KEY WEST, Fla. Barefoot, skippered by Captain Kris McKenney of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., won the World Sailfish Championship off the Florida Keys Saturday, finishing the five-day event with 24 sailfish releases.
Earning $177,125 of the tournament's total $1 million-plus prize purse, the Barefoot team began Saturday's final day of fishing in second place behind Lights Out.
Barefoot anglers quickly released three fish by 10 a.m., but had no success afterward.
"We caught ours in the morning and watched them catch them around us for the rest of the day," McKenney said. "It was very nerve-wracking watching the minutes tick by and praying for a bite."
Barefoot team members included boat owners Jim and Eve Sullivan of Fort Lauderdale and anglers Chad Moss, Justin Lord and Carl Patrignina of Fort Lauderdale; Dan Walsh of Cooper City, Fla.; and Eddie Moss of Pompano Beach, Fla., as well as mate Jeff Izanec of Fort Lauderdale.
"We didn't know that we actually won until we got back into radio range, and everybody was just glad we'd hung onto the win," McKenney said.
Lights Out, captained by Chester Sims of Key Largo, Fla., took second place and won $175,198 with a final tally of 23 sails. The team also won the tournament's charity division.
"Today they got the bites and we didn't," said Sims of only two fish released Saturday. "(But) to be in our second year down here, take second place and lead for a while feels great."
Lights Out teammates included owner Bill Haugland of New York, Guy Moseley of Key Largo, and Randy Weichbrodt and Richie Kornahrens of Long Island, N.Y.
Third-place winner Cracker, skippered by Captain Scott Walker of Duck Key, Fla., took home $66,857 after racking up 21 releases. Team members were boat owner Chris Schultz of Oviedo, Fla., Captain Paul Ritli and Captain Jim Hukill of Duck Key, Captain Bill Wiatt of Conch Key, Fla., and Zack Barber of Orlando.
The tournament's nonprofessional division and $24,570 was won by Which Way, owned by Robert Southard Jr. of Hollywood, Fla., with eight releases.
Sixteen-year-old Nicole Portuondo of Miami took top honors in both the women's and junior divisions for releasing six sails. She fished on Captain Eric Johnston's Team Sea Hunter with a group that included her father Ernesto Portuondo of Miami.
Now in her third professional tournament season, the high-school sophomore began fishing when she was four years old.
"There's adrenaline to it that you can't get out of anything else, and it's something not many girls do," said Portuondo.
World Sailfish Championship director Michael Weinhofer said the tournament attracted 76 teams and more than 600 anglers, who released 491 sails during three fishing days. Wednesday's first fishing day featured a record 265 sailfish released, the best single-day performance since the tournament began in 2003.
For more information, go to Worldsailfish.com.