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Dueling sailfish stories

Lynn Zirkle was driving across the Howard Frankland Bridge on Tuesday afternoon when he saw the bay was flat as glass.

"I said to myself, "I should be out there fishing for kings,' " he said. "So I went home, got in the boat and took off."

Zirkle and friend Mike Muar caught some cigar minnows, then headed to the Egmont Ship Channel.

"As soon as we started trolling, we caught a fish," Zirkle said. "I was working on trying to get a line out on the downrigger when we got another hit."

At first, Zirkle thought he had a monster king. But then he saw the fish splash and realized it was a sailfish.

"The fish started greyhounding across the water and I told my buddy, "No way are we going to get this thing in,' " Zirkle said.

He knew that one swipe of the tail would slice his 12-pound test line like kite string. But it held for the 45-minute fight.

"When we got it alongside the boat I thought for sure we had a state record," Zirkle said. "It was the fattest sailfish I had ever seen."

At the same time, up the coast off Anclote Key, Capt. Gene Struthers watched as a client battled another sailfish.

"We had to chase that thing all over the gulf," he said. "We had so much line out I thought it would break just because of all the drag caused by the water."

But the 15-pound test held and Struthers landed the 67-pounder. Zirkle's fish, caught about the same time, was 85 pounds.

"We thought it weighed at least 125 pounds," Zirkle said. "We would have let it go if we didn't."

Sailfish, something of a rarity in this part of the gulf, have been showing up with greater frequency in recent years, especially during kingfish season. Some experts think the healthier stocks are a result of more anglers practicing catch and release.

OLD SALTS RAISE MONEY FOR SCHOOL: Hats off to the Old Salt Fishing Club. The organization recently held a fishing tournament to benefit the Madeira Beach Middle School and raised $1,000 to help build an outdoor-living classroom.

"On April 29 contractors will begin construction of a marine trail, dock and lagoon at Madeira Beach Middle School," principal Brenda Poff said in a release. "These enhancements will be a real tribute to our community's support for environmental education.

"We are very proud to be associated with such an outstanding fishing club as the Old Salts. Their leadership and support have helped to make the dream become a reality."