The Coastal Star

On the Water: Competitors full of big-fish stories from spring tournaments

The Ready to Reel fishing team led by Kevin Spencer, right, ran into 600 feet of water on May 2

to catch the heaviest wahoo in the Lantana Fishing Derby. Angler Ben Bortnov

(front left) fought the 24.34-pound wahoo.

Photo by Brent Anderson/

Tim Massey holds the 42.25-pound kingfish that won $2,500 as the largest overall fish

in the Lantana Fishing Derby. Massey, of Lantana, caught the winning fish in 120 feet off Manalapan

while fishing on his boat, Living the Dream, with his wife, Debra, his brother, Travis (at right),

and friend Chris Wesley of Boynton Beach (background).

Photo by Brent Anderson

By Willie Howard

    With money on the line, spring tournament fishing brings out the competitive spirit among ocean anglers intent on catching the largest kingfish, dolphin or wahoo they can find in eight hours.
    Tournaments can be dramatic. Early-rising anglers filled with expectation often return to weigh-in stations with fish that don’t quite measure up to the competition, tales of sharks that ate a big fish, or the occasional story of amazingly good luck.
    May is among the most active months of the year for KDW (kingfish, dolphin, wahoo) tournaments in Palm Beach County, making it a good month to find out how, when and where fishing teams are catching the big ones.
    Tim Massey’s winning kingfish in the Lantana Fishing Derby, held May 2, is an example of how a plain-vanilla style of fishing — the triple-hook dead sardine rig used on most drift boats — produced a tournament-winning 42.25-pound kingfish.
    Massey’s kingfish was worth $2,500 as the biggest fish of the 68-boat Lantana Derby, organized by the Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce.
    A firefighter who lives in Lantana, Massey was doing what most tournament captains do to catch big kingfish — using live bait.
Fishing with his wife, Debra, brother, Travis, and friend Chris Wesley, Massey was drifting in 120 feet of water off the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa (north of Boynton Inlet) around 9 a.m. on his boat, Living the Dream, when he hooked the big kingfish.
    “We were live-bait fishing with goggle-eyes,” Massey said. “Just for the heck of it, I put out a dead sardine on a flat line, which is what the kingfish ate.”
    The Ready to Reel team caught the heaviest wahoo of the Lantana Derby — 24.34 pounds — by running into 600 feet of water, deeper than usual for wahoo.
    About five hours into the tournament, the Ready to Reel anglers decided to troll ballyhoo in what angler Ben Bortnov called “the middle of nowhere.”
    It was way out, but there was something to warrant trolling there. Boat Capt. Kevin Spencer said he was trolling along a current edge and small temperature change when the wahoo hit a ballyhoo rigged with a Black Bart lure and the reel started screaming.
“He dumped half the reel before we could stop him,” said Bortnov, who handled the rod.
    During the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association tournament on May 9, an unconventional trolling bait — rigged squid — produced James Harrington’s winning dolphin.
    Harrington caught the 22.2-pound dolphin by trolling squid about 5 miles off Palm Beach while fishing aboard The Lecture.
Some ocean anglers troll rigged squid regularly because they’re so effective at catching dolphin, but squid are far less common than rigged ballyhoo as a trolling bait.
    Steve Ford of Jupiter caught the biggest fish of the May 9 Grand Slam KDW Tournament — 47.64 pounds — using a pretty standard tournament method. He drifted live goggle-eyes in about 100 feet of water off Juno Beach when the big kingfish hit around 8:30 a.m.
    Tournament-winning kingfish are often caught early in the morning, though there are plenty of notable exceptions.
Versatility is helpful in tournaments, too. Fishing with his brother, Bill, Ford took his 31-foot boat, Reel Addiction, way offshore to troll for dolphin after catching the big kingfish. Bill Ford caught the fifth-place mahi mahi by trolling a ballyhoo along a weed line in 675 feet.  
    The Ford brothers, who have fished together most of their lives, also caught the heaviest cobia of the Grand Slam tournament, 30.45 pounds, but only after a special effort pull it away from a huge shark.
