“We’re very fortunate to have everything break right for us. It was just our time, and our turn. We definitely appreciate it all, and we certainly appreciate John Gore, Donna Gurganus, and Brant McMullan for putting this whole series together.” Mark Henderson, Captain of Team Liquid Fire.
Team Liquid Fire let it be known that they were a force to be reckoned with in the Kingfish Cup right out of the gate, when they weighed a 29.95 in the Jolly Mon. Consistency was the theme for this Cape Carteret-based, family-oriented team, to the point that their dropped fish was a 14.55 during qualification. For comparative purposes, 13 of the 26 teams who qualified for Ocracoke dropped zeroes. Liquid Fire weighed fish in all four events, and for all intents and purposes, breezed to the 14th spot in total points. They might have stayed somewhat under the radar, as their Kingfish Cup winnings right up until Ocracoke totaled only $2,360. However, when the weather started to cool, the fishing picked up, and Liquid Fire new exactly when to push the throttle to the stops.
On the first weekend in October, Liquid Fire hit a big payday at the U.S. Open, bringing home right at $28,000. Also fishing the Cape Lookout Shootout Series, they were able to parlay the hot bite up the coast into a 10th place overall finish in that set of events. Knowing they were in the field for Ocracoke, they also decided to make a trip to the Gulf Coast for another tournament. It was there that they sheared a mounting bolt on their Sea Vee, an issue that took their main team boat out of play for the grand finale. Rather than panic, they simply used their contacts and borrowed a 36 Cape Horn from their friends, a team known as Carolina Kings. Simple, right?
Upon arrival at Ocracoke, it was just as clear to Liquid Fire as it was to the other teams that conditions had done an about face from the previous week, where multiple 50 pounders had been killed. The wind had turned, the water had cooled dramatically (5 to 6 degrees) and had gotten dirty, and there were no satellite temp shots available. Not to mention that it was bitterly cold on land at Ocracoke. Of course, they were in an unfamiliar boat as well, which added to the situation. So what does a landlocked team do? Sit back and enjoy the camaraderie of the situation, and try to collect bait where they can. Which is exactly what they did.
Mark made it clear that more than any other factor, the bait situation was a nightmare. First, it was hard enough between their arrival on Tuesday and the last lay day on Saturday to find menhaden, but it was even harder to keep them alive. The team concentrated on stocking up on the hardier bluefish, and that strategy would prove to be a big winner.
When the tournament day finally dawned on Sunday, Team Liquid Fire blasted off and went straight for the AR. Their 40 mile run in the cold paid them off with only 66 degree, milky water. They ran to the Bad Bottoms, but found more of the same water. However, they found slightly warmer, clearer water ten minutes away at the Smell Wreck, and their next 35 minutes of fishing there were what made their day.
Crockett Henderson, Mark’s youngest son was deploying a bluefish when Liquid Fire got their first bite of the day. With the rod still in his hand, the fish didn’t make the trademark long run of a king, but Crockett’s experience led to him to fight it as such. A ten minute fight, with Mark maneuvering the borrowed boat in still “sporty” conditions showed that the fish was indeed a king, it had just been foul hooked. One treble had caught the king’s side, and the other was hooked in its anal fin. Crockett kept steady pressure on the king, and Mark’s other son, Joshua, was able to sink the gaff from long range with a “perfect” shot. Fish number one, the 35.9 pounder, was in the bag.
Shortly thereafter, a 15 or so pounder ate the downrigger bait, confirming that Liquid Fire was on a body of fish. They were also watching other teams around them catch the fish, with blackfin tuna and false albacore mixed in. They made the call to stay put for a while, which was confirmed when fish number three bit the long line mere minutes later. This one made more of a signature kingfish run, and experience led to them putting the 24.35 pounder in the bag quickly, right next to its bigger brother. Their timing was right, because after the second fish was bagged, the bite cooled off.
