“My grandfather wanted his tournament to be the Super Bowl of fishing. And, really, it was.” Kingfish Cup captain Scott Smith, grandson of the late Arthur Smith.
If you don’t know who Arthur Smith was, you must not know much about the history of country music. This was the man, who after finding out that a movie had stolen his song, successfully sued Warner Brothers to the tune of a 42 foot Hatteras. “Dueling Banjos?” Hardly. The original song was entitled “Feudin’ Banjos.” That is, when it was written by Arthur Smith. Born in Clinton, South Carolina, Arthur moved to Charlotte following his service to the country in World War II and became a country music legend.
His rise to prominence was timed perfectly with the ascension of broadcast television as the main media source in the United States. While the careers of other musicians plateaued or fizzled, the “Arthur Smith Show” became a hit across the country, eventually hosting other stars from Johnny Cash to Tom Petty. Through it all, he had a strong love of the ocean and fishing. He built one of the first homes in Briarcliffe Acres in the 1970s and soon realized the issue that confronted the watermen of Little River. At that time Little River Inlet was virtually impassable at low tide, similar to the scenario that has hampered Brunswick County inlets in recent years. The Grand Strand community, realizing his pop culture status and the voice it created, came to him for help. Shortly thereafter, the Arthur Smith King Mackerel Tournament was born.
It’s no secret that the Arthur Smith King Mackerel tournaments are the reason that Little River Inlet has jetties today. It took a few years, but the mass appeal of these charity-first events was great enough to raise the approximately 20 million that it took to complete the project. Little River Inlet is in good enough shape in 2017 that floating casinos can get through. Talk about a permanent monument to a man and his mission!
The tournaments themselves were affairs that drew close to a thousand boats. During its heyday, only perhaps the Greater Jacksonville Tournament had similar participation. Of course, the Greater Jacksonville Tournament contacted Arthur Smith to see just how he did things, using his events as a template for their success. Imitation is the most sincere type of flattery…
The most amazing thing is that the Arthur Smith wasn’t only the biggest tournament, it was truly the first event to try to be a big tournament. At the time, slow trolling live bait for kings was a new technique. The U.S. Open in Southport was two years away from inception. Four stroke outboard motors were unheard of. Sure, there might have been a club tournament here and there for kings, but nothing of this scale had ever been attempted before.
As a “family first” kind of guy, Arthur Smith created a major tournament, with substantial prizes, that a working man could fish and not break the bank. The non-fishing part of the events were more carnival than business, and always included a country music show at the end. Of course, major media picked up the story. A fledgling sports-only network, known as ESPN, covered the events with the same attention that they cover the BassMasters Classic in this day and age. Sports Illustrated ran a feature on the event in December of 1984. By this time there were Arthur Smith Tournaments in South Florida and New York as well, just another example of how far the excitement spread.
Arthur Smith passed away at the ripe old age of 93 on April 3, 2014. His legacy, in the form of his music, memories of his tournaments, or the fact that Little River has a viable inlet and fishing community, will more than likely last more than the next 93 years. There’s a more subtle legacy as well. Scott, Arthur’s grandson has the same love of the ocean, fishing, and tournaments. Scott is the captain of Team Yellowfin Only and runs the fishing blog www.yellowfinonly.com. I got a chance to reminisce about a different era with Scott, who filled me in on the details of the biggest tournament of its kind. One thing he said struck me above everything else. You see, Scott always had to help run the tournament as a kid, whether it was selling tee shirts or getting drinks. His grandfather made sure, however, that he always got to fish it too. Not a bad lesson for a kid growing up in the 1980s, who turned into an adult that still fishes hard, and loves it to this day.
The next time you catch a fish within sight of the Little River Jetties, whether it’s a smoker king or a speckled trout, remember that Arthur Smith built that. When you compete in a major tournament, regardless of where it is, you might want to remember that Arthur Smith had a pretty big role, in building that, too.
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
"Why do you think the same guys make it to the final table of the World Series of Poker every year? What are they, the luckiest guys in Las Vegas? It’s a skill game, Jo." Mike McDermott in the 1998 film “Rounders.”
Tournament fishing for king mackerel is no different than poker. It’s not gambling. It’s a test of skill. Sure, there may some luck involved, and a few factors that we can’t control for as fishermen, but there’s a reason certain teams are repeats on leaderboards. They’re good at what they do. Good anglers, just like professional poker players, have a system and a strategy. They make decisions by weighing odd versus their gut feelings and act accordingly.
