A Pro Debut Part 1

KMT Tournament Journals


As twilight quietly blanketed the towering pines, a littering of luminescent shimmers painted the western side of NC Highway 53. Reflections from the eyes of a herd of deer, and the appearance of Venus in the eastern skyline provided an awareness that we were about to embark on a fishing adventure of a lifetime.

Still 975 miles and more than 17 hours from our destination, my family and I began to question our sanity. Unexpectedly, our 2008 king mackerel tournament season had begun.

Heck, all I did was call my friend, Rob Ferris, captain of the Mad Mouse Fishing Team. I wanted to wish him well during the SKA's Yamaha Professional Kingfish Tour, in Key West. After a brief, light-hearted chat on Monday night, Rob began his quest to help his sponsor, SeaCraft, with the question -- "You wouldn't want to fish, would you?"

I immediately asked if any of his crew was unable to make the trip, but the team of Monica Ferris, Rob's daughter, and Sam Locklear was intact and raring to go.

No, his request was to bring my Liquid Fire team to the Keys to fish the new SeaCraft 23TE that was already on site. The team that was slated to fish the new ride had a last minute change of plans and couldn't participate.

After allowing my mind to contemplate the possibility, I responded, "Rob, there is about a 98.73 percent chance that this will not happen."

"Think about it," he said. "I'll call ya' in the morning and see if you can do it."

While eating dinner with my family, I mentioned my conversation as tentatively as if I were dipping my toe into a swimming pool to check the water temperature. Instead of coming out with an expected shiver, I was immediately comforted with a budding interest and warmth of questions.

Our family had discussed many times the possibility of fishing the professional tour. The opportunity to fish against some of the best fishermen in the world had been intriguing for the last couple of years. However, the reality always seemed elusive.

We timidly discussed the "what if's," should we decide to take the plunge, but the night ended with the remaining 1.27 percent chance of making the trip still firm. Tuesday morning began as any other would for me, preparing reports for nine service and parts departments as the Fixed Operations Director for Stevenson Automotive. However, a repressed excitement of being asked to participate in the tournament was simmering in my thoughts.

As promised, my cell phone began to vibrate at 9:30 a.m., and "Rob Ferris" appeared on the screen.

"Hey, Buddy," he began in his melodious, southern tone. "Are you going to be able to do it?" The 1.27 percent immediately increased by a factor of 50! After explaining that the boat was already at City Marina, full of fuel, and in a slip, the only thing really left for me to do was pack. With each ensuing phone call throughout the day from Rob and SeaCraft representative, Curt Jarson, the chance of my team fishing grew to 100 percent as I secured one of the only condominiums remaining in Key West at 2:30 p.m. Talk about putting a hurting a credit card! But, I called my family, and the team went into high gear, packing all of the essentials.

Sink or swim, Team Liquid Fire was diving in – head first!

Calling my friend, Todd Matthews from The Right One Baby Fishing Team, to tell him the news produced an unexpected two dozen ribbonfish.

"I'll bag 'em, put 'em in a cooler, and bring them to your house," he said. "You need these down there. The kings love 'em."

By 7:25 p.m., we were pulling out of my driveway, leaving behind five teary-eyed, but jubilant, team members. Our 18-hour journey from Cape Carteret, N.C., to the southern most tip of the continental United States was under way.

My mind pondered the possibilities and consequences such an endeavor could bring. As a tournament fisherman, I always have hopes and aspirations of scoring big. But, would we be able to succeed in this arena with a new boat and in an unfamiliar area?

Our expectations were undecided even to us, this time. We just didn't know what to anticipate. I only knew that I was beginning to drive at a time that I was usually thinking about hittin' the sack.

Finally, making our way down I-95, through South Carolina and Georgia, the rumbling in the vehicle went from an elevated, excited chatter to deep, growling snores and lingering of bad breath. I felt like we were in the middle of a remake of National Lampoons: Vacation. Everyone reading this knows what I mean. . . we've all been there. My tightly packed Suburban reminded me of the Griswald's green sport wagon. The only thing missing was Aunt Emma.

As we approached Daytona Beach, I received a call from another friend of The Right One Baby, Garland Sewell, to ask how we were doing. His call gave us some needed outside contact. An experienced fisherman in Key West, Garland was nearly as excited for us as we were. When I informed him where we were, he gave me an encouraging pep talk. "You're makin' good time," he said. "You've already gotten to the half-way point."

I needed his calming but excited manner, because after noticing the glimmer of sunrise, the reality of another nine hours on the road made us long for our Sealy Posturepedics. However, as daybreak sprung, we regained our senses, and the toothpicks we used to hold open our eyelids were stowed away for the ride back.

Blazing down the Florida Turnpike mile after mile, we finally reached US 1. I mistakenly thought, "Home free!" The sudden appearance of Wednesday afternoon school buses, thirty-five mile per hour speed zones, and light rain gave us more than enough opportunity to enjoy the scenery through our clouded corneas. The endless chain of islands seemed to grow one after the other.

Like guzzling a Red Bull, cresting the Seven Mile Bridge gave us a needed boost of energy. The crystal clear flats on which I have watched numerous fishermen chase bonefish, permit, tarpon, and many other species on ESPN and Versus, was mesmerizing. It made the seven miles seem like a short embrace. From 40 feet above the surface, I could only imagine the gifts that were awaiting the next angler.

Finally, the laborious drive was over. Pulling into our destination at 1:15 p.m. was glorious. After settling into our condo, we went to the marina where Rob had just launched his new 32-foot SeaCraft, Mad Mouse.

As we wearily strode down the dock, I noticed the bow of a sharp-looking red hull peeking out between two much larger sportfishers. "How cool would it be if the boat we agreed to fish in was red?" I thought. (Having attended North Carolina State University and being the owner of a red Contender, I'm somewhat partial to the color).

To this moment, I'm still not sure if Rob purposely kept quiet about the fact that the new SC23 TE was my favorite color - - RED. But, as we approached, a widening smile that grew from ear to ear on Rob's face told me this was it!

"Wow, what a good looking boat!" I said. "Man, did you keep this quiet on purpose?" The only answer I ever received was his broadening grin.

After introductions to John Bower and Mark Biddison, the SeaCraft design engineers, I made myself at home. They encouraged a thorough investigation of every hatch, hole, electrical component, and livewell in this brand new addition to their line.

"We want to know everything that you can tell us about this boat," John stated. The only thing I could say in the first 10 minutes was how impressive it was that SeaCraft had done their homework on rigging. Everything, and I do mean everything, was tidy and meticulously placed. There were no loose wiring harnesses, and all valves and switches were easily accessible.

"Treat her like she's yours," said Mark. "We want to know the good and the bad. We mostly want to know if there is any bad. We know what most of the good points are."

They remained with us the entire four days for support. However, the support they provided was mostly moral, since there was not a single glitch with the boat the entire trip. This was an amazing display of factory dedication to their product.

As day light dwindled, and the easterly winds starched the flags around the marina, Rob and I agreed to meet the next morning at 7:00 a.m. to engage in a bait-finding mission. From that moment, everything was a blur, literally. I had been awake for nearly 40 straight hours and getting some shut-eye was my main priority. I do think we ate dinner though. I vaguely remember something about Double Stuffed Oreos…


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

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Happy Liquid Fire Sportfishing customer holding a large Mahi-mahi caught on a Liquid Fire Sportfishing charter fishing trip.

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Fishing charter customer Sarah F. posing with a 8 lb. 1 oz. Red Hind landed on a Liquid Fire Sportfishing charter fishing trip.

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