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Division: 4 Richmond Hill, GA 3rd ANNUAL COASTAL EMPIRE KINGFISH CLASSIC September 5-6, 2014

Coastal Empire Kingfish Classic

By David Brown

Richmond Hill, Georgia — Things didn’t turn out as planned for Mark Strickland’s Team Reel Broke, but sometimes, the B in Plan-B stands for “better,” as in the better-than-expected outcome for a day that certainly didn’t provide an easy course to a second-place finish at the third annual Coastal Empire Kingfish Classic at Fort McAllister Marina in Richmond Hill, Ga.

So, here’s the scene: Strickland and crew buy a load of plump blue runners from Lee’s Live Bait – the Florida-based delivery service – and head into the heavy rains blanketing the Georgia coast. Their first spot was the R2 naval tower off Sapelo Island – a popular spot for a variety of species, including big kings.

Unfortunately, by 1 o’clock their efforts had yielded naught and this, plus the approaching storm cell was making a strong case for relocation. Strickland actually had a spot about 10 miles south of the tower in mind, but B equaled better and he ended up stopping short of the initial objective and fishing a ledge area in about 110 feet. (Locally, the spot’s known as “the 7-Mile” for its distance from R2.)

Of his primary reason for adjusting course, Strickland chuckled: “Staying out of the storm! We were running someplace else. We had the radar running and we didn’t want to risk getting caught in the storm, so (7-Mile) was the next spot between two storms. We just went straight there to let them pass by and luckily the good Lord sent us the right way and we caught something.”

Of course, that sounds easy enough, but such was not the case. In fact, Strickland was barely under way from his R2 departure, when he experienced engine trouble – not so much the disastrous kind, but hobbling nonetheless. This, plus rough seas slowed his progress and the 7-mile run required an hour.

“It was long day, especially when you have nothing all day,” Strickland said of his time before the 7-Mile stop. “The morale was down, everybody’s just trying to figure out what was going on and why we didn’t have a fish.”

Thankfully, fortune shifted quickly and Reel Broke boated a 20-pound king soon after arriving. That energized the team and while Strickland worked on the motor, his crew deployed another spread that attracted a smoker that went 32.08.

“The big fish hit a top line about 3pm,” Strickland recalled. “We were letting lines back out after that 20 when he hit.”

A long run through sporty seas prompted the team to pack it up shortly after boating their 32. Suffice it to say that a fixed engine and a heavy fish bag had the team in good spirits.

“Everybody was happy when we had a fish on the boat,” he said of the 20-pounder. “But when we got that second fish, we felt better because we knew we were going in with a good one.”

Strickland thanked Yellowfin for building a hardy Yamaha-powered 23-foot center console, and Earl Stokes – the team’s main team sponsor.


Team Empire/Reel Dawg – 29.42

Things were pretty obscure for the first couple of hours, but all this team needed was a little clarity to bag the tournament’s fourth-largest fish and capture the SKA Junior Angler award in the process.

Team co-captain Mark Covington said they fished scattered live bottom in 55 feet a few miles south of Gray’s Reef. Extensive history fishing this area gave the team confidence to stick it out and wait for what they knew would come.

“We’ve been doing this since 1999 and we’ve been fishing that area many years,” Covington said. “As sporadic as the fishing has been this year, that’s always been a place that when the fishing is tough, you have to go spend all day there and wait on your bite. We went back to old faithful and waited it out.”

The spot yielded just two bites – a sailfish and their big king. For the latter, junior angler Sam Greer handled the rod and his dad, team co-captain Steve Greer, gaffed the fish 15 minutes later.

As Covington explained, heavy rain descending in sheets completely hid adjacent boats and kept the crew tucked under the T-top. But when the showers ceased and the clouds thinned, things started rocking.

“Just a few minutes after the rain stopped, I just happened to be looking back, and saw the fish greyhound across the water and hit a double pogy rig about 60 yards back. He gave us some air show.”

