Formula Fishing Team Earns Top 15 in Dolphin Tournament

Formula Fishing Team Earns Top 15 in Dolphin Tournament

May 29, 2024
dolphin tournament

The weekend of May 3-5 found the Formula Fishing Team continuing the momentum after the late-April tournament in Madeira Beach on the West Coast of Florida, this time bound for Marathon in the Florida Keys. Mackerel was the target the previous tournament, and this time it would be Mahi-Mahi at the Tom Thumb Marathon Bull & Cow Dolphin event.

The cast of characters for this trip was an all-Formula ensemble, with Abe Haines and Ron Gephart returning after the Madeira Beach event, plus young Corporate Sales Representative, Maverick Shifferly (from the factory in Decatur), and Sales Agent Tony Vega and Service Manager Jamey Clawges, both from Formula Boats South. Ron and Abe prepped the 387 Center Console Fish at its slip in North Miami on Wednesday, and Maverick met them later that evening, ready to shop for bait and do a practice run Thursday.

Thursday morning it was off to Bait Masters and a weekend’s supply of Ballyhoo (frozen and rigged) and flying fish, and then an offshore fishing primer for Maverick. He had been on some Great Lakes deliveries, but never Southeast Florida waters. Weed lines were hard to find with stirred-up waters, but they did do some bottom fishing and gave Maverick some seat time in the two- to four-footers they encountered. It was a taste of things to come for the rest of the trip.

The Formula Fishing team woke early on Friday to get a start down to Marathon on the 387 CCF, with Abe and Maverick aboard the boat and Ron driving down to meet them at the Faro Blanco Marina. The boat headed out of Haulover Cut, and seas deteriorated as they passed Government Cut and into Biscayne Bay. The four-foot-plus seas put the 387 through its paces, but the guys enjoyed the FASTech hull ride.

Once they were safely in at Faro Blanco, they were joined by Tony and Jamey, local fishermen who had many years of experience, from the Keys, to Miami, to the Bahamas. This was a great opportunity for the Hoosier crew to benefit from these veterans, who began prepping bait and rigging lines. They had scouted the local waters and determined where the warm water lay. They were ready for the tournament Saturday morning!

In the pre-dawn hours of tournament day, the team met, fueled up, fired up the Garmin triple 16” displays and headed for the fishing grounds, south to Seven-Mile Bridge and east to warm waters. It became immediately obvious that the day would be a challenge, with 20-plus mile per hour winds and five- to six-footers building with no signs of letting up, taking an hour to reach their destination. The Seakeeper 3 mitigated much of the snap and roll, thank goodness, and they began to set up and deploy the bait from the Gemlux outriggers once the 8 o’clock start time came. This tournament was for the largest pair, Bull and Cow, of Dolphin, or Mahi-mahi. Trolling through the rough waters, Maverick was designated photographer and bird spotter, spying a flock of A’o, or tuna birds, in no time. The tuna birds feed on the baitfish pushed to the surface by the Mahi, and are thus an indicator of good fishing. This long day consisted of spotting and chasing, resulting in a single less-than-four-pound cow. The team finally turned for home after a long day to rest for the last day of the tournament. They decided the cow would make a better supper than a pick to be weighed in and take their chances on a Sunday catch. The onboard grill made the freshest dinner that Maverick had ever tasted after hosing off the reFlex marine decking and cleaning the boat up for the next day.

Sunday morning, and it was back out under the bridge, hoping for better seas. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and if anything they had deteriorated. The crests had not fallen, and overnight 10’ rollers had snuck in. Tony took the helm with Jamey and Abe manning the lines. Ron was on bait prep and Maverick was back to the camera and keeping his head on a swivel for signs. The 387 Center Console Fish was the only boat for miles, battling the conditions with a stabilizer and superior hull.

It was back to trolling and searching for birds, and for the next six hours they baited, cleared the lines, re-baited, cleared the weeds from the lines, and baited again, all in search of a nice school of Mahi to decimate. The team was coming up snake eyes and getting discouraged. Tony took a break from the helm and gave Maverick some sea time, instructing him to keep on course and look for floaters—debris from cargo ships or storms, such as trees, pallets, boxes, etc. that has been washed out to sea. Microorganisms can attach to the debris, attracting bait fish and, subsequently, predator fish. The team was discussing calling it a day when Maverick casually pointed out a floating pallet to Ron. Just as he alerted the rest of the team, the reel on the starboard corner began to sing. Abe reeled in a nice Mahi-mahi. Jamey and Ron spotted the school following the pallet, and it was on. The team cleared the spread and rigged the rods to cast into the school, with Tony chunking the ballyhoo to keep the Mahi close and interested, pulling in fish as fast as they could re-bait and get back in the water. By the time the dust settled 20 minutes later, the school had dispersed and 15 nice Mahi were cooling in the refrigerated fish boxes. The Formula Fishing Team was ready to fire up the triple Mercury Racing 500-R’s and head to take the largest fish to the scales.

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Amongst the catch were two nice bulls and a few good cows. The best pair was selected and it was off to Two Conch’s Bait Shop for the weigh-in, coming in at a combined weight of just under 25 pounds, good enough for a finish in the top 15 teams. The rough water was a challenge for all the teams, but ours was excited to see what the Formula 387 CCF was capable of in such rough conditions.

The team headed back to Faro Blanco to clean and prep for the journey back to Miami. Jamey and Tony headed home while Ron, Abe and Maverick worked on the 387 Center Console Fish, with visions of future tournaments and trophies dancing in their heads.

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