    The cobia was following a tiger shark that Ford estimated at 14 feet long in the waters off Jupiter Inlet.
“The shark almost ate the cobia several times during the fight,” Steve Ford said. “I had to hammer the drag all the way down and risk breaking the line. Otherwise, the shark would have easily gotten the fish.”
    The presence of sharks often forces tournament anglers to make tough decisions on how tight to set their drags. A tight drag can cause the hook to pull out of the fish’s mouth or break the line. But a drag too loose when a shark is lurking could leave the angler with half a fish, and mutilated fish don’t count in tournaments.
Coming events
    June 13: National Marina Day Cleanup. Boaters are encouraged to clean up trash around marinas and in the water, then bring the trash back to a participating marina office to receive a T-shirt or hat. Participating marinas include Loggerhead marinas in Lantana and South Lantana (the Moorings). Register in advance at
    June 20: Horizons Fishing Tournament based at Riviera Beach Marina. Captains meeting 5 -7 p.m. June 18 at Riviera Beach Marina. Weigh-in 1-4 p.m. at the marina. Awards party following the weigh-in. Details: or 494-6884.
    June 23: Capt. Bouncer Smith speaks to the Boynton Beach Fishing Club, 7:30 p.m. at the Coast Guard Auxiliary Building next to the boat ramp in Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park.
    June 27: Lake Worth Fishing Tournament based at Palm Beach Yacht Center, Hypoluxo. Captains meeting June 26 at Tuppen’s Marine & Tackle, Lake Worth. Awards party June 28 at Dave’s Last Resort & Raw Bar, Lake Worth. Details:
    July 11: Big Dog, Fat Cat KDW Shootout fishing tournament based at Sailfish Marina on Singer Island. Captains meeting July 10 at Sailfish Marina. Details: 315-3722 or
    Aug. 8: 21st annual Mark Gerretson Memorial Fishing Tournament based at Deck 84 restaurant in Delray Beach. Captains meeting 6 p.m. Aug. 6 at Deck 84. Details: 251-1945 or
Deerfield Beach expects to attract divers with underwater work of art
    A new diving destination based on the native Polynesian statues of Easter Island is coming to the waters off Deerfield Beach in June.
    The Rapa Nui Reef, named for the native Polynesian people of Easter Island, is being built of concrete by artist Dennis MacDonald and is scheduled to be scuttled off the Deerfield Beach fishing pier.
    Jim Mathie, a longtime diver who has been working on the project, said the underwater work of art will be 150 feet long and 45 feet wide. Its tallest part will extend 22 feet up from the base.
    The $500,000 work of public art is being funded by philanthropist Margaret Blume of Boca Raton. The 15 Polynesian busts, or moai, as they’re called on Easter Island, will sit on top of a barge in 70 feet of water.
    A preview party to view the Rapa Nui Reef before it’s lowered into the ocean is set for 6-9 p.m. June 6 at Two George’s at The Cove in Deerfield Beach. The $35 admission fee includes a buffet dinner.
    The reef is scheduled to be scuttled at 11 a.m. June 7, weather permitting, off the Deerfield Beach pier.
    Photos of the Polynesian busts under construction can be found at For details, call the Greater Deerfield Beach Chamber of Commerce at (954) 427-1050.

Tip of the Month
    Drift over reefs for mutton snapper. Use a dead sardine with the tail removed or ballyhoo plug (head and tail removed) on double 4/0 hooks or a single 4/0 circle hook. Use 2 to 3 feet of 30- to 40-pound leader, with the weight placed above the swivel that connects the line to the leader. Start with 1 ounce of weight, and adjust it to the current. More weight might be needed to reach bottom in strong current.
    Let line out slowly during the drift, then check and reset the bait.
    Start fishing in 80 feet, but move deeper and shallower to find the fish and the right amount of current for an effective drift. Don’t forget to drift lightly weighted or flat-line baits (no weight) while bottom fishing. Dolphin and kingfish might hit shallower baits during a snapper drift.
    Mutton snapper must be at least 16 inches (total length, including the tail) to be legal. Daily bag limit: 10.
Mutton snapper make excellent table fare.
Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at

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