The team out of Chapin, SC, took a different approach than most by anchor fishing with just three lines. That’s a tactic they’ve worked on for many years and they’re just more confident in their ability to effect a more realistic presentation.

Covington said he believes that the post-shower flurry was most likely a brief bite prompted by changing meteorological conditions.

“After the rain, the clouds cleared a little and we got more sunshine, so maybe that made the baits shine a little more clearly,” he said. “Right before our fish hit, another boat caught a fish. A few cobia came up around the boat; we saw a tiger shark and a hammerhead. It’s possible that a little bite turned on there.”

Covington said his team thanks Michael Kahn of Empire Distributing for his support.


Team Blacksheep – 27.87

They say that timing is everything and for Ashley Thompson and Blacksheep teammate Randy Deloach, it was all about the early goings. Starting with their 27.87-pound king that took fifth place overall in the tournament, the anglers began their day on a patch of live bottom in 115 feet of water about 40 miles east of Ossabaw Island. They set five lines and it didn’t take long to attract some toothy attention.

“Our first king bit 10 minutes after we got the lines set,” Thompson said.

That fish bit a blue runner on a downrigger set at 60 feet. The other rigger hung at 30 and Thompson said he had his eye on those deep rods.

“We had prefished the spot on Thursday and caught two good kings and both were on downriggers, so we kind of expected that,” he said.

The Blacksheep anglers fished offshore until about noon and then moved in to finish their day on a shallow hard bottom spot where they experienced a déjà vu.

“It was almost identical to our first fish,” Thompson said. “We weren’t on that spot 10 minutes when we got our second kingfish bite.”

That shallow fish broke off, but Thompson said it left in its wake an interesting notion about timing. On both spots, the team chummed heavily with multiple blocks in their mesh bag. That thick scent trail no doubt benefited their effort, but as the captain pointed out, there’s no denying the consistent impact of new arrivals.

“I really think there’s something to do with (the commotion) of a boat sitting down on the reef they call home,” Thompson said. “I think the fish might think it’s like ringing the dinner bell. When a boat sits down, they might view it as a feeding opportunity so they come up to see what they can find.”

Thompson fought the deeper king and Deloach gaffed it after about 10 minutes. The strike and fight, Thompson said, were profoundly atypical.

“The kingfish bite this year has been strange,” he said. “They seem to bite like trash fish – sharks, amberjack. It wasn’t a typical kingfish bite. There was no long run; it just pulled off 40 feet of line and just went down.”

Surmising that the drenching rain that pounded the area on tournament morning had the fish rather sluggish, Thompson said that they made no assumptions prior to a positive identification.

“We try to leave lines out as long as we can,” he said of those ambiguous bites. “If we’ve caught kingfish or we know there are kingfish in the area, we’re going to spend time to see what it is. It’s pretty much a value bet. You have to know what you’ve hooked.”

Thompson thanked Tohatsu Outboards for the twin 250-hp V-6 engines powering his 31-foot Contender. He also thanked Pembroke Pharmacy/Southern Sportsman, Owen’s Supply Company, and Satellite Solutions for their support.


A Salt Weapon – 31.99

Just a slime drop under 32 pounds, the top king for David Futch’s A Salt Weapon was the actually the tournament’s third largest fish, but placing atop the Small Boat Division was a better deal.

Futch said he targeted an area in 110 feet, 50 miles east of Sapelo Sound and worked numerous live bottom spots. Many were in close proximity, but he expected to hop around to find the right one.

“We work numbers until we find areas that are active with baitfish showing,” Futch said. “We go out with a good library of numbers and they may not be that far apart. Our spots (on this day) were in about a three-square-mile area.”

The top small boaters opened their day with a fish in the low-20s about an hour and a half into the morning. A couple of hours later, the team’s largest kingfish bit a big blue runner on a downrigger set at 40 feet. Michael Godbee handled the rod work for about 15 minutes and Futch gaffed the fish.