A number of years ago, I was in Biloxi for a king mackerel tournament. We had gotten there well before the tournament, and our hopes of pre-fishing one day were dashed by 30 knot winds. What do you do in Biloxi when the wind blows too hard to fish? That’s right, you go to the casino. Lo and behold, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. I saw more than a few people I already knew. The poker room at the Isle of Capri was full of fishermen from Brunswick, New Hanover, and Horry Counties. There’s a good chance that the gene we all possess that makes us enjoy king mackerel fishing also leads us to seek out a poker game on the now and then. By the way, there are some really good poker players in this bunch.
John Amason, of Team Seaquail, not only fishes king mackerel tournaments, but he plays poker recreationally as well. He makes an important distinction between gambling and what he does. According to John: “Slot machines are gambling. King fishing and poker are skill sets. In both you know your limits to limit your losses, and you look for the best reward.” John stresses the competitive nature of both pursuits, and how the competition makes for great friendships as well. “We all want to be better than the next guy, but we’re all in it together.”
The games that day at the Isle of Capri were great. You see, poker is really only fun when the players raise. There’s nothing more frustrating at a card table than being dealt a great hand, attempting to play it, and have everyone else fold when you raise. You get your money back plus any blinds or antes, but what’s the fun in that? The whole point of sitting down at the table is to win. It’s the same mentality that led you to enter the Kingfish Cup, right?
If you need further encouragement to raise the stakes, and by which I mean entering Levels II and III of the Kingfish Cup, just go to this link and get a calculator out https://www.kingfishcup.com/about-the-cup. If you’re reading this article, it’s most likely because you have already made the $500 investment in being one of the 100 teams. If you’re good enough to be one of the final 25 to 29 boats that goes to Ocracoke in November, you probably won a few checks along the way in the qualifiers. If all you entered is Level I, and you win in November, you netted $10,750 on a $500 buy-in. If you and 59 others went ahead and entered all Levels, you netted $65,810 on a $4,500 investment. How do you want your boat’s bank account to look after the season is over? One payout could put in a pretty decent electronics suite. The other check could (depending on how many engines you need) repower your boat pretty well.
If you haven’t gone ahead and entered at all Levels yet, there is still time. You can go ahead and “raise” any time up until June 16, which will allow ample time for you to get your team together and draw up your own financial agreement with members. However you decide to split up the entry fee and divvy up the winnings is up to you. Just don’t leave it on the table! Anglers have been asking for bigger payouts in tournaments for years now. This, my friends, is exactly how you get them!
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
We would be delusional to just dismiss cheating as something that never occurs in king mackerel tournaments. Cheating occurs in just about every sport there is, fringe or not. Baseball players might take steroids to deal with the rigors of a long season. A football equipment manager may or may not have deflated the game balls slightly to make his star quarterback more comfortable gripping them. A major tennis star just returned from a suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant. The list could go on for days…
Kendale Roach, a professional bass angler from Nashville, Tennessee, is all too aware of the cheating that goes on in his type of fishing. Cheating even made its way into a tournament he started, a Tuesday evening, four-hour event on an east Tennessee lake. A particular boat would check out, then run back to a remote cove, where they met their friends, who had been fattening up river-caught bass in tanks, then trucked them to the lake. After filling the livewell, the team would fish the rest of their time and show up with a full stringer, all to win a top prize of $1,000. Having suspicions, Kendale arranged for the team to be watched and worked with Tennessee Fish and Wildlife to make sure everyone was caught and prosecuted for defrauding the other tournament participants. Needless to say, the offending team is no longer welcome at any bass tournament where they are known. News of that kind tends to travel fast.
Okay, so it’s a little bit harder to keep surveillance on a king mackerel tournament on the Atlantic Ocean than on a bass tournament on a lake. There are other methods of making sure everything is on the up and up. Stan Fulmer has been conducting polygraph tests for 39 years, and he is in charge of administering the tests for the qualifying events run out of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center and the Kingfish Cup Championship in Ocracoke. These polygraphs can be administered to any boat that weighs a fish so it’s not just about the winners getting tested.
