A Day to Remember ... or Forget

KMT Tournament Journals


As I heard the out-going clicker on one of my TICA 558S reels and Bela live-bait rods, I turned just in time to see it come zipping past my right ear. A resounding thump and resulting crack in my port Yamaha motor cover preceded the outfit's plunge into the open ocean off the stern of my Contender... Hmmm, let me see… I should probably start from the beginning. My team and I were fishing the Topsail Offshore King Mackerel Tournament in October 2006. As you will soon learn, the Liquid Fire Fishing Team had one of the most exhilarating, frustrating and disappointing days we have had since, well, since ever.

Once we arrived at our destination on the east side of the Cape Lookout Shoals, I deployed our first bait, an active three pound bluefish. By the time we were able to position the other five lines, the first bait was inhaled. What came next is music to the ears of every tournament fisherman -- the rhythmic tone of the screaming reel beginning its ascension.

"FISH ON!" We all shrieked in unison. "It's the long, middle line! Here Joshua, take the reel. The downriggers need to come up first! Which way is she going? Is it still on? OUCH!" (I'm not sure "ouch" is exactly what I said as one of my Gamakatsu treble hooks penetrated the side of my hand while trying to remove it from one of the other baits.) "I've got the last rocket launcher bait. Daddy, you can go ahead and start to turn the boat; all the lines are up. Get the helm, Chris. Crockett, grab the gaff!" Chills ran up our spines. We knew by the blistering speed at which the line was being peeled off the reel that this could be "The One." The unmistakable hole in the water that the fish made at strike, created an excitement that was riveting. With thousands of dollars on the line (literally), this might equal a big payday!

We were prepared and had performed flawlessly – this time. It was early, and we knew that we could possibly have an easy and relaxing day prior to cruising to the weigh-in sporting this monster. Boy, was I wrong! My son, Joshua, calmly gained back the line the fish had removed as team co-captain, Chris Waters, skillfully put us right above the fish. My younger son, Crockett, handed me the gaff. After my father, Charles, put us on this fish, he relayed information from angler to helmsman. Again, this was text book, until…

"It's off." Joshua relayed the hollowing words to our panting team. "The line separated." In other words -- it broke. This was incredibly disheartening, since we take a lot of pride in perfecting our terminal tackle preparation. A new, 18-foot section of 30-pound fluorocarbon joined to one of the most popular brands of 20-pound line had failed. We were fighting the fish with about three pounds of drag, and the line simply snapped. Well, after blowing our noses, wiping our tears, and packing our pacifiers away for the next time, we composed ourselves and allowed our testosterone levels to rise to macho status once again.

As my dad circled our chosen location, we pondered the cause and wondered aloud about the rationale behind this mishap. No sooner did we get the bluefish spread back out, than another whopper crashed on a bait. The same scenario transpired as I was prepared to sink the 12-foot Aftco gaff in the silvery side of a potential tournament winner. However, another 20-minute battle ended with the exact same circumstance. The one positive was that we were on the fish – big ones, too. This was the kind of day that tournament fishermen long for.

Biloxi, Mississippi and the upper Gulf are known for this type of bite. The "East Side" is also known to occasionally produce a multitude of monsters, but it just doesn't seem to happen that often. But, we had our chance, right here in our home waters. Nine times that Saturday, we had an opportunity to land a very large king. Yes, nine times, I'm ashamed to say. Each time we lost the fish due to line failure. I certainly have an aversion to the particular brand we were using (maybe it was just a bad batch). However, every tournament reel I have is now spooled with Berkley Trilene Big Game Hi-Test for the upcoming 2007 season. I mostly blame myself for not being prepared. Even though the line was relatively new, I should have been ready and smart enough to make a change with some new line. We carry 14 rod and reel outfits already rigged and ready to deploy. There was no excuse for me not to have enough new line to respool at least a few. Oh well, a big and costly lesson was learned that day.

Battle after battle occurred with the same results. All of our team members became despondent and disheartened. We needed desperately to catch a fish in this Division 1 tournament in hopes of qualifying for the Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) National Championship. It was going to be quite a run from the "East Side" to Surf City Soundside Park, and it was obvious that we did not have the tackle to tame the class of fish that we had found. Therefore, the decision was made to change locations. I took us back across the Cape Lookout Shoals with very limited time remaining to fish. We went to an area where we believed there would be some mid-teenage to mid-twenty pound fish. With about 30 minutes of fishing time remaining, we grudgingly slipped our spread back out. Still fishing hard mind you, but definitely in a foul mood. The only thing that makes you feel better when you have experienced such an emotional roller coaster is – SNICKERS, and lots of them! Joshua was already elbow deep in his (literally) as I began to open mine. Just then, the short starboard line went off. This is when the day turned somewhat comical. Crockett grabbed this reel and began fighting the fish. Now, I had to put my candy bar down to try to see if we could finally land something. I wasn't real sure that I wanted to do this. Choosing between chocolate and more potential failure was a tough choice at this stage of the game. But, being the competitors that most teams are, we dug in and went to work.

This is the point in time that I heard the whistle of my new TICA zing by my head at an alarming rate of speed. As I turned to see what the heck happened, I noticed that my blonde-haired, blue-eyed son Joshua had a look of anguish (not to mention the melted chocolate) all over his face. "Daddy… it slipped… I had chocolate on my fingers," he whispered. No time to be angry, as the prop wash bait began to scorch through the turbulent water. I was the closest to the rod, and since I had only opened my Snickers bar, I began my tug-of-war.

Meanwhile, my 10-year old son, Crockett, was doing battle with another king while Chris cleared the remaining lines. Obviously, we were all a little frustrated at that moment. However, we had gained our composure enough to quickly wrangle what I though might be a small king to the boat, while keeping tabs on what was happening with Crockett's fight. As I retrieved enough line to see the fluorocarbon, I realized that the "fish" I was fighting was actually my 7-foot TICA combo (chocolate still present on the butt of the rod). After slamming into my motor cover, it had gotten wrapped in the prop wash line. Once, Daddy reclaimed the rod from the water and handed it to me, I noticed nearly all the line was gone. Yes, the fish was still on! I turned the fight over to Chris while I focused my effort to gaffing Crockett's 15-pounder.

With a weighable king finally in the box, Chris had methodically regained the 300 plus yards of line that was missing from the "chocolate rocket." Daddy put us over the fish with enough time for me to gaff it, throw it in the fish box and boogie to the scales. Ultimately, this was the fish that we weighed in, a 15.35 pounder. We certainly didn't win any money with this beast, but we learned some valuable lessons and recaptured a $500 rod and reel outfit. I guess, most importantly, when sitting around the dinner table reflecting on our year, our family gets a pretty good chuckle out of this bittersweet day.

Oh, by the way, I think I finally gave my Snickers to Joshua.


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Capt. Josh Henderson holding a large Spanish Mackerel caught on one of his charter fishing trips.

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