A Pro Debut Part 3

KMT Tournament Journals


…The ringing in my ears, from the day of howling winds, muffled Jack's announcement of our catch. The tension of needing to know the fish's weight was agonizing. Waiting those 30 seconds it took for my wife, Audrey, to call and inform me that our 34.91-pound king was in tenth place felt like an eternity.

The next thing I heard was my phone ring and Jim Davis, the SKA's first National Champion captain in 1992, say, "All right boys, that's a good 'un. Go out there and getcha another good 'un tomorrow."

As I sat in the basin, bobbing up and down between the much larger boats, it was comforting to know that in addition to my family, my friends, Garland Sewell, Jim Davis, and Todd and Barry Matthews, were back home rooting us on while watching the SKA's live web cam.

After inching the starboard side of the new SeaCraft next to the floating dock, my crew climbed aboard with wide eyes and sheepishly nervous grins. With none of us really knowing what to say, "Wow," seemed appropriate. Cruising back past the familiar mangrove shield, Rob and Scott were easing back out to freshen the bait pens.

"Congratulations," Rob said. "Man, that's awesome. Do you need some fresh bait?" The consummate team leader for SeaCraft, Rob, was doing everything in his power to help the manufacturer's product roll out continue to roll on!

The SeaCraft engineers, John, and Mark, were awaiting our arrival at the dock to help us tie up and make sure there were no issues to address with the new SC 23TE. "Absolutely nothing," I responded when they asked if there were any adjustments that needed to be made. The new ride had handled the northeast winds and four-to-seven-foot seas beautifully.

The rest of our evening was filled with recalculations of the day. We had competed and competed well. However, following up a tenth-place start began weighing on our already weary minds.

Could we back up the showing with another quality fish, and make our family, friends, and SeaCraft proud? (In addition, I thought it would make a really cool column for KMT Journals) Saturday morning couldn't get here soon enough.

Standing on the dock, fixated on the wind-starched marina flags, an excited anxiousness replaced our confused bewilderment the next morning. The stiff northeast winds had not subsided during the night, and we knew we were in for another day of difficult sea conditions. Nevertheless, we began just as we had the previous day, by filling our three livewells with fresh blue runners.

"We've got a dozen nice ones for you in the pen, Mark," shared Rob. "Man, this is exciting! Let's go get another big 'un." After checking out for the second time to Jack's, "Boat 84, go get 'um today, guys," we burrowed back to our spot. Only this time, there was a little more company and a few less fish.

However, soon after deploying our spread, the short starboard blue runner began to dash nervously a small distance behind the prop wash. Turning away from watching the excited bait to check my sonar, we audibly witnessed the most brutal attack on a live bait rig that our team has ever heard.

"Oh, my gosh," Joshua screamed as the twenty-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game began to rip from my TICA ST558.

Those four seconds of viciousness will hang in my team's thoughts for many years to come. I don't think that the end of that line could have been tied to the bumper of a Corvette and pulled any faster off of our reel. By the time Crockett got on the helm and Chris and I each grabbed a rod to get in baits, the fish had vanished.

Bringing in a cleanly sliced bait has been all too common for our team over the last couple of years. However, this one was different. There was an immediate burst of speed attained by this fish that assured me it was special. Sniveling was my only alternative. But, sobbing and weeping while trolling is a bad combination for a 43-year-old man.

"Come on Daddy. Get it together, you're a grown man!" Crockett boomed… (just kidding; I think I saw a small tear roll down his cheek, too.) As I swabbed the deck with the underside of my bottom lip, the only thing that could make me finally tuck it in happened at about 10:00 a.m.

A quick skyward explosion on a long line resulted in a delayed blaring drag as a 20.27-pound bundle of energy tried to relieve us of our offering. After Joshua made quick work of the fish, I finally planted the gaff (yes, embarrassed to say, I missed with my first swipe) just below its dorsal fin. With the seas building, I thought we might have an opportunity to place well in the tournament.

"Good job guys," I bellowed to the crew. "We may have just gotten a small check with this one." The rest of the day was full of battling Sargasso grass as the northeast winds continued to bear down on the tournament's teams. The disappointment that we had missed another big fish was somewhat softened by the fact that we had accumulated a 55.18-pound aggregate; and Rob, with his daughter Monica and Sam Locklear, drug a 39.21 pounder over the gunwale to get a great start to the season, as well.

I'm not really sure what made me more joyous, watching my son Crockett receive the first-place junior angler plaque, or when my father, Charles, called me with an elevated excitement in his voice that is indescribable. "You don't know how proud we are of ya'll," he said. The five team members who stayed home with tears in their eyes, as we left for Key West, now had tears of joy and a sense of accomplishment knowing their moral contributions.

(For someone who loves words as much as I do, I can't seem to capture a description of what it's like to have my entire family a part of something that we all have such a passion for. Oh well, I'll continue to try as long as you continue to read.)

In addition to Crockett's junior angler win, we finished 11th in the overall standings. The SC 23TE had also finished as the top 23-foot and under boat. The entire SeaCraft team took pride as Jack spoke highly of the vessel that was initially unveiled during the January, Miami Boat Show.

As the Liquid Fire, Mad Mouse, and No Loose Ends fishing teams concluded our week together with a team dinner and Diet Pepsi toast, I could only grin, similar to the one Rob had when I asked him if he had intentionally kept secret the fact that the boat was my favorite color. "What an unbelievable experience," I thought.

Our drive home, on the opposite side of the same black top that had delivered us to the southern most tip of our country, was just as long as it had been only 96 hours prior… however, the lingering bad breath had finally subsided (with a special thanks to Orbit chewing gum); although, we never did find Aunt Emma.

After 21 hours of driving, the enthusiasm and vigor, which served as our fuel for five days, had finally been depleted. Making our way back north on the same NC Highway 53 that our excursion began, dawn stretched across the horizon this time; and the same deer that witnessed our beginning travels, welcomed us home. In addition to the twinkling of their eyes, I noticed Venus, over my right shoulder, in the western skyline this time, shining bright at the upper right corner of the fingernail moon.

The setting only made me dream of… what could possibly top this. How, could the second pro tournament in Jensen Beach, Florida, hold anything that could remotely compare?

Find out next time in the KMT Journals…


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