by Christine Rodenbaugh

Key West, Florida — For years the event has been promoted with “Key West in January—Home of the Smoker Kingfish!” Through 19 years of competition, the Stock Island Marina Village KMT produced by Lee Murray of Murray Marine in Key West, Florida has lived up to its reputation. In the past 10 years, from 2006 to 2015, the tournament has produced 37 kings in the 50-pound range. But the last three years have been most remarkable. In 2013 alone, eight 50-pound kings came to the scales. Then, in 2014, the Unreel Fishing Team brought a 70.68-pound super smoker to the scales! Miss Ivory followed with a 60.21 and there were four 50-pounders right behind them. That’s certainly an event for the tournament history books.

Fast forward to 2015 and it’s time to turn the page. Three of a Kind weighed a pending IGFA record—78.66 pounds of smokin’ king mackerel! And what’s really odd, just like in 2014, a 60-pounder and two 50s followed. You just can’t make this stuff up. The top SKA team, a Small Boat Class team, placed second with a whopping 67.30-pounder. Rich Cook and John Heiser fish a 26’ Mercury powered Island Runner called Lost Boys. Rich had taken a look at the weather and determined Friday was the day they had to get a big fish. They headed out toward the Tail End Buoy because they had a good fish there last year and their buddies on All In had pulled a 50+ there in 2014. Unlike other teams, Lost Boys had no trouble with sharks fishing in about 120 feet of water with ribbonfish on the downrigger set to 45’. The first fish of the day was the biggest Spanish mackerel they had ever seen estimating it was 20 pounds. After that, it was all kings, getting bigger as the day went on. They had a decent fish in the box, but nothing to write home about, and it was getting close to time to head back to the scales. “It hit like 1:53, just before we had to pick up to leave,” Rich explained. Whatever was on the other end of the line nearly spooled 500 yards of line. The team chased it down and when it finally stopped, the fish was just sitting down below. Rich was on the rod and endured the slow battle to get it to the top. “I was on the reel,” Rich noted, “John had the gaff and Mike saw something else down there; maybe a shark.” Patiently, they made some headway as Mike shot video of the fight. “As soon as I saw it was a king, and how big it was… well, we’ll have to edit the audio out of that video,” exclaimed Rich. As the fish succomed and rose to the surface, the Lost Boys knew they had a monster. “We’ve had some wins,” Rich said, “and even come in second. But we’ve never broken 40 [pounds]. To make the 50-pound Club...I thought we would never get it. But to get into the 60-pound Club… Wow!” Mike Shuttle is a pilot out of Denver and has fished with Rich since 2007. John Heiser is a new member this year and a firefighter. “Terry McCray of All In is one of the best people I know. He’s one of the reasons we used equipment we used at Key West. Considering SKA has the best fishing teams in the world they really are good people,” Rich claimed and went on to say, “Camaraderie is one of the reasons I joined SKA; anyone can show up at one event and say I’ll see you next year. Not only do members get the web and magazine, but teams from all over the southeast get together. There’s more substance to it when you can see how friends are doing on the Trail. Gotta love it!” Key West is their favorite event, but they admit Division 8 is a lot of fun, too. The team thanks X-Generation Custom Rods, Sea Striker, and they used Blue Water Candy skirts in Key West. “We had this big fish and had to get back; thanks to Mercury for making motors that got us back quick. I’m really proud of those motors. At a time when we needed them most they got us through,” Rich concluded. Third place went to Arik Bergerman’s Under Armour Fishing Team/Caliente on their 39’ Yellowfin powered by quad Mercury motors. Arik and his crew, Randy Keys, Jamey Caldwell, Seth Funt, Jordan Funt, and Dan Hamilton decided to fish away from most of the pack and made the 85-mile run to a spot they had pre-fished. It was 8:30 in the morning on the first day and they were all alone with blue runners and goggle eyes held on the surface with kites. “We don’t use downriggers when sharks are around,” Arik explained, “and the kings sky really high on the kite so you can see if it’s big or not.” Their tactics produced a nice 46.82-pounder. They went right back on Day 2 looking to better their score and move up the leaderboard. As if they planned it, a nice king skied on a bait, Arik picked up the rod and the team went to work chasing her down. It only took ten minutes to get her close enough for Seth set the gaff and pull the 55.43-pounder over the side. A top-three finish in Key West is certainly noteworthy, especially over the past few years. The Low Country Native team of Keith Powell, Billy Powell, Scott Flanders, Jason Hogg, and Phillip Dixon made the long run past the Tortugas in their two-week-old 31’ Prowler powered by Suzuki to a spot known by locals for holding kings. “We had some help,” Keith explained, “Knot Scared helped us navigate through the islands and find bait.” They were losing some kings to sharks fishing with big blue runners in 90’ of water when the shotgun way back got hit about 11:00. “I picked up the rod and it made one really long run. When we got on the fish, she came right to the boat and I had to reel fast,” explained Keith. “One more run and Scott made the perfect gaff.” The fish weighed in at 54.48 pounds. “We never catch 54s in South Carolina, so catching a big fish like that is new to us,” Keith proclaimed. “In south Florida, kings are fast and change direction quickly.” 