Sailfishing in honor of a legend


ISLAMORADA, Fla. — When legendary captain Don Gurgiolo died in 1999, his funeral procession included over 60 boats that ventured to an area known as "the Spaghetti Patch" where Gurgiolo's ashes were scattered. Gurgiolo had found and named this now famous bait-holding area.

In 50 years of guiding, Gurgiolo built a reputation for developing innovative fishing techniques, especially for sailfish, and mentoring young anglers.

It was only natural that Gurgiolo's daughter, Tammie, would start an annual sailfish tournament in her father's honor, the year after he died at age 71. Now, in the ninth year of the Don Gurgiolo Sailfish Classic, it has become a part of the ESPN Saltwater Redbone Series.

And that's a natural, too.

"We were very close friends," said Gary Ellis, who, along with this wife, Susan, founded the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series as a fundraiser for curing cystic fibrosis.

"Dad would have wanted this," Tammie Gurgiolo said. "Gary and my father were close friends, and my father always tried to help kids. He was a very giving person."

As a result, about 20 teams will venture offshore here Saturday and Sunday in pursuit of sailfish. The winning team will be determined by the highest total of sailfish caught and released.

Unlike previous Redbone events in the Florida Keys this year, when flats fishing for bonefish, permit and/or tarpon was the goal, wind was not your friend. However the windy conditions predicted over the next two days should produce good sailfishing.

"When the wind blows, it makes it a little lively out there," Gurgiolo said.

Two of the captains that Don Gurgiolo mentored were on hand for Friday night's registration/reception at the Marker 88 Restaurant.

Dirk Reich, 57, said he spent countless hours talking and fishing with Gurgiolo and, in the process, learning fishing techniques that would work successfully anywhere.

"Don did things nobody ever thought of doing," Reich said. "He was a true pioneer. I have fished around the world. And I can catch fish everywhere using the techniques he taught me. He was god, as far as I was concerned."

It was in using live bait, like ballyhoo, and light tackle, like spinning gear and 12-pound test line, where Gurgiolo especially made his mark.

Alex Adler, now a frequent guide for Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, described a fishing method that Gurgiolo called "dinner and a movie." While anchored with rods rigged deep for grouper and snapper (dinner), Gurguiolo rigged other rods with kites and live bait (the movie) for catching sailfish at the same time.

"Alex is the son my father never had," Tammie said. "He's like a brother to me."

And it was Don Gurgiolo's influence that led to Adler earning his captain's license shortly after graduating from high school. He's been successfully guiding anglers ever since.

If there are as many sailfish caught as there are Don Gurgiolo stories told this weekend, this promises to be a whale of a tournament.