
Shell is best known as the inventor of the Leon Lure, an artificial lure widely regarded as one of the best "smoker" or bubble-creating lures ever created.
For tournament registration forms or more information, contact Key Colony Beach Marina at (305) 289-1310.
To find out about area accommodations, call the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce at (305) 743-5417 or (800) 262-7284, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Florida Keys Key West Web site at www.fla-keys.com.