Three releases in the final hour were the difference in the Quest for the Crest series kickoff
Scott Robins and his team aboard Weez in the Keys have experienced roller-coaster tournaments before, but nothing was quite like the 2017 Operation Sailfish event, held in West Palm Beach, Florida, and produced by Bluewater Movements. The result was a memorable weekend for the crew, capped off with as dramatic an ending to a fishing tournament as can be imagined.
Robins, Capt. Chris Zielinski and the rest of the Weez in the Keys team released three sailfish in the final minutes of the annual tournament, the first leg in the Quest for the Crest series, and edged second- and third-place teams
Utopia and Seraphim, respectively, by just one sailfish release, 14 to 13. The late push earned Weez in the Keys $210,000 in winnings.
“It was seven hours of pure torture,” Zielinski says. “We were passing the guys who had passed us [on the leaderboard]. Then we were able to take advantage of a certain area where we didn’t have to share the bites. There were no other boats around.”
The rest of the eight-person crew included Brett and Jane Dudas, Roy Huff, Reid Kline, Wes Stevens and Mike Tarmey.
“In the last hour, we were able to miraculously find three sails and catch all three,” says Robins, the owner of the 58-foot Merritt. “We took the lead with 15 or 20 minutes before lines out.”
He and the crew’s weekend started strong and ended strong, with a lot of frustrations in the middle. Their 11 releases on Friday, the first day of the two-day tournament, was three better than the second-place team.
With bad weather approaching Saturday, fortunes seemed to be in their favor.
“We had great expectations and hoped
we could fish out Saturday because the conditions were so good,” said Zielinski, who has been the captain of Weez in the
Keys for four seasons. “We were pretty much dialed into the bite.
“We left Friday thinking we’re in great shape and we’re up three fish on everybody, and we knew we had a bad-weather day coming,” Robins says. “In bad weather, the basic fishing skills become a lot more difficult. Fishing in wind and rain is an art we practice all the time, but it’s something not many other boats are really good at.”
However, the tournament officials canceled fishing on Saturday, pushing the last day to Sunday. Robins didn’t agree with the decision, and it left him and his
crew scrambling to book an extra day of lodging and prepare for a day off, halting their momentum from Friday.
“It’s usually very good for the leaders when there is bad weather on the final day of fishing,” he says. “We were extremely frustrated when fishing was canceled. You know how difficult it is when all the teams are sitting around thinking you’ll be going home and then you have to stay an extra day.”
Sunday didn’t go anything close to as planned. The team missed its first three sailfish bites in the morning and struggled to find fish after that.
“The weather was the complete opposite of the first day,” Zielinski says. “Now you’re sharing the bites with all the other boats because they figured it out too. We stayed in the same area and it was singles, six to eight fish. We didn’t see any of it. That was frustrating.”
The Utopia and Seraphim teams passed Weez in the Keys by two releases, and the final hour required a miracle for Robins and his teammates.
“They thought Sunday would be great fishing because of hard north winds and a lot of current,” Robins says. “Usually after a cold front comes through, there is good fishing. In the last hour, we were able to find three fish and catch all three. We took the lead with 15 or 20 minutes before lines out.”
It wasn’t a tripleheader, or even a double and a single: It was three singles, back to back to back, with the crew racing against the clock to tip the leader and tally the official release. The Weez in the
Keys crew used Penn spinning gear and Alutecnos 20-pound-test conventional reels for kite-fishing. Their top baits were goggle-eyes and threadfin herring.
“Right when we reset, we had another one,” Robins says. “It could’ve been off the same group, but we kept resetting. A lot of these tournaments are rollercoaster rides, but this was especially so.”
Although Weez in the Keys finished in first, the team on Utopia took home plenty of cash for second place.