A Presidential Tradition of Fishing

by Capt. Jorge Piñero

A Presidential Tradition of Fishing

Throughout its legendary history, “Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament” has become one of the largest and most celebrated sailfish tournaments in South Florida.  Another unique facet is this tournament's location and the history of this iconic resort of the Florida Keys.

In the years following the devastating 1935 hurricane, the Islamorada community proved resilient in rebuilding and carrying on the legacy of this little fishing town and tropical destination. It was around this time, that the Cheeca Lodge property turned over to commercial use. Once a private residence, the Mills family opened the Casa Islamorado--the first hotel and restaurant on the island and the beginning of, what would one day become, the Cheeca Lodge.

In 1946, the hotel became, under new ownership, Islamorada Olney Inn. The first guest at the Olney Inn was President Harry S. Truman. Truman’s visit would be the first of many notable visits by politicians, movie stars, and famous people, and the beginning of its presidential tradition.

Capt. Jorge Pinero- FishMonster Magazine March/April 2017After the demise of the Olney Inn, by another hurricane, the property changed hands to Cynthia Twitchell, whom built the main lobby, oceanfront villas, tennis courts, and a golf course (designed by Jack Nicklaus), as well as the world-famous fishing pier. The new property would be called Cheeca Lodge. Twitchell combined her nickname, Chee, and her husband’s name, Carl, to create the moniker Cheeca – a name that would soon become synonymous with Islamorada.

After a major fire in 2008, the resort was rebuilt again. Today the resort boasts five-star recognition, as one of the major luxury resorts in the Keys, while keeping the tropical ambiance of its little laid back fishing town.

 Many have heard Islamorada referred to as “The Sport Fishing Capital of the World”.  Such a reputation is from the influence of Curt Gowdy. His famous outdoors show, The American Sportsman, often took place in Islamorada and ran for three decades, from the 60s to the 80s. Famous guests from the sports and entertainment industries appeared on his show to fish the turquoise waters of Islamorada.

Probably one of the most significant guests to visit Cheeca Lodge was President George Bush Sr. Not only did he frequent both Islamorada and Cheeca Lodge, but his passion for fishing led him to co-found “The Presidential Sailfish Tournament" in 1990, held each year in January.

In keeping with Cheeca’s mission to conserve and protect valuable Keys resources, all sailfish caught during this tournament are caught with circle hooks, to ensure they are released to fight another day.

“The Presidential Sailfish Tournament” celebrated its 27th year this year. Here are the results of this year’s tournament, held January 19-21, 2017.

Forty-seven sailfish were released on the first day of the tournament and 32 were released on the second day, for a total of 79 releases, by 78 anglers, on 22 boats.

Captain Travis Dickens led the “Indigenous” team to top honors at this year’s event and took First Place, releasing eight sailfish over two days of fishing.

Second Place went to “Relentless”, led by Captain Paul Ross. They released seven sailfish.

“Silent Hunter”, out of Keys Fisheries in Marathon, earned Third Place honors. Captain James Platt and his team released six sailfish.

“This year’s Presidential Sailfish Tournament boasted two days of intense fishing and action-packed events,” says Bob LaCasse, general manager of Cheeca Lodge and Spa. “We were honored to host this esteemed competition, and are pleased that our anglers experienced such great sportfishing."

This tournament, honoring past presidents, will continue the fishing legacy of the quaint fishing village, within the walls of luxury and laid back island traditions of years past. 




Capt. Jorge Piñero
Capt. Jorge Piñero

Author

Capt. Jorge Piñero has fished worldwide in search of his specialty game fish--the Marlin! He has caught and released over 400 marlin personally, and has had the honor of receiving 4 World Marlin Slams on Fly Gear. He calls Islamorada home and charter fishes the Bahamian offshore waters and Islamorada in search of big game fish. He can be reached at 305-304-7573 or online at UpperKeysSportfishing.com.



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