A Pro Debut Part 2
KMT Tournament Journals
A PRO DEBUT – PART 2
…The following morning I awoke to the heavy embrace of an empty Oreo package and chocolate crumbs on my pillow case - hmm. I felt so guilty - but, I had to move on. This day was going to be filled with excitement for my sons, Joshua and Crockett, my brother-in-law Chris, and me.
After loading our gear and greeting the Mad Mouse in the waterway, I met another engaging personality, Captain Scott LaFave of Team No Loose Ends. I liked him immediately.
A wide smile and deep chuckle in the early morning indicated that he valued the camaraderie of the SeaCraft family while spending time with his son, Ryan. After introducing his other teammates, Don and Alex Pepin, Scott bellowed, "Let's go catch some bait."
As we slowly made our way through the "No Wake Zone," we passed a stretch of Mangrove trees that had me guessing as to what size snook or goliath grouper might be lurking beneath them… But, I quickly awoke from my daydream and realized we were on a blue runner quest.
After finally slipping through the "Don't go very fast zone," I laid the throttles on the dash in the two to three foot seas. I think this may have been the first time that I heard the decibel level of the new twin Mercury Verado 250s rise above that of a kitten's mew.
"Whoa," I thought as the 26-foot long rocket immediately jumped on plane. "Boy, was that quick!" I told a wide-eyed Chris as we ascended to 56.7 miles per hour in the blink of an eye. Amazed at the comfortable ride, we skated over the tops of white caps at a blistering pace and arrived at a marker Scott had found to be holding bait.
Focused on capturing some hard tails, my 11-year old son Crockett was armed with his favorite jigging rod and a personally handcrafted sabiki rig – (he took his innovation from my father). Rob anchored the Mad Mouse, I tied off to his stern, and Scott did the same to the substituted, but still red, Liquid Fire. Several chum bags and numerous sabiki rigs later, our "train gang" had filled three livewells with runners -- king candy! Everyone was ready for the weekend, and it was time to go to the captains meeting.
Arriving at the meeting, I realized just how privileged and honored I was that Rob had enough confidence in my team to recommend us to his sponsor. Looking around at the 67 professional teams (most of them recognizable because of television coverage and high profile internet sites) made us contemplate our ability to compete in this unknown area.
But, there I was, voting, just like every other captain to determine whether or not to change the tournament format to a one-day, two-fish event rather than the two-day scheduled affair. The northeast, 20 to 25 knot wind had made its presence known for the past two days kicking-up difficult four to seven-foot sea conditions that were forecasted to last through the weekend.
As Jack Holmes, the Managing Partner of the SKA, counted the votes and announced that it would remain a two-day event (yes, I voted for two days), the SeaCraft teams eased into our competition mind set and decided on our fishing locations for the next day.
Passing those familiar Mangrove trees the following morning brought only thoughts of what the brisk, northeasterly wind had done to the vast southern Atlantic the night before. Rounding the corner into the turning basin was like scanning a scene from a Blue Ridge Parkway overlook for the first time – awe inspiring!
The flock of professional center consoles prepared to launch was so impressive that I barely noticed the mammoth cruise ship and Navy vessel that towered nearby. My team members began rattling off the names of all the recognizable teams. Once again, I felt like a kindergartener – letting go of my mother's hand to step onto a school bus for the first time.
Lining up and chatting with many of them before the 7:00 a.m. check-out reduced some of my apprehension. Fielding questions on how the new SeaCraft handled the chop from the prior day eased my mind of the competition about to take place. At that moment, I wished I could have provided them with more detailed information. If I had been behind the helm of my Contender / Yamaha package, I could have expressed how happy I have been over the last three years. Nevertheless, I knew in the short amount of time I had spent on the new ride, SeaCraft had also built something special.
