UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Hartwell

Koolau kings of Sarasota

Koolau kings of Sarasota
Team Koolau captained by Conrad Lau of Neptune Beach, Fla, (left) won $100,000 at the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour event in Sarasota with a two-day total of two king mackerel weighing 67 pounds, 7 ounces. Also pictured are crewmembers Andy Seeker and Rocky Cusack.

SARASOTA, Fla. - Team Koolau cleared $100,000 by winning the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour season opener at Sarasota, Fla., on Sunday, and they earned every penny of it. Nasty thunderstorms, fierce offshore winds and even a few tornadoes blew into the west coast of Florida, making the final round a true test of seamanship, not to mention angling ability.

Truth be told, all five of the final-round teams earned their money Sunday, especially considering that four of them actually managed to catch fish.

"It was tough fishing today," Capt. Robert Woithe of Team The Reel Won said. "Anybody who caught fish ought to be really proud of themselves."

Koolau clinches with clutch catches

A breezy, overcast early morning quickly turned into a threatening late morning when an ominous squall rolled in fast from the west, reaching the Sarasota coast at about 11 a.m. The storm poured heavy rain and gusty winds up to 40 mph on the Florida coast for about 45 minutes and even spawned a few tornadoes north of Tampa, Fla. The storm quickly passed and the skies cleared a bit, but the wind never let up.

These were the conditions the FLW Kingfish Tour finalists were faced with, and none of them blinked. All but Team Lured Away, the day-two leader, caught a decent kingfish Sunday.

Team Koolau, headed up by Capt. Conrad Lau of Neptune Beach, Fla., landed the biggest. Around 1 o'clock, their one and only kingfish of the day hit a ribbonfish on the downrigger at 20 feet.

"The fish came up once and swiped at it, and then it came up again and took the bait," Lau said. "It was mayhem, trying to keep the boat straight to reel it in. I mean, these boats are just like a sail in wind like this. After about 45 minutes, we finally got it in for the gaff shot."

Weighing in at 29 pounds, 12 ounces, Team KoolauWeighing in at 29 pounds, 12 ounces, it was the biggest of four fish to hit the scales Sunday, and it really was the decisive catch of the tournament. Koolau entered the day in fourth place thanks to the 37-pound, 11-ounce fish it caught down south on Friday, but the leaderboard was tight heading into Sunday. Lured Away had an almost 5 1/2-pound lead over second place after yesterday, but places two through five were separated by no more than just over 2 1/2 pounds. Koolau ended up winning with a total weight of 67-7, just more than 2 1/2 pounds over runner-up Team Reelin'.

"The feeling today was that we just wanted to catch a fish, no matter how big," Lau said. "When that fish hit, it was, `Let's go to work.' The ocean was really difficult to deal with today."

So difficult were the conditions, in fact - seas reached up to 15 feet offshore and 6 to 10 feet inshore - that everybody pretty much fished the same area Sunday. All five of the finalists made the cut by catching heavy 30- and 40-pounders way down south the first two days. On day three, all five teams wisely abandoned that plan and headed north toward the relative shelter of Tampa Bay. After takeoff they all gathered at a community fishing spot north of Egmont Key, at the mouth of Tampa Bay, known as 90-Foot Hole. When the storms rolled in later, they scattered, and Koolau headed for the shelter of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spanning Tampa Bay.

"We moved over by the bridge in case there was lightning, and there was some," Lau said. "After the storms passed, we went to South Pier and then back to 90-Foot Hole. That's when that fish bit."

Fighting the wind, Lau, who was driving the boat, deserves major credit for landing the winning fish. But crew members Andy Seeker, who was on the rod, and Rocky Cusack, who worked the gaff, also had no easy time of it in the front of the boat with waves crashing over the bow.

In addition to the $40,000 winner's check, Koolau won $30,000 in Wellcraft contingency money and $30,000 in Evinrude money.In fact, Koolau won despite having a seemingly tougher time of it this weekend, period. A number of teams caught lots of fish, but not the winners.

"It's kind of interesting: We had only two strikes and caught two fish over the last three days," said Lau, who won his first tournament after nine years of competitive kingfishing. "Winning this one's sweet. I can't complain about taking home $100,000 in my first win."

In addition to the $40,000 winner's check, Koolau won $30,000 in Wellcraft contingency money and $30,000 in Evinrude money.

Team Reelin' finished in second place by catching a nice, 24-pound, 13-ounce king Sunday. They totaled 64-14 for the tournament.Reelin' second

Team Reelin' held on to finish in second place and won $13,960 by catching a nice, 24-pound, 13-ounce king in the chop off Egmont Key. They totaled 64-14 for the tournament.

"We stopped in the deep hole and had a little plan that we implemented," said Capt. Marc Pincus of Hilton Head Island, S.C. "The timing was incredible. Right after the storm came through, there was a little bit of a lull, and the tide was just changing. We went three-for-four in 45 minutes, and then it was over. To catch fish in weather like this, we were ecstatic. And this is just the second time we've fished Sarasota."

Also catching a 24-pound, 13-ounce fish, Team The Reel Won finished third with a total weight of 62-4.The Reel Won third

Also catching a 24-pound, 13-ounce fish, Capt. Woithe of Placida, Fla., and Team The Reel Won finished third with a total weight of 62-4.

They earned $8,213.

Team Pro Marine USA.com-Hannon's Cannon, caught a kingfish weighing in at 21 pounds even Sunday, which earned them fourth place with a total weight of 60-10.Hannon's Cannon fourth

Capt. Kevin Hannon of Seminole, Fla., and Team Pro Marine USA.com-Hannon's Cannon, which led on day one, was the fourth team to catch a fish in the blustery finals. Their king weighed in at 21 pounds even and earned them $6,570 for fourth place with a total weight of 60-10.

"It was pretty snotty out there. When it's like this, there are only a couple spots where you can go. That evens the playing field, which is good," Hannon said. "Being the guy steering the boat, I was a busy guy today, trying to keep it into the wind."

Coming up short on fish Sunday, fifth-place Team Lured Away instead pulled out squirt guns at weigh-in to cool off Team Koolau after their hot day of fishing Sunday at Sarasota.Lured Away comes up short, takes fifth

Day-two leaders Capt. Robert Schoenfeld of Conroe, Texas, and Team Lured Away caught the heaviest fish of the tournament Saturday - a 45-pound, 7-ounce king - but couldn't follow up on it Sunday. Facing the teeth of the howling wind, they posted the day's lone goose egg.

Lured Away finished fifth with a 45-7 total and collected $5,748.

"We we're all pretty much doing the same thing out there," Schoenfeld said. "It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time."

Impressively, this was the team's fifth top-five finish in FLW Kingfish Tour competition since the circuit's inception in 2005.

Coming up

The next Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour event, the season's second, is scheduled for Fort Pierce, Fla., June 8-10.

Tags: jeff-schroeder  headline-story  2007-04-13-sarasota 

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