Carolina Anglers Dominate FLW Kingfish Championship

The crew of the Early Riser (L-R) Capt. John Parks, Willie Humphrey and Robert Daugherty proudly hoist their $150,000 check for winning the inagural Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour Championship Tournament.

Several wise sayings come to mind regarding the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour Championship Tournament held October 13 to 15 in Morehead City. One is, “The early bird gets the worm,” and another is, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Either could apply to the performance put in by the Early Riser King Mackerel Fishing Team this past week at the storm delayed and relocated final qualifying event and the relocated FLW Kingfish Championship.”Man, this feels incredible,” said Captain John Parks of the Early Riser Fishing Team, of Jacksonville, N.C. “We knew we had our work cut out for us to even make this championship field and now we’ve managed to win it. Words really can’t describe the feeling.

“We came into the final qualifier in 79th place and needed to finish well just to break into the top 50 and qualify for the championship,” Parks continued. “We thought it would probably take a top five finish to make the cut and fortunately found a 27 pound-12 ounce king in the slower fishing earlier in the week to finish fourth in the qualifier. That moved us to 40th in the overall standings and got us into the championship. Once we had secured our slot, we began working hard to take advantage of it.”

And take advantage they did!

After only finding a 15 pound king on Thursday, they rose early and went to work on Friday. Parks along with crew members Willie Humphrey and Robert Daugherty found their backs to the wall once again, but produced the largest king of the tournament when things looked bleakest.

“We caught fresh bait every morning and then went fishing,” Parks said. “Thursday we wondered about it a little. There were teams out catching fish early with penned bait, but having the freshest bait is something we all agree on and we caught it fresh again on both Friday and Saturday.”

Friday signaled the turning point for the Early Riser crew.

“After we caught bait Friday morning we headed for AR 315,” Parks said. “There was a fair group of boats there and we stopped just outside of them and put our baits out. It was only a little while until we had our first strike and it ran harder than anything else we had caught that week, so we were hoping it was a larger fish. I was handling the fish while Willie and Robert cleared the lines. After about 25 minutes it finally tired and rolled up beside the boat. As soon as he saw it, Willie stuck it and heaved it in the boat. We had it iced down and in our fish bag at 9:26. We were pretty sure this king would put us near the top and guarantee we got to fish on Saturday.”

Later Friday afternoon, while waiting for the check-in boat to get positioned, the Early Riser crew landed another big king. “We were already inside the inlet and the water was dirty enough we couldn’t tell the size difference in the water, so we had to gaff it to tell the difference between the two.”

Quite a few crews would have loved to have that second fish as it also topped the 30 pound mark and 24 pounds and 10 ounces was the 10th place qualifying weight.

The championship tournament rules called for the field to be pared to the top 10 boats for Saturday’s fishing. The others include the Reel Culture, Rebecca Ann, Double Shot, Team Chevy, Sea Rat, My Turn, Capt. Dan, East Coast Sports and Team Snickers.

Two of the final 10 teams were from South Carolina. Team Chevy is captained by Larry Fowler of North Myrtle Beach and Capt. Dan is captained by Daniel Gourley of Hardeeville.

At the ripe old age of 17, Gourley is the youngest captain on the FLW Tour. The Capt. Dan Fishing Team includes Gourley’s parents, Charles and Sheri Getsinger, and longtime friend Thomas Strozzo.

The most disappointed crew was the Alan Vester Automotive Team, who missed the cut by a mere four ounces and had lost a considerably larger fish early Thursday morning when the hooks pulled.

After a week of heavy clouds and occasional rain, Saturday dawned on a much clearer day, with sunshine and a full moon still visible on the horizon. The general feeling throughout the remaining 10 boats was, “Uh oh.” They were concerned the bite had changed and it did—although for the worse.

All of the final 10 teams brought a fish to the scales on Saturday, but the largest was the 22 pound and 9 ounce king of Capt. Fowler and Team Chevy. That fish moved them from ninth to fifth place. The final results were determined by combining each team’s first round (Thursday/Friday) fish, with their largest king on Saturday for a combined weight.