Not really knowing where they stood, Liquid Fire made the decision to run to the southwest, past Ocracoke, to try another spot before having to weigh in. They ran 41 miles, but only caught one small fish in their final two hours of fishing. Listening to the radio chatter, the team still wasn’t really sure where they stood, but they knew they had a chance with what they had bagged. Their detour to the southwest put them at the back of the weigh-in line, so when they finally got back to Silver Lake, they had a good view of what was going on the scales in front of them.
While Audrey Henderson, Mark’s wife and Team Liquid Fire’s team manager/logistics director is always at the scales at the typical tournament, the change in schedule meant that she had to catch a ferry, and therefore couldn’t hang around or feed information to the team on the boat. This time, it was just the boys on the borrowed boat, but they could see from their view that they had great chance. Mark described the encounter as “nerve wracking, as Barrett McMullan hosted the weigh in and called out weights.” The mood turned to extreme excitement, as the 35.9 was hung on the scales and Liquid Fire shot into first place overall. The aggregate weight held through the final three boats to weigh and Team Liquid Fire was crowned the inaugural Kingfish Cup Champions. Their payday of $96,410.00 was the ultimate icing on the cake that was their fall season.
Ultimately, Mark sees his win, and the Kingfish Cup overall, as being an injection of enthusiasm into our sport:
“It’s exciting to see it for the sport. This is something for the younger generation in the sport. It’s great to see that tournament king mackerel fishing is starting to thrive again.”
He went on to give some advice to other teams in the sport. Mark said “Don’t miss weigh-ins, even if you think you don’t have what it takes. There’s no embarrassment in weighing a small king, we have done it many times on Team Liquid Fire. Everyone has. It’s just not worth taking the risk, because you never know…” All teams would do well to heed this advice from a true champion team.
Team Liquid Fire Roster
Mark Henderson (Captain)
Audrey Henderson (Team Manager/Logistics Director)
Joshua Henderson (Gaff man extraordinaire)
Crockett Henderson (Angler on the 2017 Kingfish Cup money fish)
Chris Waters (valued friend and teammate who unfortunately had to miss the Championship, but vital to the process nonetheless)
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
“We got a good bait tip that let us load up on big mullets, pogies, and bluefish. That really helped to put us over the top when it finally came time to fish.” John Sims, Captain of Team Kryptek.
At the end of the day, John Sims, Barry Bierstedt, Greg Antolak, Jason McAlister, and Mike Dunning must just be living right. No team chronicled yet with the first season of Kingfish Cup came so close to unmitigated disaster in the tournament world, yet comes up smelling like roses. Let me explain.
We have already chronicled (in greater detail) the Carolina Beach Got ‘Em On fish for Team Kryptek, a fish that ultimately weighed 34.86 pounds and was the largest fish weighed by the team for the entire tournament series, but it’s worth bringing up again. That awesome summer king was dropped into the Carolina Beach Yacht Basin, and retrieved by a fortuitous swipe of the gaff, completely intact and good to go. For a moment, all was lost, but then it was found again. While the payout from the eventual sixth place overall fish helped fund the rest of the fishing season for Kryptek, the 34.86 points it generated were of far more importance. Following the Rumble in the Jungle, Kryptek qualified for the Kingfish Cup Championship by a mere .74 points over Team King Hunter/Wilmington Auto. You can’t diminish what either team was able to accomplish this season, these are two excellent teams, each with a long list of tournament experience. It was just that close! Ultimately, though, one team got to go to Ocracoke and the other could not. On to the next event we go, by less than a full pound of weight…
Making friends and sharing good information are two vital parts of any king mackerel tournament series. As one of the friendliest and most conversational teams that this reporter has encountered in the Kingfish Cup, it’s not a stretch to think that John Sims and Kryptek have made some friends in 2017. They made more when their ferry was delayed at Cedar Island. Good information helped put Team Kryptek’s bait making adventure into overdrive. Their first throw of the cast net yielded a bounty of big, fat mullets. They culled through and kept only the biggest, then went looking for pogies, which were in no short supply. After loading up on the pogies, they trolled up bluefish. A quick trip, and all their bait was ready to go. It’s nice to have friends on the trail, don’t you think?
