17th Annual Mother’s Day Dolphin Tournament Fishing Report
Last week on May 13th, Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys hosted a one-day Dolphin tournament. This non-profit organization has hosted the Dolphinfish tournament every Mother’s Day weekend in May for the last 17 years. The Main Attraction team had three boats from their marina signed up to fish.
A week before the tournament, the weather report called for sporty conditions, 10-20 knots straight out of the East. While it’s the perfect wind direction for dolphin fishing, the clients that signed up to fish with Captain Marty, decided it was too windy for them.
Since the tournament was already paid for, Captain Marty figured they might as well fish it. Marty, his wife Katie, and their son and daughter would join him. The Lewis family doesn’t get seasick as they are familiar with deep sea fishing in rough conditions. They decided the day before the tournament that they would try it, and if it felt unsafe, they would head back in.
On the Saturday morning of the tournament, the clients showed up at Marathon Sailfish Marina, ready for their 6:30 am departure. Both charters were repeat clients Dominick Ferels and family on the Main Attraction and Cory Hoops and crew on the Main Attraction II / BenOfishal.
Captain Marty and first mate Alex had their boat ready and left the dock at approximately 6:45 am. The crew felt the wind as soon as they exited the canal. Everyone knew it would be a choppy day, but they were all surprised by how windy it was.
As the Lewis clan headed out, they wished their colleagues good luck as they saw the Main Attraction vessel off in the distance. This could be a momentous day for their five-year-old daughter Natalie if the weather would allow it. It would be her first Dolphin tournament ever. If she could catch a Mahi of any legal size she would be able to participate in the weigh-in experience, something Captain Marty and Katie Lewis would love to see.
The tournament is structured as an individual angler tournament instead of a boat or team tournament. This means each angler has a specific category they enter and try to win. The divisions were Pro, Weekend Warrior, Ladies, or Junior Angler. Captain Marty’s son was considered a pro, Katie for the ladies, and their young daughter in the junior division.
Natalie insisted on going inside as the Lewis’ headed offshore to avoid the ocean spray hitting her. Katie didn’t think that was a good idea, as she knew that was a seasickness trigger, but she decided to allow it while keeping a close eye on her daughter. Within 30 minutes, Mom was right and little Natalie wasn’t feeling so good. So outside, they went for fresh air. Natalie fell asleep on Katie’s lap, and the boat got into some small schoolie Dolphinfish along the way. They all had headsets, allowing them to communicate despite the loud winds. Katie informed Captain Marty that their daughter wasn’t feeling great but to keep fishing for now. Katie would allow her daughter to sleep and assess the situation once she awoke. This would also allow their son Alex to have a chance at catching a fish and placing in his division.
Once approximately 27 miles out, the waves began to build to 6-8′ seas with 10′ swells. Waves crashed over the transom, and various items in the cabin fell on the floor. Despite the conditions, Katie felt like her family was safe, they were on a large vessel, and Captain Marty is a very experienced Captain. The only other boat that far offshore was the Killbox, a cat Freeman that fishes many tournaments with Captain Cody Darby at the helm.
Captain Marty headed further offshore as he saw good sets of birds working the surface. Now approximately 30 miles offshore, they were on the Gulf Stream. The water is very deep there, and the current moves faster. Mother nature was angry, but Marty knew this was where the fish would be. The waves would crash onto the deck and big rollers behind the boat. Katie felt anxious as her young daughter slept in her arms. To Katie’s delight, after a 45-minute nap, Natalie woke up happy and ready to catch a fish!
Captain Marty told first mate Alex and his friend Adam to put the lines out and be ready with a pitch bait, as he had a set of birds he was working towards. Alex let the riggers out and was prepared with a pitch bait. He fired it out and put it in the rod holder, and was hooked up with a small dolphin. Little Natalie came running to the back and started fighting the fish. She did a great job, and big brother Alex gaffed her fish. Captain Marty and Katie stopped for a few minutes to soak in the moment and take a few photos. Natalie yelled out, “Let’s do it again!”. Natalie beamed with pride, telling the crew multiple times how she “caught her first tournament Dolphin”.
As Captain Marty approached another set of birds, Alex dropped back some lures, and one got smashed. Unfortunately, the crimp on the pre-rigged lure failed, and Captain Marty could see it was a huge dolphin that had just got off. It was disheartening, but shortly after the excitement, Alex fired out another pitch bait and hooked the cow with it.
