Islamorada, Florida, is an iconic fishing destination that stands the test of time. The Annual Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament is part of that very history. The tournament has been going strong for 25 years, and three main ingredients define its vitality: the fishing, the lodging and the camaraderie.
Once you set foot in Cheeca Lodge & Spa, the experience is nothing but first class. Jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic are as common as receiving your room key at the front desk. When staying at the lodge, it seems like you have left the United States and transported yourself to a hidden paradise to which only you and friends have the map — one of the main reasons the Cheeca Lodge has reigned as the place to stay in the Keys since 1946.
And then, there is the fishing. This year’s tournament hosted 65 anglers and a fleet of 19 boats during which a total of 64 sailfish were released, nine of them tagged.
This year’s tournament made some of its own history as Capt. Paul Ross led the Relentless team to the winner’s circle for the third time. Anglers Fenton Langston, Jimmy and Debbie David, and Jim Hendrix released a total of 12 sailfish over the two days of fishing.
“The first day was one of the best days we ever had during tournament fishing,” Capt. Ross said. “We saw eight fish behind the boat and caught four of them. It doesn’t get much better than that.” Ross and his team released a total of 11 fish on the first day, including a triple header and a quad.
Ross also won the Outstanding Captain Award and his son, Paul Ross, Jr. and Jim Hendrix took home the Outstanding Mate trophies.
“The Cheeca Presidential is one of the most prestigious tournaments,” said Capt. Ross. “Everyone wants to win this one. You have to stay calm and go slow to get the job done.”
Angler Debbie David caught six of the Relentless‘ 12 releases, taking home the Grand Champion Angler award and the first-ever Top Lady Angler award given in honor of Jay Anna Cohan. Jay Anna and her husband, Kenny, were tragically killed in an automobile accident earlier this year, which rocked the entire Islamorada sport-fishing community. Jay Anna was the voice of the Cheeca Presidential since its inception. The room fell silent as Capt. Craig Murphy took the microphone to present the memorial trophy.
“This week has been one of very mixed emotions for each of us,” said Murphy. “Tonight, we share Jay Anna’s legacy, her beautiful love for her husband Ken, her devotion to all her friends and the world of sport fishing. She was a grand champion in all our lives.”
Julie Olsen, tournament director at Cheeca Lodge, shared the same sentiments. “This was our silver anniversary, our 25th year, which is quite a milestone,” she said. “The presentation of the first-ever Top Lady Angler Award in honor and memory of Jay Anna Cohan was very emotional for all of us and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when Craig Murphy announced the award. She was the voice and soul of this tournament since its inception.”
Team Catch 22, captained by Scott Stanzyck, won second place honors by releasing eight sailfish during the tournament. His anglers were Kevin Clark, Sam Worden, Mike Slocum and Hunter Barron.
Third place trophies went to Contagious, captained by Brian Cone and anglers Travis Bennett, Dan Naumoff and Scott Naz. They released five sailfish.
Most tagged fish honors went to Challenger led by Capt. Rob Dixon and angler Brian Devries. The team tagged three fish.