Fishing merely a quarter mile from eventual Kingfish Cup champion Liquid Fire, in the vicinity of the Smell Wreck, the bite that Kryptek had been looking for came at 9:30. Sure enough, it was one of the big mullets that got smoked. Their big bait paid off with a 31.6 pounder. At this point, it was on. The action stayed hot for them for a while, and their good bait rewarded them with good kingfish bites. During their time at the Smell Wreck, they only had one non-targeted species, a false albacore. Everything else was of the right variety. It was a pogie that produced their second biggest king, a 27.3 pounder. Picking through some smaller fish as well, they stayed at the Smell Wreck as the bite tapered off for everyone, then completely died.
Kryptek made the call to work to the south, but they didn’t run as far as Liquid Fire. Instead, they worked their way back towards Ocracoke Inlet and tried a few spots along the way. One small king was all they found while spot hopping. Now in colder water, they decided to go ahead and weigh early, rather than make a long run and risk missing time. Their spot at the front of the weigh in line ensured they vaulted immediately into first place. How well would it hold up?
Team Kryptek watched the rest of the weigh in on Facebook Live while they were cleaning the boat, with the sound cranked up. According to John Sims:
“The neighbors must have thought we were crazy, because we went nuts every time a team weighed and we stayed at the top of the leaderboard. It would have been too intense for us to be on site while this was going on.”
Their lead held, right up until Liquid Fire weighed, and then it didn’t. Kryptek had been bumped to second place by another incredibly small margin, 1.35 pounds. With only a couple of teams behind Liquid Fire in the line, they didn’t slide again, but held onto second place. Ultimately, they were 3.15 pounds ahead of Reel Attitude in third, still a slim margin, but certainly good enough for a runner-up finish.
Was it a bitter pill to swallow for Team Kryptek? Sure it was, but only because their competitive spirit is as strong as anyone else’s in the field. This is why we do this, why we love this sport. We all want to win. Numbers are what they are. Thin margins giveth, and they taketh too. At the end of the day, there was nothing but a congratulatory attitude from Team Kryptek to Liquid Fire, as well as the other boats in the field. It was a great show, and it was really, really close. They’ll be back in 2018, with their eyes on improving just one spot when it’s all said and done.
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
“Tournament fishing costs a lot of money, but you don’t do it to make money. Still, there’s never going to be a tournament where we’re not all in.” Allen Wells, Captain of Team Real Attitude.
Allen Wells was not the first Kingfish Cup Championship angler to comment on the weather conditions that everyone was forced to face at Ocracoke. He was the first to say that the weather made him “stir crazy.” Team Reel Attitude was there to fish, and the cold front was making that nearly impossible! When he saw a brief opening, albeit a narrow one, to go catch bait, and he had heard there was bait near Hatteras, the team piled onto his 31 Contender and braved some of Mother Nature’s nastiness to go bait up. When they got to the spot, with a few boats around, Allen thought for a moment that they might have been duped.
“We saw other boats throw the net and come up with nothing. So we sat there for a while and started marking the blobs on the depth finder. Eventually we threw on the marks, and came up with 12 to 14 inch baits. They were perfect.”
Reel Attitude is one of the few teams to report having success with penning their bait. They left it in the pen for several days, and while some of the baits were getting red when it was time to actually go fishing on Sunday, they felt that it was still good enough to use. Instead of burning their time chasing new, fresh bait, they simply headed offshore, working their way through cold, non-productive water and out to the Smell Wreck, and the rest of the crowd.
“Our average was a bite every 40 minutes. We weren’t getting bit as often as everyone else that we were around, just based on what we saw and heard, but maybe we had a nicer class of fish. We are thinking that was due to us having the bigger baits.”
If that is the case, the formula for team Reel Attitude was right on the money, $49,034, to be exact. Their big fish came on a big ribbonfish on the downrigger, dressed up of course with a Blue Water Candy ribbonfish skirt. The second fish came on one of those big baits. While they ultimately came in third overall with a 55.75 aggregate (32.7 + 23.05) they took second place in Level 2 and Level 3, pumping up their payout to almost 50 grand. It was 1.1 pounds of separation between them and Hookin’ Ain’t Easy, who weighed an identical 32.7 as their big fish. Maybe the big baits really did make the difference on the second fish. Whatever the case, it’s an excellent payday for the team, and it will certainly help with the team’s planned repower job this offseason.