As Alex fought the fish, its profile in the water grew bigger and bigger the closer it got to the boat. The crew had to get this fish; it was nearly guaranteed to count on the leaderboard! As the fish neared the vessel, second mate Adam grabbed a gaff, and so did Katie, ready to back him up.
As the fish got closer to the back of the boat, since Katie’s gaff was longer, she reached out and stuck the fish. Everyone began yelling excitedly to get the fish in the boat as she moved her grip down the gaff and swung the fish onto the deck. The Dolphinfish was officially in the boat, and it was high-fives all around. The Lewis family paused for a moment to take photos and celebrate their excellent teamwork. They don’t typically do this during tournaments, but they could fish at their own pace without clients on board.
Shortly after the large cow, Captain Marty checked in with the Main Attraction. They reported that they had some schoolies in the boat, but nothing large. They noted that the highlight of their day was seeing a big Blue Marlin rush the boat. While trying to catch a Dolphin, they hooked a Blue Runner, which a Blue Marlin appeared seemingly out of nowhere to try and eat it. Everyone onboard got to see it, and everyone was astounded by the size of the beautiful fish.
On the last set of birds, Katie hooked a Dolphinfish that they thought had a good chance of holding a lady angler leaderboard position. Once that fish was in the boat, they decided that since it was 12:30 pm, they should start working their way back toward land. Everyone had enough of the wet, rough conditions and accomplished most of what they set out to do.
Before heading back, the crew noticed a bright orange Coast Guard helicopter circling the area. Katie asked Captain Marty if something was wrong, but he assured her they were doing their job and checking in on them. The helicopter circled their boat once, flew out aways, and came back around, this time hovering over them. They radioed Captain Marty on channel 16, and asked him what port they were out of. They also asked Captain Marty how many were aboard and what they were doing out there. Katie thought they probably thought they had lost their minds fishing in those conditions!
Captain Marty radioed back that they had five passengers and were fishing in a dolphin tournament. They asked how the fishing was, and Captain Marty reported back it was decent, but they were heading home soon. Katie commented on how in all her years of fishing in the Keys, she had never seen a Coast Guard helicopter approach a vessel like that while deep-sea fishing.
When they returned to the dock, they took a minute to rest and eat. The crew cleaned the interior and exterior of the cabin. Everything inside was on the floor, and the exterior was heavily covered in salt. A good bath was definitely in order.
They loaded their fish in the back of Alex’s truck and headed over to wait for the weigh-in station to open up. They were first in line to weigh their fish. This was Natalie’s first tournament Marty and Katie wanted their daughter to experience having her fish weighed in and seeing how it all worked. They submitted three fish to be weighed; Alex, who fished the pro division, had a fish weighing 19.2 lbs. Katie’s best fish for the ladies’ category weighed 11.4 lbs, and Natalie’s fish weighed 9.8 lbs for the junior division.
All the Main Attraction boats caught Dolphin that day; the biggest challenge was the weather and finding large-sized fish. Captain “Big” Ben Zdan of the Main Attraction 2/BenOfishal also ventured out pretty far and got into some nice schoolies and gaffers. He was able to submit some contenders for the weigh-in as well.
A few hours later, after some rest and cleaning up, the family attended the Tournaments Awards Banquet. They were treated to a lovely dinner at the Marathon Yacht Club and a fun night of raffle and trophies. Natalie did not get top junior, but they were happy to see Donna Hart’s grandson, Tripp, caught a 22.6 lb fish and won the division. Donna and Tripp are very good friends of the Lewis family, and were featured in an article we published last year.
The tournament director, Ms. Chris Todd Young, knew it was Natalie’s first tournament so she brought Natalie up and gave her a special bracelet. Ms. Young had everyone clap for her bravery and competitiveness in 8-10′ seas.
Alex Lewis was awarded the 1st place pro trophy, and Katie won 1st place Lady Angler. Captain Marty was proud of his family and happy that he found them fish and kept everyone safe. It was a fun and exciting Saturday for the Lewis Family, one they won’t soon forget. Katie couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful Mother’s Day, spending time with her family, making some memories, and winning a few trophies along the way.
The Main Attraction Fishing Charter Team has a long history of tournament and charter fishing in the Florida Keys. If you want to make some memories aboard one of our vessels, give us a ring at 305-289-0071 or visit our contact page.