UPCOMING EVENT: PHOENIX BASS FISHING LEAGUE - 2020 - James River

Smokers and the Bandit

Smokers and the Bandit
Capt. Dennis Stark (left) and Jay Huggins of Team Sea Bandit hoist the 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Championship winner's trophy.

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. - In a thrilling finish to an already action-packed week of kingfishing, Team Sea Bandit edged out defending champs Team Raymarine Saturday to win the 2006 Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour Championship and the sport's top prize, $150,000.

When all was said and done, though, it was likely an exceedingly selfless gesture on the part of Team Lured Away, the third-place finishers, that sealed the victory for Sea Bandit.

To recap, Sea Bandit, Raymarine and Lured Away each caught a smoker king in Saturday's final round. Lured Away led the way with a 38-pound, 7-ounce king but finished third thanks to their fifth-place, 39-pound start on the day. Sea Bandit was next heaviest with a fish weighing 38-2 and ultimately won thanks to their third-place, 43-pound, 15-ounce effort on Friday. Raymarine's fish, a 37-10, was also stout but fell short when added to their fourth-place, 40-pound, 7-ounce weight from Friday.

The final scorecard:

1st place: Sea Bandit, 82-1
2nd place: Raymarine, 78-1
3rd place: Lured Away, 77-7

"This is great, just great," said Sea Bandit Capt. Dennis Stark, who hails from Pinebluff, N.C.

"It was a little nerve-racking out there because we could see everyone catching these fish around us," crew member Jay Huggins said, "but it was all good in the end."

There were no secrets on the water in the finals - literally. All five teams returned to the Atlantic Ocean's moneymaking fishing area this week off the South Carolina coast, the Not-So-Secret Hole, and proceeded to catch fish around each other throughout the day. Conditions were a little tougher today than the slick-water bonanza seen yesterday, but the teams had little trouble landing a fair number of kings.

"The fish weren't turning on like the day before," Huggins said. "We went three-for-six on fish. We started out with one in the mid-20s, then we caught a teenager, and then later on in the day, the smoker hit. We caught him on top on the short line.

"When we brought it up to the top, we got a look at it, and we could tell he didn't want to be caught yet. So we let him run a bit and got him the second time around."

Due to the absence of fellow crew members this week, Sea Bandit was the only two-man crew in the finals. Huggins worked the rod while Capt. Stark was on the gaff.

"When I get that gaff in my hand, I'm not nervous about anything," Stark said.

The bait that hooked the winning fish was a live blue runner. That Sea Bandit even had a blue runner to use was mainly thanks to Capt. Robert Schoenfeld and Team Lured Away. This morning, Stark and Huggins discovered that all but five of their live baits had died in their box overnight. With the bait-fishing scarce here all week, Sea Bandit was in a pickle.

"When we lined up for takeoff this morning, all we had were a box of frozen cigar minnows and some frozen ribbonfish," Huggins said. "And nobody was here selling bait this morning. They had all already left."

In an extremely generous gesture, considering the high-money stakes for the day, Schoenfeld gave Sea Bandit about a dozen live baits from his boat.

"He offered us those baits, saying he wanted us on an even keel. And we graciously accepted," Huggins said. "We caught that fish on a live blue runner, and it could have been from Bobby. Let's put it this way: We only had one blue runner in the box, so most likely, percentage-wise, it probably came from Bobby."

"Yeah, we thanked him about a hundred times already, believe me," Starks said.

The $150,000 winner's check for Sea Bandit consisted of $75,000 in winnings plus $37,500 each in contingency money from both Yamaha and Hydra-Sports.

Team Raymarine looks on from the leaderRaymarine watches repeat slip away

Team Raymarine earned $50,000 total in winnings plus Wellcraft and Yamaha contingency money for second place.

The team, which won last year's championship at Morehead City, N.C., while fishing under the name Early Riser, made a strong bid to repeat. But not only did they fall just short, they watched it happen within the confines of the Not-So-Secret Hole.

"We knew if it wasn't going to be us, it would be (Sea Bandit)," said Capt. John Parks of Jacksonville, N.C. "We saw them catch that fish, and we knew it was going to be close. All five of us were fishing in the same area, so it was a really unique championship."

Team Raymarine celebrates as they take over the lead Saturday with 37-pound, 10-ounce king. They ultimately finished second with a total of 78-1.Parks said they caught some seven or eight kings Saturday, mostly on ribbonfish.

"They weren't hitting for us much on live bait," he said. "This one bit on a ribbonfish with a chartreuse jighead about 40 feet down. It was the exact same thing we caught that 40(-pounder) on yesterday."

Raymarine caught their smoker, 37-pound, 10-ounce king at about 10 o'clock, and they felt pretty good about their chances to defend their title.

"I didn't do it, but I was going to get on the radio and tell everybody to go home. It's over," Parks laughed. "I'm not too bummed out about second place, though, because anytime you can weigh one in over 30 pounds, it's a good day. Of course, I sure would have loved to repeat at the championship."

Team Lured Away led the way with a 38-pound, 7-ounce king in the finals but finished third with a total of 77-7.Lured Away climbs to third

Taking third place, Team Lured Away earned $17,500.

Asked about the bait he gave to Sea Bandit that may have cost them a spot or two in the final standings, Schoenfeld laughed: "Oh man, that's going to be the most expensive bait they ever bought. Seriously, I just wanted everybody on a level playing field, that's all."

Lured Away caught three kings Saturday. Their keeper, the heaviest of the day, bit a mullet on the long line late in the day, about 2:30.

"We started out this morning and had about a 10-minute advantage getting to the spot this morning. Then we didn't have any fish while everybody else was starting to catch them," Schoenfeld said. "I actually knew (Sea Bandit) had a good fish when I saw them gaff it. I just knew there would be some good fish out there today."

Despite their near-miss Saturday, the team out of Conroe, Texas, was perhaps the hottest team on tour this year. Counting third place this week, Lured Away knocked down three top-five finishes this season, including a second-place at Fort Pierce, Fla., and a fifth-place at Southport, N.C. They qualified for the championship ranked sixth.

"You can't win them all," crew member Albert Vrazel said. "We had a fantastic season."

Sea Rat fourth, Wild Ride fifth

Despite landing the fish of the week, if not their career - a 50-pound, 6-ounce monster on Friday - Capt. Mitch Yates of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Team Sea Rat couldn't muster the 30-pound-plus smoker they needed Saturday to stay on top. They caught a 15-pound, 10-ounce king and finished fourth with a final weight of 66 pounds even.

Sea Rat earned $18,750 in winnings and Yamaha contingencies.

"The water color changed up on us a little bit. The fishing was definitely not as good as it was yesterday," Yates said. "But we had a great time this week."

" border="1" align="right" />Fifth place and $20,000 went to Capt. Randy Griffin Jr. of Hampstead, N.C., and Team Wild Ride.

They caught a king weighing 17 pounds, 10 ounces in the finals and finished with 63 pounds even.

"It was a great day," Griffin said. "We caught a lot of fish, but they were just a little smaller than we had hoped."

Tags: jeff-schroeder  headline-story  2006-11-09-kingfish-tour-championship 

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