"That's the prettiest boat on the water right now," commented one captain. They were genuinely interested in its performance and complimentary of its sleek appearance. Continuing to observe our surroundings, the sheer size of some of the high-powered crafts was an awesome spectacle. Idling along side a 38-foot, 1200 horsepower, professional king mackerel boat was somewhat intimidating for a newbie like me.
Finally, sliding past the sea wall, Joshua held up our boat number, and we heard Jack over the VHF, "Boat 84, go get 'um!" Easing down on the binnacle control sent a rush of adrenaline through every capillary. We were about to fish in our first professional event!
Once we arrived at our chosen location, Chris, Joshua, and Crockett combined to quickly deploy a five-line spread, and it wasn't long before we saw a deep bend in the downrigger rod. A second later came the sweetest melody that a king mackerel fisherman can hear. Explaining the sound of a blistering king run is like trying to verbalize how much you love your children. It really can't be done. Maybe that's explanation enough.
Our first king had mistaken one of our ribbonfish for breakfast. Seven minutes after the strike, our first fish was on ice, and we at least felt like we belonged. If nothing else, the mid-twenties fish (in an area commonly known for fish more than twice its size) served as a tranquilizer for our other team members awaiting a call back home in North Carolina.
"You can go to sleep now," I told my sister, Misty, after she answered the phone on the second ring. "We've got a fish to weigh."
"I'm proud of ya'll," she said in a weary voice. "Keep fishing hard and catch a bigger one." And, that's exactly what we did.
Our first morning was busy with a smattering of kings when finally at 11:06 a.m., Joshua witnessed an explosion on a short-lined runner.
"There she is," he roared above the screaming clicker on the Tica ST558. As Joshua made his way up the port side of the SeaCraft, Crockett guided us from the helm as he videoed the episode simultaneously.
"That was a big fish," he informed Chris and me as we scurried to retrieve the other four baits that were in the spread. Bracing his thighs against the bolsters in the six-foot seas, and almost being knocked on his keister by a rogue wave, Joshua patiently led the battle to the bow. After only a few minutes, he had worked the silver-sided foe into submission, and I planted the three-inch gaff behind her dorsal fin. Chris and I echoed each other with an "Oh yeah!" as I lifted her from her home and laid her on the deck of the new vessel. Kissing and releasing her was not an option this time.
As Crockett's video attests, grown men can still screech with the best of 'em when under the influence of landing a good fish. If nothing else, the 34 pound king made us feel even more like we belonged. After letting Rob know that we had found some fish, the next three hours were spent picking grass off of our slow trolled baits and reliving the catch at elevated levels to compensate for the 25 mile per hour wind gusts. The only thing that made us forget the moment was when, at 2:15 p.m., another blazing dash came unexpectedly on a blue runner in the Verado's prop wash. The ascending alarm served notice that this fish could be special.
"Turn, turn, turn," Joshua instructed his brother. "Get it in gear, Turkey," he said, borrowing a line from one of their favorite movies, "On Golden Pond." (Yeah, I know; we're pretty boring.)
"Man, she's smokin' it!" yelled Crockett, as he engaged the throttles to help Joshua keep some of our Berkley Trilene on the Tica. After he patiently and masterfully retrieved nearly 300 yards of line, I planted the gaff in her side. As I rolled the king over the starboard gunwale, the resounding thud as she hit the deck of the 23TE made us realize an upgrade was going in the fish box.
Our team members and family back in North Carolina were completely engrossed with our performance. They were with us in our thoughts and phone conversations throughout the day. So, when I shared the news that we had a solid fish, they immediately prepared to watch the weigh-in via live feed on the SKA website, www.fishska.com.
After dropping my team members at the weigh dock, I nervously idled in the basin awaiting the official weight. As Jack welcomed my sons and Chris to the stage, he spoke eloquently about the new SeaCraft we were fishing and shared our whirlwind journey with the crowd.
"You guys have got a good fish," I strained to hear him say…JUMP ON BOARD NEXT ISSUE FOR PART III OF "A PRO DEBUT" BACK TO KMT JOURNALS
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