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Sailfish tales abound among local anglers

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 28, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ed Campbell just had to show me the pictures.

"You see that?" the 83-year-old fisherman said as he pointed to the sailfish's bill. "Two baits, two sets of hooks. Have you ever seen anything like that?"

Campbell went out to the Gunsmoke on Sunday with two friends, Brenda Walker and Marj Brown, to fish for kingfish. Soon, a blue runner was dangling from an outrigger.

"The sailfish caught Grandma Walker's line on the outrigger then hooked Grandma Brown's flat line and had four stingers in its bill," Brown wrote in an e-mail to the Times.

"Weight 69 pounds, and measured 7 feet, 5 inches. Grandma Brown is having the fish mounted. We smoked the meat -- it was excellent."

Campbell and his friends weren't the only ones catching sailfish in recent weeks. There have been at least a dozen sailfish reports e-mailed or called into the Times. And while sailfish aren't uncommon during the spring kingfish run, 2002 has been a stellar year for the prized fighters.

A wrap-up of the action:

Dirk Chadwick left Blinds Pass and anchored up on hard bottom 8 miles off Anna Maria two Saturdays ago. Within 20 minutes, two large kings hit free-lining baits. Every 15 minutes or so, another wave showed up. Then things shut down.

Chadwick thought about moving. Then one of his spinning rods went off. His friend, Phil Hall, grabbed the rod. Then Hall, Chadwick and fellow angler Zack White started dancing on the deck when they saw the billfish jump. The trio released the fish.

Frank Gonzalez was trolling in 30 feet of water off North Redington Beach hoping for a smoker king when he saw a large, dark fish heading toward one of his baits. He thought it was a cobia, but when the fish leaped, he knew it was a sail.

Gonzalez handed the rod to his 73-year-old father, and after a long fight, they brought the fish alongside the boat. They wanted a picture, so they brought it aboard.

"This proved somewhat of a mistake," Gonzalez said in his e-mail, "as once it was in the cockpit, it naturally went berserk."

Gozalez said he had been fishing all his life and had seen only one other sailfish jumping offshore as he was running to a grouper spot.

Steve Hillerson wanted to help his friend, Adam Shahan, catch his first king. So they headed out of John's Pass early April20 in Hillerson's 17-foot flats skiff. The water was a little choppy, but Hillerson headed out to deep water and caught kings steadily all morning.

They trolled into the afternoon then started tossing baits off the stern just to see if there was anything out there.

That's when Shahan said "how cool it would be to see a really big fish eat one of the baits." Then the sailfish hit.

It took a lot of line as it danced across the water. Shahan went to the bow, careful not to play the fish too hard on 15-pound test. The fish jumped two more times, and 30 minutes later, it was alongside the boat.

The anglers took a few photos and watched the fish swim away. Then Hillerson started calling everybody he knew.

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