The fish was foul hooked and on top of that, the reel’s drag started malfunctioning. This resulted in more drag than Futch would have normally wanted, but thanks to a major overhaul in the team’s rigging, they managed the challenges and boated their fish.

Futch explains, “In two (past) tournaments, we had break-offs with what we thought were big fish, so we did away with all of our line and leaders. We went to all Momoi lines and we’ve had no trouble. I did some research and found that Momoi is known for higher breaking strength. When you have problems, you have to fix them.”

On each reel, Futch runs 20-pound main line and a 12-foot top shot of 30-pound fluorocarbon connected to a 40-pound 7 Strand wire leader. Beefing up the line and wire has given him peace of mind, in addition to stronger connections.

“We upsized all our gear in the last two years,” he said. “It’s not uncommon to bring in a fish and find that you’re missing the stinger hook because it was bit off during the fight. With that 7 Strand we don’t worry about that. It hasn’t affected our bite rate, but it sure has helped our catch rate.”

Futch lauded the combination of his 23 Contender and Yamaha outboard for keeping him competitive in the tournament fleet.


Reel Addiction – 28.64

Taking second in the Small Boat Class, Wayne Glover fished just east of Ossabaw in about 60 feet. A regular spot for him and his team, Glover felt confident that one of the wrecks or artificial reefs in the area would produce – he just didn’t expect the wait it required.

After catching bait on the beach, Team Reel Addiction headed offshore where hours of slow trolling droned on with only a couple of amberjack to show. But just when it seemed the day was doomed, a top-lined pogy disappeared in a frothy boil and it was off to the races.

That was about 4:00pm.

“It was late in the day and we had already taken the downriggers up and emptied the chum bag,” Glover said. “The fish spooled about three-fourths of the reel and we had to turn and chase him. We knew we were going to be close on time.”

Tim Stone fought the fish for about 10 minutes and when Glover sunk the gaff, that’s when the real fire drill began.

“We didn’t have time for a long fight, so we kinda horsed him,” Glover said. “We didn’t even have time to put him in the fish bag, so we just put the rod in the holder and took off.

“We ran about 32 miles and made it back in 55 minutes. It was rough water, so I just threw my two partners in the bean bags and said ‘Hold on, we’re going.’”

Glover said the waiting was tough, but he was banking on the day’s solunar schedule to deliver that late shot.

“I knew the lunar bite was going to be about 5 o’clock and that’s (close to) when it turned on,” he said. “There were four other boats there with us, but they left. We got our knockdown about 10 minutes after they left.


Open Class

32.661. Catchin Hell
32.082. REEL BROKE
Yellowfin / Yamaha
Mark Strickland
29.603. Sinstation
Contender / Yamaha
Steve Greer Jr.
Mark Covington
Sam Greer
Jeff Greer
Michael Greer
Contender / Yamaha
Ashley Thompson
Missy Thompson
Cole Thompson
Randy Deloach
25.216. GET REEL
Yellowfin / Yamaha
Lee McCurdy
Stephanie McCurdy
Turner McCurdy
Anderson McCurdy
Contender / Yamaha
Mark Hendrix
Chris Eason
Mike Morey
Nita Morey
24.428. Cash Money
Fountain / Yamaha
David Massey
Cameron Mattingly
Ben Carter
Tiger Roraback
Doc Massey III
23.8810. FLY N FISH
Cape Horn / Yamaha
Tom Galazka
Sammy Perkins
Zack Bowman
Cole Perkins

Small Boat Class

Contender / Yamaha
David Futch
Jay Swindell
Michael Godbee
Blake McMillan
Key West / Yamaha
Wayne Glover
Tim Stone
25.183. Lil Looer

Top Lady Anglers
Catchin Hell

Top Senior Angler
32.08Mark Strickland

Top Junior Angler
Cash Money

SKA Top Junior Anglers
29.421. Sam Greer
25.212. Turner and Anderson McCurdy
24.373. Doc Massey III

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