In its heyday, the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament would attract 1000 boats, mainly from Jacksonville, North Florida and South Georgia, for two days of fishing off our coast. Over the years, the focus of the tournament got away from the “local” aspect and concentrated more on the competition. As the rules changed and fewer and fewer local anglers felt competitive in the tournament, the numbers dwindled. Competitive fishermen from all over started to dominate the tournament with big and fast boats, capable of covering hundreds of miles to find and catch the biggest fish. Couple that with a downturn in the economy and rising gas prices, entries in 2014 were fewer than 400 boats.
“We’re getting back to the community event we once were,” 2015 Tournament Chairman Fred Holmes said on Wednesday at the tournament site on Sisters Creek. Over 33 years of the GJKT they’ve contributed $650,000 to charity, helped build the Sisters Creek boat ramp and recently helped host the “Down at the Docks” fishing day for the Downs Syndrome Association for the second straight year. “We want to be that family tournament where everybody has a chance to win,” Holmes explained. “We’d gotten a bit away from that but we’re on our way back.”
Going back to the two day fishing tournament on Thursday and Friday, July 16 and 17, Holmes believes gives everybody equal footing when it comes to winning. “The shootout format didn’t work for us. Too much pressure on one day. We’re back where we want to be.”
Local Captain Dennis Sergent thinks the playing field is level this year but for a different reason. “A thermocline came through here last week and scattered the fish,” he explained during the annual GJKT Media Fishing tournament. “The water temperature is down, there’s no bait on the beach right now so the fish aren’t in one spot or another. Having a big, fast boat is no advantage right now.”
For the second year in a row, the Channel 4 Fishing Team (me and Matt Kingston) fished with Dennis and his mate Danny Shore during their media day aboard the “Debreef” looking for kings off our coast. An early morning start provided us with clear weather and glassy seas, but no baitfish. Kingfish feed on menhaden or “pogies” that school near shore but none were to be found. So we went to plan ‘B’ using ribbonfish brought along just in case.
Fishing for King Mackerel isn’t what you would call an “active” event but rather a lot of preparation and a lot of sitting around, slow trolling in spots where the fish usually swim. Problem is, or maybe the fun of it is, you never know what you’re going to bring up out of the waters offshore.
During our hours of fishing, we hit two different spots known to local anglers. “Middle Grounds” and “MR,” well-fished and marked spots on just about everybody’s GPS system. Other boats were having a spot of luck at MR so we headed there and put lines in the water.
With music playing and the conversation breezing by, it didn’t seem like long before one reel went off with the familiar “zzzzzzzz” indicating something was tugging at the other end. I was first up so I took the rod and started the process of getting whatever was hooked near the boat and to the surface so we could take a look at it, hoping it was a kingfish.
“It doesn’t feel like a king,” I said aloud echoing my first thoughts about what was going on. “Too much on the surface, too much change of direction,” I noted. Having fished for a while, but certainly no expert, my experience with kings was that they went on strong runs a couple of times after being hooked before you could bring them to the boat. This fish just swam around as we chased him down, giving no indication of a fight.
“He’s shaking his head, probably a shark,” I said, recalling the annoying habit we had of catching shark on this day in previous years. “Maybe he doesn’t know he’s hooked,” Dennis said, which, as silly as it might seem, is a real possibility.
And it turns out Dennis was exactly right. Once we got on the fish and put some pressure on him, he started his runs, pretty strong, pretty deep and away from the boat. I still wasn’t convinced. “If it’s a king, can’t be very big, he’s too quick,” again calling on my limited experience.
This went on for about 15 minutes before we finally saw the fish for the first time. “Wow, that’s a BIG king,” Danny said making sure I knew, as the angler, that we needed to get this fish to the boat.
“Don’t horse him,” Dennis said, using the fishing vernacular for trying to land a fish too quickly.
So slowly and methodically we kept the boat aligned with the fish, put pressure on him when necessary and eventually, after three extended runs, brought him in the boat.
“That is a big fish!” Channel 4 photographer Matt Kingston said as we laid him out on the deck. We estimated he might be about 30 pounds since he was long but not particularly fat. In fact, once we got him to the dock, the fish officially weighed 27.80 pounds, good enough to win the Media Day tournament.
Dennis and Danny have fished together for a while and knew what they were doing. They went into the day with a plan and executed it to perfection, with a little fishing luck going our way. It’s always fun to fish with guys who enjoy the day, the camaraderie, and just being out on the water. I’d fish with them anytime.
“There’s no such thing as a bad day fishing,” Dennis said with a laugh.
The GJKT runs July 14-18 with the Junior Angler, the Captains Meeting, the two day tournament and the Saturday awards all at Jim King Park at Sisters Creek off Hecksher Drive.
For more information go to www.kingfishtournament.com.