Dueling king tours — your pick?

What’s the reason to fish in a king mackerel tournament? This junior angler at the 2005 Swansboro Rotary Memorial Bluewater Tournament knows — it’s fun.

In past issues, at times I’ve talked about what might be going on with tournaments, especially king mackerel tournaments. Tournament anglers know 2005 was an upsetting year and also what might be hailed as a new beginning. Without doubt, this past season featured episodes of the good, the bad and the ugly. You might agree with this analysis; you might disagree. Feel free to do either.

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As in past years, the most-heated discussions during 2005 came from king mackerel tournament circuits. That’s probably because of the sheer number of anglers who participate. The average king mackerel team includes four people. So during an “average” 100-boats king event, approximately 400 anglers will be on the water.

During bass, walleye, crappie, catfish or redfish tournaments, usually only two competitors will be in one boat, about half the number for king tournaments.

I don’t know why it is, but adding anglers seems to create an exponential probability of upsetting someone, rather than a linear probability. Doubling the number of fishermen seems to roughly quadruple the opportunity for someone to feel slighted. The problem explodes as tournaments feature 300 or 400 boats (some exceed 500 boats).

Throw in elevated testosterone, several liberal splashes of alcohol, a bunch of back-slapping and egging-on, and it’s really a wonder anyone except the winner is happy. In the past, there’ve been several instances where even the champions weren’t satisfied.

For years, checkouts and/or ‘boundaries’ have provoked heated discussions. Sometimes they’re needed; other times there may be good reasons not to have them.

Most critics address the “fairness” or “leveling-the-playing-field” issues apparent between big fast boats and smaller, slower crafts.

I believe checkouts give an advantage to faster boats with enough fuel to enjoy an extended range. They can get where they want to go earlier, fish longer and leave later.

By adding boundaries, tournaments create something of a “playing field,” but it still isn’t quite level. Slower boats continue to give up fishing time running to and from favorite spots at the far ends of boundaries.

My thought is boundaries and no checkouts level the playing field the best — but even they aren’t perfect. As long as the tournaments don’t have specific size and power ratings similar to NASCAR and other race-sanctioning bodies, there’ll be differences in competitors’ equipment. So big, fast, stable boats usually have an advantage.

Unfortunately, expendable income varies throughout a field of anglers and not everyone can afford a tricked-out $150,000 cigar-type king-fishing machine. But by allowing slower boats to begin at their chosen fishing spots, they only give up the speed and time difference during the trip home.

Another ogre strongly rearing its head is when are sea conditions rough enough to justify postponing or canceling a tournament?

The southeastern and Gulf states were “Hurricane Central” this past season, suffering more “named” storms than any time in the past. Storm season saw the entire English alphabet used; then the Weather Service started over with the Greek alphabet and advanced to Epsilon.

I don’t have a “one-size-fits-all” answer. Bad weather is the factor we dread most. Unless it’s a full-blown hurricane, there’ll always be some fishermen who have to prove their bravado and say it “wasn’t all that bad” and “the tournament should have gone on as scheduled.”

“It’s captain’s choice; don’t go if you’re afraid” is another comment often directed at tournament committees.

But safety of anglers has to be the paramount concern when making weather decisions. If an error occurs, it must be on the side of caution.

While it could be costly and time-consuming, postponing an event and returning to fish another time allows anglers to do just that — return. Putting them in harm’s way could cause loss of equipment or worse.

Mother Ocean is a fickle matron, and anglers undertake risks, even during perfect conditions. But no tournament is worth deliberately placing competitors in harm’s way.

The 2005 championship tournaments of the SKA and FLW tours are examples of these issues. Both originally were scheduled for the Mississippi coast near Biloxi and forced to relocate because of Hurricane Katrina. Later in the season, the FLW Tour also had to reschedule its Southport tournament because of Hurricane Ophelia.

The FLW Kingfish Tour rescheduled its Southport tournament for a Monday-Tuesday event at Morehead City during October and immediately followed it with the relocated Thursday-Saturday championship tournament. But weather during the rescheduled events was marginal for long runs to some of the preferred fishing areas.

However, the geography of the N.C. coast offered a sheltered fishing area immediately outside the inlet. FLW chose to hold the tournaments and, while the fish weren’t as large as had been hoped, the participants found lots of kings in the sheltered water, making the tournament a success.

The SKA elected to relocate its championship tournament to Ft. Pierce, Fla., a city it had visited many times with successful tournaments. Unfortunately, as tournament time approached, a strong cold front moved into the area and created conditions too severe for boating. The SKA’s first move was to cancel the first fishing day and hope for better conditions on the second day. Regrettably, that weather break didn’t materialize, and the tournament was postponed until April 2006.

Florida doesn’t have the capes of N.C., so sheltered water isn’t available for smaller boats. South of Jupiter, Fla., some sheltered water was available the first mile or so offshore, but smaller boats didn’t have the range to make the round-trip from Ft. Pierce.