The teams fished until 4:00 p.m. Saturday and then loaded their boats on their trailers along the Atlantic Beach Causeway. After a police escort brought the parade of boats to the Morehead City Wal-Mart, the game faces became serious and the tension mounted.

Weighing in reverse order of their Friday standings, Team Snickers began the trek across the stage and to the scales. Several surprises jostled the standings some, but the attention was on the top four boats after Friday. Only 6 pounds and seven ounces separated these teams and anything was possible.

With only the Early Riser left to weigh, Shane Hollar, Advance, N.C., captain of the Reel Culture, stood on stage temporarily in the lead, but staring at the fish bag carried by Humphrey and Daugherty. The moment was tense, but one of these two teams was going to pocket $150,000 in winnings and claim the title of Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour Champion.

When Daugherty pulled the Early Riser king from its bag, the celebration began. It was easily apparent the king would surpass the 15 pounds needed to overtake the Reel Culture. A champion was being crowned and the Early Riser had indeed gotten the worm. They may not be healthier or wiser, but they sure were wealthier. All their hard work had paid off.

The Early Riser bested the talent-laden field by over 5 pounds. Their 38 pound, 1 ounce Friday king combined with their 20 pound, 1 ounce Saturday king, gave them a total weight of 58 pounds, 2 ounces. The Reel Culture’s second place total was 52 pounds, 12 ounces. Only 4 teams passed the 50 pound mark.

Including their fourth place finish in the qualifying tournament, the Early Riser crew pocketed a hefty $166,500 in FLW Kingfish Tournament winnings for the week.

“I want to thank our other crew members Marilyn Bunce, who actually owns the boat, Steve Henderson, who was only able to fish the Ft. Pierce event, our sponsor, Gold Coast Investments, Yamaha, Wellcraft, everyone who helped us throughout the year and also to remember our friend and former team member, James Bunce, who was with us in our hearts and minds,” said Parks. The Bunces recruited Parks to fish with them several years ago and then James Bunce was suddenly stricken with cancer and died in March 2004.

Other top finishers in the championship were the Rebecca Ann, Capt. Frank Strickland, Valdosta, Ga., in third place; Double Shot, Capt. Gerald Wagner, III, Richmond Hill, Ga., in fourth place, Team Chevy, Larry Fowler, Little River, fifth place and Capt. Dan, Daniel Gourley, Hardeeville, eighth place.

Palmetto state anglers can be proud of their showing in this inaugural year for the Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour. They accounted for 10 of the 50 places allocated for the FLW Championship Tournament and then showed their mettle during the championship. Led by Team Chevy and Capt. Dan in the top 10, the S.C teams were spread evenly throughout the final results.

Drama Earlier in the Week

In addition to the Early Riser, there were several other teams that needed to excel in the final qualifying tournament, held Monday and Tuesday, to reach the top 50 field for the championship tournament. One of these was the Marcia D team of Capt. Perry Johnson, Oak Island, N.C. and Don Wilsey. Their situation was even worse. They needed to win the tournament and get a little help from some of the front running teams to even have a chance.

Lady Luck smiled on Johnson and Wilsey. Even after catching a 35 pound-3 ounce king to win the tournament, they were relegated to a tie-breaker before claiming the final spot in the top 50. The qualifying tournament win carried a purse of $70,000.

The Marcia D team also took advantage of their opportunity and finished 16th in the championship.

The Slip-N-Slide team, captained by Tom Aberle of Wilmington, N.C. also had to perform well in the final qualifier to make the championship. Before and after winning the Venice, La. qualifying event, the Slip-N-Slide had slipped more than slid. However, that win, along with a second place in this qualifying event, slid them into 37th place and gave them a berth in the championship.

Third place in the qualifying tournament was claimed by Capt. Roger Walker, of Jacksonville, Fla., and the crew of the Streaker.

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About Jerry Dilsaver 1127 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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