It was a blur of red flags at Sailfish Marina.

What we’re seeing right now may be just the vanguard of things to come, according to Capt. Greg Bogdan, who’s fishing the Silver Sailfish Derby out of Palm Beach Inlet.

“This could end up being the best January we’ve ever had for sailfish tournaments in the Palm Beach area,” Bogdan said, while watching the remainder of the Derby fleet check in at Sailfish Marina Thursday afternoon.

The final tally for Thursday, opening day of the 75th annual Silver Sailfish Derby: 659 sailfish on 45 vessels.

Bogdan has runs charters out of Sailfish Marina for 16 years, and Palm Beach County since 1987. He currently runs a 27-foot center console, Permitted, but is fishing the Derby aboard a customer’s boat, the Sore Subject.

“Up until this week, we hadn’t seen a real push of fish here,” he commented. “About a month ago we had some good days, guys getting 10, 12 fish, but then it warmed up, and the water temp stayed about 5 degrees warmer than usual.”

This guy wasn’t even fishing the Derby, but he drew hoots of approval from the docks at Sailfish Marina. Six sailfish releases solo!

I asked Bogdan if he’s seen this action coming, and he said yes.

“With these big fronts, it’s not so much fluctuating on the Gulf Stream, but the inshore water, like those flats up around Stuart and Fort Pierce… when the air drops into the 30s at night, that shallow water cools down fast. When that rolls out on the outgoing tide, that’s what causes that edge offshore, that temperature break, and that’s what’s the fish are funneling down.”

Local weather stations provided obvious clues to the conditions: The NOAA data buoys along the Florida Atlantic coast registered northwest winds to 40 knots early in the week, the teeth of a strong cold front. Water temps at the 20-mile Canaveral and 40-mile St. Augustine buoys dipped into the upper 60s, usually considered too cold for sailfish. Water temp off Palm Beach inlet, according to anglers we spoke with: 74 degrees.

“I’ve been talking to people over the past couple of days,” Bogdan said. “A friend in Savannah [Georgia] had 7 or 8 sailfish bites. Another friend, in Charleston [South Carolina], four or five days ago, said there were sailfish everywhere.”

West Palm Beach Fishing Club President Tom Twyford said he was “speechless” at the close of Thursday’s incredible action, but quickly found words.

iChi, in third place at the end of the day. You try counting those flags!

“This morning, the first two hours of the tournament, we logged 200 releases, from 46 boats. We registered fish every 45 seconds for 2 straight hours, and it didn’t slow much after that!”

“This almost triples our first-day record, and it shatters the best day we’ve ever had; almost doubles that. We broke top boat for single day, 36 fish on Get Lit. And top weight fish, a record 59.3-pound wahoo, on mono leader, circle hook, and 20-pound tackle.”

“This speaks to the conservation ethic that started 75 years ago at the West Palm Beach Fishing Club. In the 1930s, they started promoting the red release pin. I think that conservation ethic, combined with the popularity circle hooks, the net ban perhaps creating more pods bait in the area, and just the overall ethic of catching and releasing fish, … this is a proud moment for the Palm Beach fishing community and the West Palm Beach Fishing Club.”

Nine of the top boats had over 20 fish, among them: Get Lit, 36; Weez in the Keys, 28; Emotional Rescue, 25; JiChi, 24; Barefoot, 23; Sandman, 23; El Palacio de los Jugos, 21; Double Diamond, 20; and Trick or Treat, 20.

All of the catches came on live baits fished off kites or flatlines.

Chad Moss, team leader of the Ft. Lauderdale-based Barefoot, a 64 Viking, said it was easy finding fish:

“Based on what we saw yesterday, we were running up the coast before lines-in. Then we saw five or six fish, and said ‘here’s the spot.’ The fish bit all day, right up to the end.”

“It was chaos,” said Rocco Inneo, mate on the Deerfield Beach-based Double Diamond, a 33 Contender center console. “Lots of double, lots of fish close to other boats. We got lucky on a lot of fish.”

Angler Mike Webber aboard the Petunia had the biggest “fun fish,” a 59.3-pound wahoo caught on a 20-pound spinning outfit, with 40-pound leader, a circle hook and a live goggle-eye. The team fought the fish for 45 minutes, which still left time to post 8 sailfish releases—which put them near the bottom of the pack in terms of release points.

Mike Webber with 59-pound wahoo on Petunia.

Read that again: eight sailfish and a monster wahoo.

Today (Friday) begins another day of fishing, and Saturday will be a short day followed by the awards banquet. Rest assured there’ll be a lot of proud anglers attending–from the looks of things, there’ll be no such thing as last place in this year’s Derby!

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