By Ed Killer for Martin County
One of the most photographed subjects in all of Martin County is the Sailfish Statue in downtown Stuart. It sits in a fountain in Jefferson Circle and has become an elegant centerpiece of a welcome mat at the northern entrance to the downtown sector.
The 18-foot tall leaping bronze sailfish is the majestic creation of world renowned wildlife sculptor Geoffrey C. Smith. It was commissioned and donated by businessman and entrepreneur Edward Sellian in 2002 (and to this day Sellian refuses to reveal how much the gift to his adopted city cost).
Smith’s passion and eye for detail created an amazing monument to the raw power and beauty a sailfish actually exhibits in the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Sellian wanted to recognize his sheer joy of catching sailfish, a passion he also had as an angler who enjoyed fishing in and winning many of South Florida’s most prestigious sailfish tournaments.
So what’s the big deal about sailfish? If you have to ask, then you need to catch one.
And Martin County offers the perfect launch point to get in on some of the world’s most exciting fishing action for sailfish. The sailfish is one of those fish everyone should be able to catch. They are generally large – longer than 4 feet, and up to about 8 feet off St. Lucie Inlet. They are nearly the fastest swimming fish in the sea trailing only the speedster the wahoo. When they are hooked, they may sky 10 feet into the air, sound to the bottom of the ocean, run as much line off a fishing reel as they can pull, and do not tire easily. When they come close to the boat, their colors are a mix of iridescent blue, silver, purple and black with gold highlights.
One of the cool things about sailfish is that they have low food value. Anglers do still enjoy having a sailfish mounted, but thanks largely to Martin County’s Mike Kirkhart and son Buddy Kirkhart at New Wave Taxidermy, it is no longer required to kill a sailfish to make a mount. They can reproduce award-winning sailfish mounts and lifelong memories of a catch with a good photo and a few measurements.
But Stuart and Martin County got in on the sailfish action early on in its history. It was January 1938 and Stuart News editor and visionary Ernie Lyons was hosting a half dozen sports writers from some of the nation’s largest newspapers. He had them out fishing aboard the Whiticar Fleet with Captains Add Whiticar and sons Jack, Johnson and Curt. The small fishing fleet based in Stuart had tallied over 1,000 sailfish catches in a little less than a week. One of the columnists went back home and penned a phrase that read something like: “You might as well call that place Stuart the world capital of sailfish.”
And a nickname, and an identity was born, just like that. Lyons convened with community leaders who immediately snapped up the suggestion and branded Martin County Sailfish Capital of the World with an official charter. Now the image of the sailfish is emblazoned on everything from city logos on garbage cans and more, to businesses, to service providers. There may be other areas of the world where one can catch more sailfish, but from November through February, Martin County is one of the best places to easily find the fish.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Ed Killer, Outdoors columnist with Treasure Coast Newspapers and the USA Today Network for providing the copy.