KEY WEST, Fla. — Capt. Marco Gaona led his angler Jim O'Malley to a catch and release of a blue marlin estimated to weigh 550 pounds Saturday, but despite the huge fish, his Shockwave fishing team missed winning the Drambuie Key West Marlin tournament by less then three points to Rene Cruz aboard Doc Cruiser.
Gaona, of Elberta, Ala., began Saturday's final day of the three-day tournament well out of the lead. The only fish they had on the results board was a 21.45-pound dolphin that Javier Celis caught on Friday.
"We went back to the same area, we fished the first day when we missed two marlin," Gaona said of a region about 25 miles to the southeast of Key West known as the East Crack, a deep drop in the ocean floor where marlin and other pelagic species are known to congregate.
Trolling a mylar-skirted balao, the big marlin bit just before noon. But because O'Malley, a Tampa resident, was using 40-pound test line, it took three-and-a-half hours before the fish could be reeled in and released.
The tournament ended at 3 p.m., and although the blue marlin counted as a 400-point release, Gaona's crew could not fish anymore and had no chance to add a dolphin or other "fun fish" to their score.
"We wanted to catch that and go in shallower to catch a 'fun fish' (dolphin, wahoo or tuna) to put us over the top," said Gaona, who won the Drambuie in 2000. "But the fish fought it out to the very end.
"We had our chance the first and even on the second day when we lost a 45-pound dolphin," said Gaona, whose team won the second-place prize of $15,000. "You have to appreciate what you get, when you get it."
Cruz, a veterinarian in Cudjoe Key, Fla., won the tournament's top $25,000 prize aboard the Doc Cruiser with a 23.05-pound dolphin caught Friday and blue marlin released Thursday.
In third-place was Cracker, skippered by Mark Schultz of Fort Myers Beach, Fla. Cracker's angler Maurice Gibson of Alva, Fla., caught a 17.8-pound dolphin Friday and released a blue marlin Thursday.
The 53-boat, 390-participant tournament was staged in conjunction with the island's Hemingway Days festival, an annual salute to author Ernest Hemingway, who lived, wrote and fished in Key West during the 1930s.
The highlight event was the "Papa" Hemingway Look-Alike Contest , won by a white-bearded 55-year-old Texan.
Dressed in a wool fisherman's turtleneck sweater despite 90-degree temperatures, David Douglas of Cypress bested 139 other look-alike contenders at the event, staged Saturday night at Sloppy Joe's Bar, the author's favorite watering hole.
His attire emulated Ernest Hemingway's appearance in a famous 1957 photograph by Yousuf Karsh.
"It's very possible the sweater did it," said a perspiring Douglas of his victory. "It's about 120 [degrees] inside the sweater, but it's worth it."
A mechanical contractor who has sported a beard for about 20 years, Douglas won the competition on his eighth attempt after originally entering on a dare.
He said he shares Hemingway's fondness for fishing and cocktails, but has no literary aspirations.
"I haven't written any books, but I'm good writing checks and text messaging," Douglas said.
Judged by a panel of former look-alike winners, 30 prospective "Papas" made Saturday night's contest finals to parade across the stage at Sloppy Joe's. Finalists included Denis Golden of Rockport, Mass., who sang a parody of "Hello, Dolly" onstage with lyrics pleading for victory.
Douglas said he was hailed as Hemingway in Key West even before winning the contest.
"I always felt like Hemingway walking the streets because people would call you Mr. Hemingway, and that's some of the fun of doing all this," he said.
Other Hemingway Days events included literary and theatrical presentations and a short story competition coordinated by author and Hemingway granddaughter Lorian Hemingway.
While living in Key West during the 1930s, Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works, including "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "To Have and Have Not" and "Death in the Afternoon."