The fact that inlets in this area can be deceptively tricky also had to factor into the decision. With a rising tide, they appear easy to navigate but quickly become raging beasts during falling tide. The majority of the participants in this tournament weren’t Florida-based anglers and lacked experience going through these treacherous inlets.

The bottom line was both organizations made correct decisions.

Interesting enough, both organizations also cancelled a day of a tournament which had already started — the FLW at Venice, La., and the SKA at Savannah, Ga.

My opinion is the two sanctioning bodies are different, and one or the other may be perceived as “better” by fishermen. Anglers prefer one, the other or both for their own reasons. Some fishermen have irreconcilable differences with one organization or the other.

I participated in both during 2005 and saw benefits from both. My biggest concern is it’s inevitable anglers sometimes feel caught in the middle.

Feelings get hurt, egos get bruised, cross words are spoken, and the resulting negativity isn’t good for anyone.

FLW Outdoors, which operates the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour, is new to most saltwater fishermen but has a long history conducting bass and walleye tournaments. In 2005 FLW ventured into the saltwater arena by adding a kingfish tour and a redfish tour.

During 2005 the Kingfish Tour featured four two-day qualifying tournaments and a three-day championship tournament. Entry fees were $1,500 each for qualifying tournaments, and the top-50 boats were invited to a no-entry-fee championship. Payouts were in cash, with contingency money for anglers using Genmar brand (Hydra-Sports, Seaswirl and Wellcraft) boats and Yamaha outboards.

FLW Kingfish Tour entries were limited to 100 boats (112 boats actually competed in at least one event) and owners of Genmar brand boats received a priority registration day. All slots were filled by 11 a.m. the morning of open registration.

First-place prizes at FLW qualifying tournaments were $40,000, plus a $30,000 bonus for fishing with a Genmar brand boat and a $30,000 bonus for using a Yamaha outboard. Payouts ranged to $750 bonuses for 40th place. At the championship tournament, payouts increased to $75,000 for the win, plus bonuses of $37,500 each — down to $1,000 — and a $1,250 bonus for 50th place.

A few changes are in the works for the 2006 FLW Tour — fields will increase to 125 boats with prize money and paid places increasing. The other big change is qualifying tournaments will become three-day events. The entire field will fish Thursday and Friday, with the top 10 fishing Saturday.

The Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Series will launch in 2006. It will be a regional tournament trail, which will serve as a qualifying trail for the Kingfish Tour. There’ll be five regions, each holding three tournaments.

North Carolina will have three tournaments, while South Carolina and Georgia will combine to be another region. At the end of the year, the top-10 teams from each region will be invited to a no-entry-fee championship at Orange Beach, Ala.

Entry for these one-day tournaments will be $500, with a payout to the top-20 places. First place in the events will be $12,000, with contingency prizes of $9,000 each from Genmar and Yamaha, for a possible total of $30,000.

For more information, visit www.flwoutdoors.com.

Including its sister American Striper Association Tournament Trail, the SKA operates three tournament rails.

The SKA Yamaha Professional Kingfish Tour is for fishermen who have qualified for its national championships during the past and want to step up the level of competition. The SKA Pro Tour features five tournaments with an entry fee of $1,000 each. SKA pro events usually run in conjunction with a local divisional event, which the pros are eligible to enter.

First place is a guaranteed $40,000. All SKA Pro Tour participants are invited to fish at its national championship.

The SKA Mercury Division Trail is a regional competition, with 12 regions from North Carolina to Texas, each region holding three to five tournaments. This trail works with local events to offer regional competition for SKA members.

At season’s end, the top-20 boats of 24-feet-and-longer and the top-15 boats of 23-feet-and-shorter from each region are invited to participate in a national championship tournament.

SKA actually holds separate-but-congruent national championship tournaments for different-size boats, and it assesses an entry fee for its championship tournament. However, entry fees and three nights lodging are paid for winners of size categories from each division.

If a divisional winner isn’t powered by a Mercury outboard, Mercury pays the entry and three nights lodging for the top Mercury-powered finisher in each size category.

As a means of promoting family participation, SKA recognizes top lady, junior and senior anglers from each size category in each division.

For more information about SKA and its Yamaha Professional Tournament Trail or Mercury Divisional Tournament Trail, visit www.fishska.com.

One of the major differences between these organizations is how a team accumulates points. SKA uses fish weights, while FLW uses tournament placings.

I believe teams that catch 25-pounders to win in poor conditions are better fishermen than teams that catch 45-pounders and place 20th in tournaments dominated by big fish and prime conditions. Some anglers believe, as do I, that using a fish’s weight to determine points rewards too heavily a single large fish, while the actual finish in a tournament is directly relevant to the other anglers in that tournament.

Readers are welcome to discuss these topics at our web site forum at www.northcarolinasportsman.com.

About Jerry Dilsaver 1149 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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