2015 is the team’s rookie year on the Pro Tour. They went back out on Saturday and had a good strike from a fish that made three 300-yard runs. “Jason was fighting her and we all thought it was bigger than the 54. The rod shook violently and we knew she was gone. When you have one that you know you’re gonna pack up and head back to the scales, you get a sick feeling,” he lamented. The ride back took a long four hours and they didn’t beat the clock. The 54.48 held up to take fourth place. The team thanks Stock Island, Mercury and NBOA (who insures all three boats). “We’re proud to be a part of the Pro Tour and we’ll definitely be in Key West next year.” Keith concluded. Rounding out the top five is Bill Wummer and his Spiced Rum III team on their 35’ Yamaha-powered Contender. Bill with Don Lamb, Sherri and Wayne Beswick, plus Freddie Joseph joined the pack at the Tail End Buoy. They usually run to the Dry Tortugas, but decided to run half the distance, have more time to fish, and save on fuel. The gamble paid off with two 50-pounders that won the aggregate pot with 104 pounds and earned Top Lady honors for Sherri. Fishing was slow in the morning; they only had two 20-pounders. Then, about 10:00 a king skied twice on longline bluerunner. “When it comes out the first time and it’s not on your line, and it comes out the second time and it is, you can’t tell for sure how big it is,” Bill described. Freddie fought the fish and Don set the gaff. The scales settled at 53.93 pounds. They headed back to the same area on day 2. There were a lot of boats there because of the ledge. The action was a little better than Friday and the team hooked up to ten or more kings, one of which was another 50-pounder. “It was our best finish in Key West in 10 years,” remarked Bill. “It was real exciting for us to get two 50s in the same event.” Spiced Rum III thanks their sponsors: Tuppen's Marine,Yamaha Outboards, Contender Boats, Loadmaster Trailers, Latham Marine, Admiral Nelson's Rum, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Gill media, Ocean LED, JL Audio, Ask the Advisors, Medical Center of the Palm Beaches, Gordon & Doner, Tamer Products, Ocean Tamer Bean Bags, Juno Bait & Tackle, Sailfish Marina, New Port Cove Marina, J Camm Luhrs, United K9 Special Patrol, and Bimini Bay Optics/Saltlife. Frank and Katrina Langdon fish a 23’ World Cat powered by Evinrude named Kat’s Rival. The couple took second place in the Small Boat Class. They were headed to the Banana Bar when they saw a spot with good baits in the water and noticed all the boats in the distance. Frank decided to get their baits out where it was less crowded and there were no lobster traps. It was about 8:30 and they had their first fish at 8:32 when it hit a bait Katrina was letting out about 40 feet behind the boat. They were over a mound in 80 to 40 feet of water and decided to stay. Their baitwells were full with 18 blue runners, rainbow runners, and amberines. That first fish weighed 41.06 pounds and took second place in their class. They never had more than one line out with Katrina on the rod and Frank at the helm. Their second pass they had an estimated 38-pounder—and it was like that all day. Frank and Katrina were looking for the biggest baits possible to get a bigger fish. “Kings were there and every bait we put in the water we caught one in the 40-pound range,” Frank said. “Katrina told me she was tired at the end of the day and her arms were sore.” Ocean conditions wouldn’t let them go back to the same spot on Saturday, so they stopped in the shipping channels. They caught 30-pounders all day. I asked if he rigged differently for the Gulf than he did back home off Boca Raton. “I was using 30# titanium leaders for clear waters. I only use them during tournaments and 7 strand for stinger hooks. You really have to downsize on wire because of the clear water and no bite-throughs. In the Atlantic I just use 7 strand because it’s less expensive, thinner and we get more bites,” he explained. “I’d like to thank PostYourFish.com, a new sponsor this year, and thank my wife for fishing two days in Key West,” Frank concluded. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Key West KMT and word has it that Lee Murray is already making plans. Stock Island Marina Village is a great venue and the hotel should be finished for teams that want to stay on site. If you haven’t made the trip to Key West in January, mark your calendars today and take your shot at getting a smoker.

