Published On: February 3rd, 2023Last Updated: February 6th, 20238.8 min read

Florida Keys Sailfish Tournament Update January 2023

The new year starts with plenty of great fishing and exciting sailfish tournament action. The Main Attraction Sportfishing team has already participated in three Sailfish tournaments in the past three weeks!

2023 Fish For Holly Sailfish Tournament

On January 7, 2023, Captain Marty Lewis and Mate Ben Zdan fished with Dominick & Jenny Ferels, Jeremy & Andrea Barber, and Adam Knudson in the Fish For Holly Sailfish Tournament. One of the angler’s aboard the Main One, Andrea Barber, placed Third Angler Overall and Second Place for Top Female Angler.

Fish For Holly Tournament

Andrea Barber with her trophy for Second Place Female Angler.

Fish For Holly Sailfish Tournament

Pictured from left to right; Dominick & Jenny Ferels, Adam Knudson, Andrea & Jeremy Barber

2023 Islamorada Fishing Club Sailfish Tournament

On January 18, Captain Marty fished the 2023 Islamorada Fishing Club Sailfish Tournament, the second leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Championship. The first leg of the gold cup was in late December of last year. The anglers on this leg were Mark Busch, Danny Lombardo, Ariel Medero, and Ben Zdan. They did not place in this tournament, but you can’t win em’ all; you can only try! Congrats to the winners team SkipJac.

IFC Tournament 2023

The elated crew of the SkipJac after winning the 2023 IFC Tournament.

2023 Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament

Every year the Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament occurs in mid to late January. The “Presidential” is the third and final leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Championship. Captain Marty Lewis and the Main Attraction Crews are no strangers to this tournament. It has been a good tournament for our Captain Marty winning 1st place overall in 2018, and our star angler Mark Busch capturing the grand champion angler trophy in 2022.

Florida Keys Sailfish Tournament

From left to right: Katie Lewis, Captain Marty Lewis, Alex Lewis with the 1st place overall

Trophy Designer Doug Barry (left) with Mark Busch (center) at the 2022 Cheeca Presidential Awards Banquet

The 2023 tournament took place on January 21st and 22nd. The team had been prepping for months. Between late-night goggle eye bait missions, all-day pilchard, herring, and threadfin bait catching, they had been hard at it. Recently we published an article that stressed the importance of having good live bait for catching Sailfish; “The Secret To Successful Sailfish Trips.”

Captain Marty checked and re-checked his gear and engine room often, going over everything with a fine-tooth comb, ensuring no breakdowns when it counted the most. Another of Marty’s secrets to success is  making sure all gear is in perfect working order, all reels are re-spooled, all leaders are fresh, and all hooks are new. Captain Marty’s attention to detail and willingness to put in the preparation increases his chance of success and ensures compliance with tournament rules.

Day One

On January 21, the team met at Marathon Sailfish Marina at 4:30 AM. The Main One was already loaded with lively cage-toughened tournament baits. The team climbed aboard, and the Main One was officially Islamorada bound. As the sun rose, Captain Marty anchored up on one of his many bait holes to catch fresh ballyhoo on sabiki, one by one. The day was calm, and the sun was peeking in and out from behind the clouds. Captain Marty hoped the sun would give him the light he needed to sight fish that day.

This photo was taken aboard the Main One on the morning of January 21, 2023 day one of the tournament.

Since the morning was party cloudy, Captain Marty decided they would kite fish to start. When the committee boat announced “Lines In,” they deployed live baits using the kites flying in place. After a couple of hours of fishing, the long right line went off, and angler Mark Busch was hooked up. After a successful catch and release, Main Attraction was officially on the board!

The sun continued to peek in and out from the clouds throughout the day. Marty would have his crew bring the kites in whenever the sun came out so he could run and gun. Captain Marty excels at spotting signs of fish, particularly bait sprays and showers, so whenever the sun is shining, it’s game on for the Main One. The crew would put the kites back out whenever the sun went back behind the clouds to try and raise a sailfish by drifting numerous live baits.

Main One Fishing Team

This year the team consisted of Captain Marty, our good friend and client Mark Busch, and mates/anglers Ben Zdan, Ariel Medero, and Danny Lombardo.

