A 39-foot SeaVee fishing boat pierces through the shiny brine of an early morning sun that rises red and level with the sea. Members of the Sailsmen fishing team work their way about the vessel, tossing in lines hooked with fresh bait. Captain Jeff Scott mans the helm and squints into the horizon as small droplets of water turn into pelting rain. Team owner Michael Kornahrens readies the right kite, an apparatus that helps keep bait atop the water while trolling.
There are times when the Fort Lauderdale-based fishing team has come up against 15-foot waves that crash over them, knocking them all down, face to the deck. There are razor-sharp hooks all around, filed to perfection and unforgiving to the flesh of fish or man. Today’s excursion is happening, as they often do, early on a Saturday morning, a time when pancakes and pillows are a popular choice for many.
In many ways, competitive fishing has gone high-tech. Filaments and laser-cut hooks are now attached to the latest rods made of carbon fiber, a material used in military applications to stop bullets. Advanced fishing hulls offer light weight-to-strength ratio, and the Sailsmen go to sea with 1200hp of water-churning power provided by four outboard Mercury Verado engines. But technology doesn’t let you escape 15-foot swells in an angry ocean.
Why do the Sailsmen do it? Perhaps as Lord Byron once wrote about the deep sea, the Sailsmen hear the "music in its roar.” It probably doesn’t hurt that they’re so good at catching fish and winning tournaments either.
Sponsored by Fort Lauderdale-based Advanced Roofing, the Sailsmen have built themselves into an elite competitive sport-fishing team, winning more than $1M in prize money since 2008. In recent years they’ve won tournaments including the Pompano Beach Saltwater Slam and Final Sail. Not bad for a group that started when old friends from Cardinal Gibbons High School wanted to fish together.
Kornahrens comes from a fishing family - his father grew up fishing on Long Island with his dad, while his uncle was in the commercial fishing business. He feels that he brings organization to the team - he keeps things moving aboard the boat. But what keeps him moving is a "passion for the ocean," he says. He also acts as the team’s mechanic while Scott, the captain, constantly looks for visual signs of where fish might be lurking - weed lines, floating objects or maybe a bird circling overhead.
David “Cobia” Collier – he earned the nickname by landing a tasty 93lb cobia - is responsible for running the camera during sailfish tournaments. All team members must follow a specific protocol - the video camera must capture events like fish identification and leader grab that must happen in a given order every time for a team to get credit for a catch. One wrong move or memory slip can render a hard-fought battle irrelevant in the name of tournament protocol. The stringent measures exist because prizes can run into six figures.
Crew member Mike Calabrese has figured out another way to make money in fishing – he’s the inventor of a trolling bait called Fire Tailz and the holder of a 100-ton captain license. Fire Tailz is a unique bait that mimics the actions of small fish by employing basic physics to create lifelike action. Calabrese has fished around the world, including a trip from Panama to Tahiti and also a journey to the Polynesian archipelago of Tonga. He chased blue marlin in Tonga and revels in its unspoiled ecosystem. He believes old-fashioned skills and modern technology combine to make a great fisherman.
"Patience is essential to being a good fisherman,” he says. “I am grateful and fortunate to live in a time with all these [technologically advanced] boats.”
Robbie Clawges, the team’s youngest member, also has relevant professional experience – he works for his family’s business, Sundance Marine.
Favorite memories for the teams include Final Sail 2014, when they brought in 15 fish in one day to take first place. There was the time in 2012 when they came from behind to catch six sailfish and win the Sailfish Pro Series while battling 40-knot winds from the east. The other fishing teams who were aboard bigger boats wanted to come back to dock and end the tournament.
But it’s not all about wins for the former high school buddies.
"I'm fishing with my boys – even when it’s not fun, it’s still fun,” Collier says. “At the end of the day we're all boys, and that's why we do this."