Some new things are going on in saltwater tournaments for 2010, but before starting on this year, it's worth taking time to salute the tournament trails that tried but didn't make it, especially those that have shut down over the past few years.
While a couple of smaller local and regional operations just didn't quite make it, most fishermen were surprised to see the FLW saltwater tours collapse. The Kingfish Tour, Kingfish Series, Redfish Series and Striper Tour were all shut down two seasons ago. After seven years, the ESPN or Oh Boy Oberto Redfish Cup called it quits after the 2009 season, as did the Hooters HT3 1-Man redfish series. However the HT Series continues with a pair of 2-man trails.
A problem facing saltwater tournament trails that those on the freshwater side don't have to overcome is that that only 23 states have any saltwater border; that's where they draw from and where the sponsors make their money.
Of the 23 states with saltwater along a border, nine are north of the Chesapeake Bay, three are on the west coast and two (Alaska and Hawaii) are not continental. That leaves nine states along the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico that have warm saltwater access and the potential for year-round fishing.
Unfortunately, many businesses find it difficult to justify investing sponsor dollars in a small geographic area, with limited participation. As the economy begins to respond, saltwater tournaments should be able to grow again, but sponsors will need to come from mainstream businesses, not just the boat and tackle industries.
• The N.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series is the longest-running trail in North Carolina. Tournaments begin in May and run through August, with six scheduled between Wrightsville Beach and Hatteras. The series is run through the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries; for more information visit www.ncdmf.net.
• The Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) is the longest-running tour featuring king mackerel. For 2010, the SKA has two divisions for Tarheel State fishermen and a pro division. In each division, there are categories for boats of 23 feet or less and of 24 feet and greater. The top lady, senior and junior anglers are also recognized. In SKA divisional competition, the weight of the largest fish from each competitor's best three finishes are totaled for divisional rankings and invitations to the year-ending championship tournament.
As a part of its 20th anniversary celebration, all charter competition members of the SKA will be invited to the 2010 championship event, regardless of where they finish in the standings, provided they fished the required number of tournaments.
Divisions have changed slightly; this year's Division 1 has five tournaments from Sneads Ferry to Atlantic Beach. Division 9 has five tournaments, four from Carolina Beach to the South Carolina border and the fifth at Little River, S.C.
The SKA also has a Professional Division. It has been redesigned from five to three tournaments, and competitors then can fish local SKA-sanctioned tournaments of their choosing, with their best two finishes counting towards their Professional Division points - with points awarded based on a fish's weight compared to the winning fish at that event.
For more information, visit www.fishska.com.
• The Redfish Action Challenge Cup begins its third year and appears to have found a home at Town Creek Marina in Beaufort. The trail will be made up of three 1-day tournaments for 2-man teams. Fish are kept alive, weighed alive and released.
Tournaments are scored by the combined weight of up to two fish. Tournaments Within A Tournament are also available for the heaviest fish and the fish with the most spots. An overall champ will be crowed based on points earned. For information, visit www.redfishaction.com.
• The IFA Redfish Tour will return to North Carolina in 2010, but only for one tournament. The IFA has revised its Atlantic Division to include tournaments out of Georgetown, S.C., and Charleston, S.C., plus Surf City. IFA tournaments are 1-day events for 2-man teams. Redfish are kept alive, weighed alive and released.
Tournaments are scored by the combined weight of the two fish. Special prizes are awarded for the heaviest fish and the highest placing team fishing a Ranger boat. Tournament placings are awarded points, which are tallied to select an overall champion.
Teams that compete in all three events will be invited to a season-ending, No-Entry-Fee Championship Tournament. For more information, visit www.redfishtour.com.
• The HT Redfish Series is both old and new, but it has never before visited North Carolina before 2010. Events listed on the HT Series website include the HT Redfish Series, which has an Atlantic North Division tournament scheduled for Morehead City, and the HT Redfish Cup, which does not offer a tournament north of Jacksonville, Fla. The Redfish Cup events are 2-day, 2-angler events, while the Redfish Series has 1-day, 2-angler events. The other Atlantic North Division Redfish Series tournament is in Charleston, S.C. For information visit www.htseries.com.
Blue Water Promotions has run the South Brunswick King Classic and the Atlantic Beach King Mackerel Tournament for several years, so the name is not a new one. However, some new things are going on in 2010, including a king mackerel trail, a professional king mackerel trail, a redfish trail and a professional redfish trail. Each trail will finish with a flourish that includes a No-Entry-Fee Championship Tournament to be held in Atlantic Beach Sept. 16-18. The top 10 teams in each division will qualify for the championship tournament.
The series includes 11 tournaments from the west coast of Florida to Morehead City. The divisions overlap somewhat, with the Carolinas Division having five tournaments from Savannah, Ga. to Morehead City. Each event will have a king mackerel tournament scored for the largest fish, and a redfish tournament scored by the combined weight of two fish. In divisional competition, a team's three best finishes will be combined for divisional prizes and invitations to the championship tournament.
The pro events for king mackerel and redfish will feature five tournaments ranging in location from Fort Myers, Fla., to Atlantic Beach, including one in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Points will be awarded for tournament finishes and combined to recognize a "Team of the Year" in each species.
The pro or "Elite" tours will be limited to 25 teams for each species. Fishermen must apply for the Elite Series and can begin immediately. For more information, visit www.bluewaterpromo.com.
• The IFA Kayak Fishing Tour is a new regional series made possible by a partnership between the IFA Redfish Tour and Hobie Kayaks. Tournaments will be held on Sundays after each IFA Redfish Tour event at the same locations. Tournaments will be multiple-species events that use a Catch-Photograph-Release format. Fishermen document their catches and submit digital photos at the check-ins.
One of the tour's three Atlantic Division events will be held out of Surf City; the other two are Georgetown, S.C., and Charleston, S.C. All competitors who fish at least three tournaments will be eligible for the No-Entry-Fee Championship Tournament. The championship tournament will be a 2-day event. Interested fishermen can find details at www.ifakayakfishingtour.com.
While not yet confirmed, the Crystal Coast Fishing Association (CCFA) has been talking with organizers of speckled trout tournaments in the Swansboro/Jacksonville/Sneads Ferry area about organizing a trout tournament trail. Check the CCFA website (www.crystalcoastfishing.net) for updates.
A pair of local events in this rapidly growing form of fishing will be held in North Carolina this year.
The second annual TJM Celebrity Charity Kayak Fishing Tournament will be held July 30-31, with the Hook, Line and Sinker Kayak Shop the host. The tournament features catch-and-release fishing for inshore species held in sheltered waters of bays accessed from the Federal Point Ramp at Fort Fisher. Proceeds from the tournament will be used to benefit Alzheimer's research. For more information, visit www.hooklineandpaddle.com.
The other kayak tournament will be the first annual Oak Island Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament, which will be hosted by the N.C. Kayak Fishing Association (NCKFA) and the Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department. The Oct. 9 event will have divisions for inshore species, plus king mackerel. Proceeds will go to the Turtle Watch program at Oak Island. For more information, visit www.nckfa.com.