KEY LARGO, Fla. Anglers aboard the Reel McCoy, skippered by George McElveen, released 27 sailfish during two days of fishing to garner top honors at the inaugural Billfish Bowl that ended Saturday off the Florida Keys.
McElveen's team, consisting of Tom and Dottie Swift of Dallas, Taylor Walsh, Robert Collins, Kierian Serrer and Eric Ehlers of Islamorada, Fla., began Saturday in the lead after posting 14 releases Friday, the first of two days of fishing.
But things were slow for McElveen's anglers during the first hour Saturday. They only released one fish, while second-place finisher, Viva la Vida, scored five releases and closed in on the lead.
"We were a bit worried, but things got better after that first hour," McElveen said.
McElveen credited his crew and detailed preparation for the win against 19 other teams that competed in the event hosted by former NFL coaches Jimmy Johnson and Mike Ditka.
"A good crew is most important, especially when you are fishing six lines," he said.
He kept his team off north Key Largo both days, fishing with live threadfin herring, cigar minnows and even goggle eyes acquired off Key West.
"There was so much life in the water, we went through 150 baits each day," he said. "There were so many kingfish, blackfin tuna and dolphin we had a hard time keeping the baits in front of sailfish."
Viva la Vida, captained by Nick Ewald, finished with 24 releases with Upper Keys anglers John Cole, Lane Kina, Martin Formetto, Paul Fotterman and Freddy Viceus. In third place was Captain Mike Levy's Sweet Release with Joseph Krawczynski, Jennifer Copeland, Sarah Hoog White, Hays Davis and Rene Dunn, all from Homestead, Fla.
Tournament director Mike Weinhofer reported a total of 194 sailfish releases.
The event, based at Johnson's Big Chill complex, benefits Gridiron Greats, a charitable organization that provides financial assistance and health services to retired NFL players in need. The Billfish Bowl was hosted by two-time Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson and former Chicago Bears' coach Mike Ditka.