Allen was quick to give credit to his teammates, longtime friend Jeff Naylor who always fishes with him, and Jodie Gay (of Blue Water Candy fame) who joined him for the Championship. When discussing his thoughts on the Kingfish Cup and the future of the tournament series, Allen had some quick but far-reaching thoughts.
“I remember when they had to cap the Greater Jacksonville tournament at 1,000 or 1,100 entries. I remember when the Hardees Tournament in Atlantic Beach routinely had 400 or 500 boats. At one time, my SKA number was 0092. I’ve been with this sport since the 90s. The Kingfish Cup is making it feel like that all over again. It’s good to have that kind of buzz back in the sport.”
Well said, Captain! Now, if we can just get Mother Nature dialed in to cooperate during the Championship…
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
Well folks, Season One of the Kingfish Cup is in the books. Twenty six teams made the trek to Ocracoke, and some got paid. A few got paid really, really well. Let’s look at how it worked out for a few teams while we’re determining how to best prepare for 2018.
The first aspect of all of this to consider is how qualifying finish affected a team’s finish at Ocracoke, after the points were reset to zero and the field was cut down to the top twenty five, plus any qualifying winners outside of that group (hence the final twenty six). Of course, we will note that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and these numbers will carry more weight when we look at a larger sample (several years of data from Kingfish Cup Championships, when they are available) but we have the numbers that we have for 2017, and they aren’t changing! The Top Five teams from Ocracoke had an average qualifying of 19.2, or almost to the bottom fifth of the group. No team that finished in the Top Ten from the season finished in the Top Five at Ocracoke, the best qualifying position was Clearly Hooked at 13th! Did the Top Ten (really Top Twelve) use all of their big fish magic during the regular season? Or is there so little separation between the teams’ talent level that did qualify that a few pounds here and there throughout the season mean very little when it comes to predicting how the field will perform when the really big money is on the line?
The Top Five from Ocracoke won a grand total of $9,090 during the qualifying season. Other teams won more money than they did, until they got to Ocracoke. At the Kingfish Cup Championship, these teams combined to win $172,471. Again, correlation is not causation. Low returns during the season don’t mean huge payouts in November because, of course, you run the risk of not qualifying at all. On the other hand, getting paid during the regular season seems to have no effect of Championship dollars, if any, it has a negative one.
Team Liquid Fire, captained by Mark Henderson took home a total of $98,770 in Kingfish Cup winnings. This is the sum total of their season qualifier KFC payouts and their big payout from the Championship. This number does not include any additional winnings from the individual tournaments or calcuttas. The $4,500 they posted to be in every single Kingfish Cup Level also does not include entry fees from the qualifiers. In essence, they wagered $4,500 to win $98,770, with some additional side wagering along the way. This makes their payout ratio 21.95 to 1. Not a bad situation for this team, to make the understatement of the century. Looking down the list, Kryptek wagered $500 to win $8,621. Their payout ratio declined to 17.24 to 1, which is still outstanding, but their margin declined substantially. Maybe next year they will level up, but in the meantime, I’ll take over 17 times on my initial investment any day of the week, and twice on Sundays! In third place, Reel Attitude saw a 10.9 to 1 ratio on their bet, but with a much higher gross than Kryptek saw. With no in season winnings, they still saw a check for $49,054. This lends credence to the idea of “all you have to do is make the field for a chance at the big money.” Looking on down the list, Hookin’ Ain’t Easy and Clearly Hooked saw payout ratios of 8.86 to 1 and 3.71 to 1, respectively.
So what does this all mean? Hard and fast, it pays to Level Up. One could surmise that Alan Wells will probably send John Sims a Christmas card this year. Had Kryptek been in Levels 2 and 3, their payout would have been much more substantial. Other than that, there are trends, but not necessarily conclusions. Maybe lapping the field isn’t the best way to qualify for the Kingfish Cup Championship. Maybe you just want to qualify under the radar and save the best for last. It will be exciting to look at these trends several years down the road and see if they still ring true. In the meantime, be sure you Level Up in 2018!
