On the Water: Old No. 7 rides out wind, waves to win Silver Sailfish Derby

The crew aboard Old No. 7, including Capt. Jamie Ralph, pulls into Sailfish Marina on Jan. 10 after winning the 83rd annual Silver Sailfish Derby, with a two-day total of 17 sailfish releases. Willie Howard/The Coastal Star

By Willie Howard

Three Delray Beach natives ran the top boat in the 83rd annual Silver Sailfish Derby, held Jan. 9-10 despite heavy seas and stout winds.

Capt. Jamie Ralph skippered the Old No. 7, while his brother, Dane Ralph, and another Delray Beach native, Nick Cardella, handled the rigging, fishing kites and lines in the cockpit to help the team’s anglers release 17 sailfish in the two-day tournament.

The Ralph brothers honed their fishing skills working out of Boynton Harbor Marina on various private and charter boats. Cardella grew up fishing the ocean with family and friends and bass fishing from a skiff in the canals around Delray Beach.

Old No. 7’s anglers — Austin Musselman of Louisville, Ky., John Duval of Lantana and Billy Bryan of Lantana — chalked up a respectable six releases on Jan. 9, then went on a roll the second day by catching and releasing another 11 sailfish to beat second-place Native Son, which finished with 14 releases. (Native Son Capt. Art Sapp of Pompano Beach ran the top boat, Liquid, in the 2016 Derby).

A few of the 50 registered teams chose not to fish this year because of heavy seas driven by easterly winds that topped 25 mph at times.

One captain said his heart was pounding as he ran his boat through the Palm Beach Inlet on the afternoon of Jan. 9 — when the outgoing tide was pushing against the wind to produce tall waves.

The ride was rough for the Old No. 7 crew, but the 62-foot Titan sportfishing boat was among the largest vessels in the Derby, a sailfish release tournament that the West Palm Beach Fishing Club started in 1935.

“It was so rough you couldn’t even see land half the time,” Cardella said, adding that the view through his sunglasses was blurred by saltwater on the lenses during much of the tournament.

The Old No. 7 team welcomed family and children aboard to celebrate the victory with champagne, some of which was sprayed on crew members who were already soaked in saltwater.

Capt. Travis Ralph of the Reel Captivating team stopped by to congratulate his brothers, Jamie and Dane. Reel Captivating finished 23rd, with five sailfish releases.

The Chips Ahoy fishing team, led by Capt. Chip Sheehan of Boynton Beach, tied for ninth place, with nine sailfish releases. Sheehan operates Chips Ahoy Charters based at Boynton Harbor Marina.

Team No Regrets, led by Capt. Chris Agardy, operator of Fish Envy Charters at Boynton Harbor Marina, finished 18th with six releases.

A total of 244 sailfish were released in two days of fishing. That compares with 201 sailfish released by 43 teams in last year’s Derby.

Restoration takes shape in Lake Worth Lagoon

The first phase of the Tarpon Cove island-building restoration project, located on the west side of the Lake Worth Lagoon in West Palm Beach, is complete, with the second phase to begin this spring. Willie Howard/The Coastal Star

Palm Beach County recently completed the first phase of Tarpon Cove — another island-building environmental restoration project in the Lake Worth Lagoon, the county’s largest estuary.

The Tarpon Cove project eventually will restore 46 acres on the west side of the lagoon near West Palm Beach’s historic El Cid neighborhood.

The Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management used sand dredged for the Rybovich Marina expansion as well as the town of Palm Beach’s channel dredging and the Florida Inland Navigation District’s dredging of the Intracoastal Waterway to fill a dredged hole in the area that had accumulated muck, creating an unstable bottom.

The first phase of the Tarpon Cove project — two mangrove islands — cost $814,000.

Tarpon Cove’s restored shallows will create nearly 35 acres of bottom where sea grass can grow as well as 2.7 acres of mangrove tidal marsh and 2.1 acres of oyster reef.

The islands and shallows, planted in part with mangroves and cordgrass, will improve water quality and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. Limestone boulders surrounding the islands will protect them from erosion.

County environmental officials said coastal birds used the islands while they were under construction in the fall, including black skimmers, royal terns and ruddy turnstones.

Last spring, a pair of American oystercatchers nested on the piles of sand and produced a pair of chicks.

Phase 2 of Tarpon Cove, scheduled to begin this spring, will create three more mangrove islands and is scheduled for completion in early 2021.

Miami Boat Show set for Feb. 13-17

The Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show, based at Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin on Virginia Key, is scheduled to run Feb. 13-17.

Show hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Feb. 17, when the show closes at 5 p.m.

Adult admission (ages 13 and older) is $45 on Feb. 13 and $30 other days.

Free shuttles will be offered from Brightline’s Miami station and several parking garages.

For details and a transportation map, visit www.miamiboatshow.com.

Coming events

Feb. 1: New rules take effect for spotted sea trout in South Florida. Under the new rules, sea trout must be between 15 and 19 inches in total length to be legal to keep. For details, visit www.myfwc.com and look for rules on recreational saltwater fishing.

Feb. 4: Boynton Beach Boating and Fishing Club meets, 7 p.m. at the clubhouse building near the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Call 561-614-1550 or visit https://bbbfc.org.

Feb. 22: Basic boating safety class offered by Coast Guard Auxiliary, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the classroom building next to the boat ramps, Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, 2010 N. Federal Highway, Boynton Beach. Fee $20. Register at the door. Call 561-331-2429.

Tip of the month

Fish in the surf for winter pompano. If you don’t have a long surf-casting rod, use a standard spinning rod holding a banana-shaped pompano jig, such as the Gulfstream High Jinks, which comes with a trailing tail.

Tie the jig to 30-pound leader and cast to a sandbar where waves are stirring up muddy water. Move it slowly, twitching, along the bottom and remember to pause. Pompano feed head-down, searching for crustaceans.

A Florida saltwater fishing license is required, unless exempt. Minimum size: 11 inches to the fork of the tail. Daily bag limit: six pompano.

Willie Howard is a freelance writer and licensed boat captain. Reach him at tiowillie@bellsouth.net.

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