Continuing Conservation in the “Sailfish Capital of World,” Saltwater Sisters, Indian River Lagoon

Florida sailfish ad, ca. 1960s. (Florida Memory Project)
Florida sailfish ad, ca. 1960s. (Florida Memory Project.)

I vividly remember my father going fishing for sailfish with his buddies in the 1960s and 70s; my brother has taught his three girls to “reel them in…”

Me? I have never caught a sailfish; I am not a hunter either. Nonetheless, I recognize that fishermen and women, and hunters are some of the strongest conservationist in the United States and around the world. People protect what they love…

I started thinking about sailfish recently because Jamie Burns asked me if I would be a “judge” for a boat theme contest taking place October 24-25 for the “Salt Water Sisters” Lady Angler Tournament.

I was honored to be included and started reading about the organization which is an arm of the famous “Stuart Sailfish Club” that formed in Martin County informally in the 1930s, and later formally in 1941. This organization set the bar on conservation in our area.

According to my mother, Sandra Thurlow’s book, Stuart on the St Lucie:

“Immediately after the club’s incorporation, Ernie Lyons announced the next immediate goal was the creation of a release button to be given to individuals who consistently released their sailfish….in 1941 records show that a record, over 5000 sailfish,  were caught in a 90 day period, January through March 1941. Many sportsmen let their sailfish go but thousands were slaughtered only to be dumped into the river, carted off by garbage collectors, or used for shark bait.

Because of the efforts of the Stuart Sailfish Club, anglers soon began to compete for Curt Whiticar’s beautifully designed release button in preference to all the rest.”

Stuart Sailfish Club release button, designed by Curt Whiticar,1941. (Photo courtesy of Thurlow archives.)
Stuart Sailfish Club release button, designed by Curt Whiticar, 1941. It reads “Stuart Sailfish Club, Released.” (Photo courtesy of Thurlow archives.)

I think this is an amazing and inspirational story!

As a St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon side note, I hear a lot of things about the Indian River Lagoon and someone once told me the sailfish spawn right off the St Lucie Inlet. In our area the fish can spawn a good portion of the year but mostly in the warmer summer months, therefore, polluted releases from our canals and Lake Okeechobee have an effect on the sailfish population in our area. Just one more reason to stop them!

Ernest Hemmingway
Ernest Hemingway was an avid sailfish fisherman and popularized the sport. (Photo Florida Memory Project.)
Drew family of Jacksonville in Stuart ca. 1920 fishing for sailfish. (Photo Thurlow archives.)
Drew family of Jacksonville in Stuart ca. 1920 fishing for sailfish. (Photo Thurlow archives.)
Stuart Sailfish Club
Stuart Sailfish Club
Saltwater Sisters
Saltwater Sisters

In closing,  I  would like to wish all of the participants of the Salt Water Sisters Lady Angler Tournament “good luck” this weekend. Wear your “catch and release” button with pride in the memory of those who came before us and had the foresight to protect the beautiful creatures of the ocean and our way of life.


History Stuart Sailfish Club: (

Stuart Sailfish Club (

Florida Memory Project/photos :  (



6 thoughts on “Continuing Conservation in the “Sailfish Capital of World,” Saltwater Sisters, Indian River Lagoon

  1. When a million people go offshore fishing and ALL of them cut the line and release the sharks and keep the good eating fish they have created an imbalance that can doom the very fish they love to catch. From what I have seen Stuart is no longer the sailfish capital but is now the shark capital. From what a friend of mine who lives in Savanna GA. says,the same thing has happened to the cobia. Cobia from all over used to migrate to the Savanna River to spawn and now there is nothing but sharks.

  2. I did not to waunt to say this but I had to. Because it is the truth. About 20 years ago I was helping build the Palm Bay hospital and a guy I worked with told me a story. When he was diveing off Stuart a big sharks head fell down beside him. He said it must have been about 7 or 8 foot long before it was bit off. He said he was very afraid to go up. It is ironic that maby the Great Whites have been the reason any sailfish have survived at all. Black Tips and Bull sharks are mainly the problem.Bull sharks hunt at night and Black Tips hunt in the day. Black tips are capable of tremendous speeds and when you have large numbers of either type they can be like locust on a corn field to a reef.Fishing is a great way for kids to grow up.When I see familys takeing their kids fishing it makes me hope people will open thier eyes and do what ever is necessary to assure this way of life does not end they way the American Indians way of life ended.

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