Thanks again to Randolph “Kaz” Prince for inspiring the debate about true odds and how to best calculate them for the Kingfish Cup’s purposes. Sooner or later, Kaz will be joining the Kingfish Cup, and he’ll get to put more of his knowledge of statistics to use. This is someone who most likely knows how to get the best bang for his buck on the big fish.
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
“This wasn’t like other tournaments we have traveled to in the past, where you would see other teams and it was just like they were sizing you up. Everyone just hung out together, especially during the bad weather, and had fun. I made a lot of new friends that week.” Brian Aycock, well-traveled king mackerel angler and Kingfish Cup participant.
Sometimes the Cedar Island Ferry to Ocracoke Island runs on time, and sometimes it doesn’t. It had a scheduled run with five Kingfish Cup teams on Monday, November 6th. Jeff Beck on Do Work had just pulled into the loading line (close to Kryptek and Hookin’ Ain’t Easy) when the news was announced at the ferry docks. The next scheduled run had been called off due to heavy fog. It was undetermined when the next trip to Ocracoke was going to happen. So, what do a bunch of guys stranded at the ferry terminal do at that point? Simple. They tailgate.
It starts with food. Everyone was loaded up to be on an island for a week anyway, so why not start lunch early? Then the stories started. Six degrees of separation become two or three, and everyone realizes how much they have in common. It’s not unlike a college football Saturday at all, just instead of a game, you’re headed to an island.
There was a point where it was unclear whether or not the teams would actually make it to Ocracoke that day. NC Department of Transportation was waffling, and they kept pushing back the conference call that would determine if they could make the trip safely. In the meantime, all of the Kingfish Cup teams were checking their electronics and plotting the trips themselves, looking at the possibility of putting their boats in at the Wildlife and going through the Pamlico. Eventually, the call was made that they ferry could depart, so a well-loaded ferry, with five center consoles on board, finally left the docks, with only a 2.5 hour trip to Ocracoke. Let the tailgating continue, just as a moving, floating one.
Once everyone got to the island, the overall tone was that of fellowship and camaraderie. Due to mostly horrendous weather conditions, there was more lay time than fishing or bait making time, so competition (to a degree) gave way to vacation. Teams cooked together, ate together, had drinks together, and stayed together. There’s not a ton going on in Ocracoke Village in November, so the Kingfish Cup brought its own fun.
“The close proximity of everything is what made having the event at Ocracoke great. With the timing of the tournament, it was like we had the whole island to ourselves, and the locals were super appreciative.” Tim Gray, Captain of Team Beeracuda and Kingfish Cup Championship participant.
Ocracoke itself was more than pleased to have an injection of life on the island, late in the fall. Gaffers got especially high marks from most of the participants, and there may have been one or two late nights enjoyed there in the process. The island gets the vast majority of its business during the summer months, but they lost a lot of tourism this year due to a catastrophic power failure on the Outer Banks. Having twenty five tournament king mackerel teams staying on their island was a much needed bump to businesses. We saw some similarities with Gulf Coast tournaments following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, however the economy in the Gulf region seems much more based around the oil business and casino gambling. Neither of these activities occur anywhere close to Ocracoke Island, so the tournament, the teams, and the activities that came with them were front and center.
Ideally, the 2018 version of the Kingfish Cup Championship will see light and slight winds, a bit warmer weather, and bigger fish than the 2017 Championship. For whatever reason, this year missed the absolute peak of the fall bite by a mere week. Such factors are really out of the control of anyone, other than Mother Nature herself. You can be sure, though, that regardless of conditions, it’s going to be a good time, spent with like-minded people. If we can’t fish, we can definitely tell fishing stories!
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
Click on the tournament below to view photo galleries from that tournament. All photos copyright © 2019 The Kingfish Cup Series
Qualifying Event Locations
Tournament Fishing Website by InterCoastal Net Designs