Touching the leader or reeling the knot between the leader and running line through the top guide makes the catch legal. Then its time to release the fish without ever taking it out of the water.
The Buccaneer Cup Sailfish Release Tournament, a fundraiser for the Recreational Fishing Alliance, is among the oldest billfish tournaments in the U.S. and one of the first to embrace an all release format. The 46th running last month broke all the records as Team Miss Annie, a 52′ Viking sportfisher , caught and release 42 sails in just the first two days!
Cold fronts and north winds typically get the sailfish snapping and the Buc Cup was preceded by the hardest cold front to hit central Florida in three years. The sailfish pushed into the area from the north and went on a feeding rampage for two days.
The Buc attracts teams that fish live bait and others that troll rigged dead baits. Just before lines in on day one the Miss Annie team puts up the kites used to fish live baits.
Miss Annie mate, Luke Hickey, with a live goggle eye he will bridle rig and suspended from a release clip on the kite line to keep it splashing on the surface with no visible leader in the water.
Teams are allowed to have six lines in the water and Team Miss Annie take it to extremes. They have ten rigged outfits ready at all times and two more spinning rods on the bow.
They run four conventional outfits (all loaded with 20-pound mono) to release clips attached to the two kites lines. The other two are either weighted deep bait or free swimming flat lines kept near the boat. They also spinning outfits ready to cast to sited fish.
Sailfish are pack hunters and when you see one there are usually more nearby. With live baits the key is to get as many multiple hook-ups as possible. That’s why the Miss Annie team keeps an auxiliary live well on the bow with two spinning rods at the ready.
While fighting fish from the cockpit, one or two team members go to the bow and cast live sardines frequently hooking up additional sailfish. At times the guys had two on in the back and two more on from the bow, which makes for a Chinese fire drill, but also racks up the release points fast!
Sails are the most acrobatic of all the billfish and also the fastest. When you hook them on light tackle you better be prepared for some hard runs and amazing aerial displays.
Dead bait trollers, like Team Stormrider, a classic 50′ Whiticar owned by Paul Scopinich, use dredge teasers loaded with split-tail mullet. Two dredges are towed behind the boat down about ten feet simulating pods of live baitfish to attract hungry sails.
Team Stormrider mate, Chris Weeks, with a cooler full of rigged ballyhoo for trolling and dropping back to sailfish attracted by the dredges.
The ballyhoo are rigged with a small barrel swivel between their eyes that fits a 7/0 light wire circle hook for quick bait changes. These rigs make the bait swim like it’s alive.
When sails attack everyone gets into the act, even Paul’s dog Zulu.
The Buc Cup requires tackle no heavier than 20 pound class even for trolling. Getting the hooked fish or two to the boat requires team work between the angler, captain handling the boat, and the mate.
Touching the leader or reeling the knot between the leader and running line through the top guide makes the catch legal. Then its time to release the fish without ever taking it out of the water.
Not enough release flags is a great problem to have in a tournament. Luke strings the last of the 17 flags aboard Miss Annie onto the outrigger line before they cruised back into the marina to looks of stunned amazement by the crowd. They were short four flags, having release 21 on day one, 21 on day two and 4 more on day three for a total of 4600 release points and a new record for the most sails ever caught in the Buccaneer Cup. For more info on the tournament you can check out

Forget Groundhog Day, the first sign of spring is chewing up the coast.