Fishing & Boating News

Team Mdala Takes Top Honors At The 28th Annual 
Cheeca Lodge & Spa Presidential Sailfish Tournament

71 anglers fishing on 19 boats released 130 sailfish 
over the two-day gripping competition

1st place
2nd Place
(Jan 30, 2018 - ISLAMORADA, FL)

 Team Mdala clinched First Place at the Cheeca Lodge & Spa 28th Annual Presidential Sailfish Tournament, Jan. 26-28, 2018, in Islamorada, FL. The Overall Champions took the lead by releasing their 13th sailfish one-minute prior to Team Relentless. Mdala team members included Steve and Eric Pfeifer of Sturgeon Bay, WI; Cody Gunther of Tavernier, FL and Tyler Valles of Key Largo, FL. 
Captain John Hagen of Tavernier, FL, took Outstanding Captain Award. Outstanding Mate Awards went to Mdala’s Codey Gunther of Tavernier, FL, James Hagen and Alex Rifice of Islamorada.
Overall, 68 sailfish were released on the first day of the tournament and 62 were released on the second day, for a total of 229 hookups and 130 releases by 71 anglers on 19 boats. The majority of the sailfish were hooked in 120 feet of water or less.

The Grand Champion Angler Award, sponsored by Caribee Boat Sales and Marina, went to Debbie David of Hollywood, FL, on Relentless. She released six fish and also earned the Top Lady Angler Award sponsored by Blue Marlin Jewelry. The Top Lady Angler Award is dedicated to the memory of Jay Anna and Kenny Cohan, beloved members of the Islamorada community.

Second Place went to Team Relentless led by Captain Paul Ross of Tavernier, FL, releasing thirteen sailfish with anglers James and Debbie David of Hollywood, FL; Jimmy Hendrix of Islamorada and Paul Ross. With a quadruple hookup at 3:24 p.m. on the first day, team Relentless released all four sailfish putting them in the lead for day one. They would hold that lead until just before the end of the final day when Mdala jumped ahead of them, releasing their last sailfish one minute before Relentless.

The Indigenous earned Third Place honors. Captain Travis Dickens of Islamorada, FL, and Anglers Annie and Wade Stafford of Merritt Island, FL; Mike Walters of Tavernier, FL; and Ryan Krauss of Islamorada, FL, released 12 sailfish.

In a long-standing Presidential Tournament tradition of conservation, the Challenger team won the Most Tagged Fish Award for the second year in a row. Captain Rob Dixon of Islamorada, with Anglers Brian DeVries and Mike Marz both of Grand Rapids, MI; Matt Guthrie of Islamorada and Travis Butters of Tavernier. 

“We were honored to host this esteemed competition, with incredible fishing in sporty seas, and appreciate the tremendous support of our sponsors,” says Bob LaCasse, general manager of Cheeca Lodge & Spa. “We were pleased to be able to host the event at Whale Harbor and look forward to reopening Cheeca on March 30 with fully refreshed rooms and some exciting new features,” he added.

Tournament trophies were created by famed Keys marine artist Pasta Pantaleo, whose artwork was also featured on the tournament shirts and towels.
The 28th Annual Presidential Tournament Title Sponsors included Caribee Boat Sales and Marina, Yamaha Outboards, Bacardi, Tito’s and SERVPRO. Partner sponsors include BlueFin USA, Tunaskin, Pasta Pantaleo, Blue Marlin Jewelry, Executive Printers of Florida, Skeleton Offshore, Florida Keys Brewing Company, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, Breakthru Beverage Florida, Keys Audio Visual, Smoove and RideStarRX.
Cheeca Lodge & Spa also hosts the All-American Backcountry Fishing Tournament on Nov. 10, 2018.
For more information, please contact Lisa Thornhill at (305) 517-4512 or (305) 504-3068 or by email at Photos are on Cheeca’s tournament website at
Florida Keys Gold Cup Sailfish Championship
The 28th Annual Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament was the third leg of the prestigious Florida Keys Gold Cup Sailfish Championship, following the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament and the Islamorada Fishing Club Tournament.
Seventy-six anglers on fourteen teams released 258 sailfish in the Gold Cup Series.
Team Relentless took First Place with a total of 29 releases. Team Mdala took Second Place with a total of 26 releases. Team Contagious moved into the Third Place with a total of 23 releases by releasing five sails within 20 minutes on the final day of fishing at the Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament.
The Gold Cup Championship boasted $24,000 in prize money for the winners, with all money raised benefitting the Islamorada Charter Boat Association.
The Gold Cup Sailfish Championship was sponsored by Caribee Boat Sales, Yamaha Outboards and Tackle Center of Islamorada. 
About Cheeca Lodge & Spa
A cornerstone of the Islamorada community since 1946, Cheeca Lodge & Spa is set on a 27-acre private estate in the “Sportfishing Capital of the World.” Cheeca boasts 214 guestrooms, oceanfront suites and bungalows, and its signature feature is the classic 525 ft. wooden fishing pier. Cheeca guests enjoy watersports activities and excursions, tennis and sports courts, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, a Spa with 11 treatment rooms, a family and adults-only lap pool, poolside cabanas, an oceanfront tiki hut, Camp Cheeca for children, over 4,500 sq. ft. of event space, and three distinctive restaurants. The Lodge will reopen on March 30 following restoration and renovations from Hurricane Irma. For more information visit

3rd Place
Grand Champion and Top Lady Angler