Once the sun came out that afternoon, Captain Marty went East of Alligator lighthouse and began to see sailfish swimming in sandy areas. In just 30 minutes, the Main One called hooked up on four Sailfish! Hooking the Sailfish in such a short succession was an adrenaline rush for the team. It was even thrilling for those on land watching the live scoring.

The team worked great together, efficiently communicating between the deck and tower with the help of wireless headsets. Mark would cast at the fish first, then Ariel, then Danny. Typically, Ben was up in the tower with Marty helping to spot the fish. Two sets of eyes are better than one! By the end of day one, team Main Attraction was in third place overall, with five sailfish caught.

The team headed in that afternoon on cloud nine; the hard work was paying off! The crew was exhausted from a long day, but they took the time to prepare for the next day by fueling up and loading the boat with live bait.

Sailfish Flags

Five Sailfish Flags flying from the riggers of the Main One after day one of the tournament.

Day Two

Day two, January 22, was the final fishing day that determined the winners. The weather on day two was significantly different from day one’s. The seas had kicked up, making it rough and windy. The day was gray and overcast, so sight-fishing was not viable; they would have to kite fish. The team set up West of Alligator Light that morning, and boy, it seemed like every boat around the Main One was hooking up except the Main One. Talk about discouraging!

Alligator Reef Light House

Captain Marty looking for Sailfish on an overcast day two, with the Alligator Reef Lighthouse in the background.

Sailfishing is a technical sport that requires skills and preparation, but luck is also a factor. After many hours of no luck, Captain Marty decided to head East. Within 15 minutes of putting up the kites, they got a bite. Mark grabbed the rod and fought the fish. The fish immediately swam down deep, not a typical Sailfish fighting behavior. There was a general air of discouragement among the crew as they assumed it would be something other than a Sailfish. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the Sailfish breached the surface, there was a roar of excitement from the deck! They knew they had to make this fish count.

Mark Busch was currently the top male angler on the leaderboard, but the second-place angler at the time was hot on his trail. Catching this fish would buy them a two-fish lead in the category. Captain Marty backed down to get his mates to touch that leader as fast as possible, and it was a success!

As Captain Marty called in his release, the team cheered. It was nearly the end of day two, and although they were currently in 6th place, they had just secured Mark his top angler status, for the second year in a row! Mark was ecstatic as he received another unique Doug Berry trophy, made of Hawaiian Koa wood, mahogany, and dyed resin to get the watery look. It’s stunning.

The beautiful Trophy Mark won.

We sat down with Mark Busch a few days after the tournament to ask him about his passion for sportfishing, specifically in tournaments. Mark explained that he used to race sailboats in his younger years and enjoyed the competitive nature of the sport. When asked why he enjoyed Sailfish tournaments so much, he said, “Sailfish can be a challenging fish.” He explained, “Even with preparation, great baits, and excellent casting, a Sailfish might still turn down your bait.” Mark also explained how he enjoys the speed at which the billfish race through the water and the different acrobatic activities they perform between their “tail-walking” and jumps.

Mark explained: “I get an adrenaline rush when I am fighting a Sailfish with the Main One backing down and waves crashing into the cockpit.”

Mark said each tournament is different because various factors and elements impact the experience, such as weather, how hard it is to find the fish, whether or not they are biting well, and a multitude of other factors. Mark explained, “Multiple hookups are so exciting and chaotic, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Mark enjoys everything the Keys offer in the sportfishing world and loves competing against the best. Mark added that he appreciates how the Main Attraction team knows his abilities and structures their approach around that.

Mark Busch (left), Doug Barry (center), and Captain Marty Lewis (Right).

Mark Busch is looking forward to his next fishing tournament adventure with Captain Marty Lewis, which will be the Second Annual Marathon Premier Sailfish Tournament on April 21 and 22, 2023. Mark says he can’t wait to see what other teams will be competing with them, and he is already mentally preparing himself for that next challenge. Several Main Attraction boats will be fishing in that tournament.

As you can see, the Main Attraction team loves to fish in tournaments, which is why we offer multiple vessels and crews for tournament fishing in the Florida Keys. In fact, Main Attraction co-owner Katie Lewis is the founder of the MPST. This non-profit organization hosts an annual fishing tournament in Marathon, Florida, to raise money that helps families in Southern Florida and the Keys. Please direct any questions or feedback you might have to our contact page or give us a call at (305) 289-0071.

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