UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

All the king’s men

All the king’s men
Captain Rick Smith (left), Carl Alexander and Jimmy Mancil of Team Wild Turkey catch a Bahama king estimated between 40 and 42 pounds Thursday in practice fishing out of Fort Pierce.

FORT PIERCE, Fla. - Like the explosive strike of the king mackerel, the world's richest fishing tournament organization has leapt headfirst into the world of professional kingfishing. Fishing fans familiar with FLW Outdoors' longtime ventures into the realm of bass fishing might soon discover that this latest foray, the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, feels a lot like a bass tournament on steroids.

"This is a historic moment because this is a tournament that will be remembered for a long time to come," FLW Outdoors President Charlie Evans said Thursday night at the pre-tournament captains' meeting. "We're not here to compete with anybody. We're here to grow this sport and give it the kind of publicity, recognition and reward that it deserves."

Rewarding enough is the catch itself in this line of fishing. In practice Thursday, Team Wild Turkey, captained by Rick Smith of Brunswick, Ga., caught a roughly 40-pound kingfish while trolling off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla. Like a well-rehearsed orchestra, the four-man team hooked, fought and landed the feisty king - without the aid of a gaff - with the efficiency of a virtuoso.

"That's a (heck) of a first fish of the year, isn't it?" said breathless crewmember Tony Thaw, who reeled in the fish. "It wasn't really long, but it was fat."

"That's one of those things where everything worked out perfectly," crewmember Carl Alexander said, referring to the speed and ease with which they landed the big kingfish. The 40-pound Bahama king made its initial run, screaming line out of the reel, but surrendered quickly to Alexander's deft boat maneuvering and Thaw's rod handling. "That happens only about one in a million times."

"Yeah, and it happened about 24 hours too early," Smith responded. "Here, that was a tournament winner."

Having marked the spot of the catch in his GPS, Smith quickly released the fish to fight another day.

A kingfish boat takes off at the Fort Pierce inlet.Fishing Fort Pierce

Fort Pierce is a traditional launching point for many of the first kingfishing tournaments of the season. Ravaged by two direct hurricane hits last summer, the area still looks a little like a war zone on land. Shattered signage and empty hotel parking lots attest to the damage that last year's freak storms imposed upon the region.

But out at sea, the battle between man and fish goes on. The 40-pound king caught by Team Wild Turkey Thursday could very well have placed atop the leaderboard this weekend if it was caught a day later. On this side of Florida, Smith said, a 40-pounder is worth keeping. On the Gulf side of the state and up toward Louisiana, it's a different story.

"Over there, fishing around those oil rigs, we throw the 40-pounders back," he said. "There are so many good fish there."

Techniques in the Atlantic also differ from Gulf techniques. Trolling at different depths and staying on the move chasing baitfish will define this weekend's event, while spot-fishing structure will come into play at future events, especially as the tour hits the shores of Louisiana.

Whole new game

Compared to your average bass tournament, not only are the fish bigger at this week's event, just about everything else is, too.

The fleet of Wellcraft, Hydra-Sports, Aquasport, Seaswirl and other boats competing here - some stretching out to 35 feet in length or more - are powered by up to 900 horsepower in outboard power. Many rigs, like Smith's trio of 250s, have three outboards on the back.

Teams are allowed up to six lines in the water at a time. Some are attached to a downrigger to reach bottom, while others are run near water level, with the rest running at different depths in between to maximize coverage of the water column.

Bait is another issue. Kingfish like it fresh, so some of a team's time will be set aside for catching the jack fish that attract the toothy predators. For instance, Team Wild Turkey's big kingfish Thursday was caught on a blue runner, which could play a key role in this weekend's tournament.

Unlike Smith, who used a tail-grab technique in order to land his fish without hurting it Thursday, competitors will use a gaff to put the keepers in the boat today and tomorrow. All proceeds from the sale of the kings brought to weigh-in will go to the FishAmerica Foundation or other charitable causes.

Anglers are fishing for the best single fish caught over two days. Here, that means some teams won't even land a fish unless it tops 30 pounds or so. For instance, Smith said that if he had been fishing a tournament day, he would have headed back in to wait for weigh-in after catching that 40-pounder at 11:30 a.m.

A jetty fisherman catches takeoff action early Friday morning.VHF radio also plays a crucial role as the common means of communication among the boats and tournament personnel. The field of 107 boats launched from the inlet at Fort Pierce on the Intracoastal Waterway via a radio takeoff Friday morning.

Big fish, big payout

This week's guaranteed payout goes down to 21st place. Teams are competing for a possible first-place prize of $100,000. The winners are guaranteed $40,000, and there are additional $30,000 incentive bonuses from both Genmar and Yamaha.

Friday's inaugural FLW Kingfish weigh-in begins as the scales open at 3 p.m. at the Fort Pierce Marina located at 1 Avenue A in Fort Pierce.

Friday's conditions

Sunrise: 6:22 a.m.
Temperature at takeoff: 77 degrees
Expected high temperature: 84 degrees
Water temperature: around 72 degrees
Seas: 3-4-foot swells
Wind: SE at 15 mph
Maximum humidity: 61 percent
Day's outlook: mostly sunny

Tags: jeff-schroeder  morning-story  2005-04-01-fort-pierce 

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