Several Big Fish Caught at the 2015 SKA Season Opener!

by Kevin Foley

The 2015 Mercury Tournament Trail kicked off Jan. 28th at the 19th Annual Murray Marine / Stock Island Marina Village King Fish tournament in Key West, Florida.Things got off to a good start on Wednesday night with a meet and greet party at the Duval Inn. With over 200 in attendance, live music, open bar and an amazing barbecue with Mercury Marine's own Michelle Kilburn and Mercury Marine mechanic extraordinaire Scott Beattie acting as chefs they cooked and dished out an amazing assortment of grilled fresh fish, a medley of grilled meats, Capt. Roy Smith's famous seasoned shrimp on the barbie and, my personal favorite, the delicious chicken wings to the hungry crowd! Thank you to our wonderful sponsors including Lee Murray, Mercury Motors, NBOA Insurance, Tito’s Vodka and Corey Hansen and the Duval Inn for making this wonderful event happen!

Thursday morning was a beehive of activity over at the Stock Island Village Marina, with all the sponsors setting up their trailers and tents, boats showing up and fishermen, sponsors and old friends greeting each other and swapping stories! Even Jack and Deona Holmes were on the scene enjoying their retirement but still maintaining a connection with one of the things they love which of course is the camaraderie these fishing tournaments provide!

Registration started at 3pm and fishermen and women were arriving and signing up!! Thanks to Deona Holmes and Erin Henshaw from the SKA who commandeered the registration desks and signed every one up! When at last everyone was signed up and all the paperwork complete there was a total of 71 boats: 26 boats in the Pros and 45 in Division 10. After a short captain's meeting, everyone headed out to eat and make ready for the early morning check-out!   

Friday morning dawned clear and with an amazing sunrise!! Wind 10-15 kt. range and small seas. A nice 74 degrees temp. Conditions were perfect for a day of fishing in one of the best fishing areas in the world!! Most of the boats navigated toward the Dry Tortugas at distances of about 20-40 miles away. The weather remained beautiful thru out the day and combined with the  numerous amount of tourist in the area escaping the blizzards up North and the wonderful marketing campaign which included advertisements on the radio and TV promoting the tournament lots of people were showing up at the marina and by 3:00pm when the check-in and weighing started there was a good sized crowd on hand to check out the action!!   

Jim Butler from the SKA was on the mic keeping everyone informed on who and what was happening and Bob Flocken was  in charge of manning the scales and weighing the fish!! The first three boats to weigh fish had numbers in the 20-30lbs. But when the fourth boat, Three of a Kind, arrived and approached the scales and took the fish out of the bag, weighmaster Bob had to have some help from Jim Butler to lift it up to the scale!! When Bob finally had the fish on the hook he stepped back and I heard Deona Holmes say “Oh, my god!” Bob looked at the scale and told Jim Butler to announce 78lbs. Jim made the announcement and said this could be a new record!! The crowd let out a tremendous applause with whistles and lots of cheers! The buzz spread thru the marina and soon there were even more people arriving to check out the scene!! The weigh-in continued for another two hours with one Kingfish weighing in at 67lbs and a few in the 50 lb. range!!

The crowd finally dispersed, boats were cleaned up and made ready for the next day's fishing and everyone looking forward to getting some more big fish the next day!!  Sat. morning dawned once again with a beautiful sunrise but the wind was up (20-25kts) and the seas were being forecast to be in the 7-10 ft. range!! About 50 boats headed out into rough conditions hoping to catch a big one! Many boats returned early but the ones who stuck it out were rewarded with some nice Kingfish!!

After the weigh-in was over there was a nice rewards ceremony on the grounds of the Stock Island Village Marina! Once again thank you, thank you, thank you to all the great fishermen and women who participated,all the sponsors, and volunteers and especially to all the spectators who came out to offer support and all the crew and dockmasters at Stock Island Village Marina!!


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