Stan gave a brief overview of the polygraph process. He said that he creates a specific test for each event after a meeting with the tournament directors. The polygraph is only as good as the questions that are asked, so he wants to cover the important material thoroughly, but be as concise as possible. Each tournament has rules, but some carry more weight in specific situations than others. Asking the question “Is your EPIRB registered correctly” is less important to the spirit of competition than “Did you fish prior to the start of the tournament at 7:00 a.m.” In most cases, the question about the EPIRB would be discarded, and the time question kept. Just remember though, Stan has been at it for quite some time, so you never know exactly what he might ask until you are hooked up to the machine…
Stan went on to give his thoughts on the overall state of cheating in king mackerel tournaments. As he covers a lot of events in the fishing world, he said that you are more likely to encounter people not playing by the rules in smaller, club-run events where the payouts are smaller and the threat of a polygraph is not as pronounced. That being said, it can happen in the largest of events, so the framework to catch it will remain in place. Less than ten years ago, the winning fish in the Jolly Mon raised suspicions and had to be disqualified when a traveling team didn’t show up to take the test. When you are talking about a fish that may be worth $25,000 or more, the cost to the tournament of having the test (and maintaining the legitimacy of the competition) on hand is well worth it.
Maybe the most interesting thing about cheating in tournaments is the rumors that it creates. Throughout the years, anyone involved with the various kingfish circuits has heard just about everything, from little black helicopters delivering fresh king mackerel, sales from commercial boats to center consoles during the event, all the way to king mackerel pens that somehow didn’t leave marks or badly stress out a pelagic predator. Some of this is pretty hard to conceive of, but it’s certainly promotes good stories over a couple of beers. The main thing to be aware of is the fact that if you cheat, you are almost certainly going to get caught. They playing field has to be level or the legitimacy of the competition is gone.
Just go fishing.
Capt. Chris Burrows
"We don’t compete against other teams. For us, it’s just like golf. We just worry about the kings. We compete against the fish." –Henry Tillett, April 2017
Sooner or later, this had to happen. Teams merge, split, or just change personnel all the time. People move, kids grow up, friendships evolve, and work situations change. It’s not like Henry, Wendy, and the second Henry Tillett, along with Clint Richardson weren’t doing exceedingly well with Team Windy Conditions to begin with. Most recently, the team won top junior angler distinction for Division 1 and 9 in North Carolina for 2016. In 2014 they won the Raleigh Saltwater Club tournament and second in the Pre-Game Bash at Nationals in Fort Pierce, following a second place finish in the same event in Biloxi at the 2013 Nationals. Add in a number of top-5 finishes in various events and it’s clear to see that they’re not hurting for success.
Now add in Jodie Gay, aka Team Blue Water Candy. There are few who have made the rounds, on different boats, with different teams, with the success that Jodie has. A former commercial boat owner/operator, Jodie transitioned years ago to the tackle business full time, and his company, Blue Water Candy has been a raging success. His line, including live bait skirts, rigs, sea witches, Jag Heads, and the Roscoe Jig (and quite a few other products) are in tackle stores from New England to the Gulf Coast. Tournaments became a great vehicle for Jodie to put his wares on display and still get to fish, and he took full advantage.
The relationship between Windy Conditions and Team Blue Water Candy came about through normal tournament interaction. Sharing information and pre-fishing together made it clear that the two groups got along and had a pretty good clue what they were doing. They realized that they were having success when they networked, so it wasn’t a stretch to just go ahead and merge the teams. Hence, a king mackerel super-team is born.
Joining the team this season is a brand-new boat. The team’s Yamaha-powered Contender 32ST has been in the ocean a grand total of one time as this goes to print. That number is going to change very quickly in the coming months. The upgrade was just a few feet over the previous boat, a Contender 30, but they expect the increased size and freeboard in the new vessel to make the fishing experience a bit more comfortable, especially if the conditions do indeed get a bit windy. What better way to start a new kingfish series than with a new, tournament rigged boat, right?
As far as sponsorships go, this team likes to keep it simple. Other than the obvious connection with Blue Water Candy, they aren’t looking for any other ones. Henry made it clear that the team wants to do what they want to do, and use what they want to use when it comes to a day on the water. With the experience they have on board, who can blame them for that?
So, here’s what Team Windy Conditions/Blue Water Candy has going for them. First, they have king mackerel tournament fishing experience in spades. They have their Lady and Junior Angler division participants in place. As Henry owns and operates Henry’s Muffler Shops in Raleigh and Wilson, they have the ability to keep their tow vehicle in tip top shape. They have a brand new boat for 2017. Finally, they have a sweetheart deal on some of the best king mackerel skirts ever made. Maybe this is why they’re so friendly at the dock after a day of fishing. They have no reason not to be.
Just go fishing.
Capt. Chris Burrows
“The decisions made on how to conduct our tournament, right or wrong, are made for the fishermen who fish our tournament.” John Gore, Tournament Director, Rumble in the Jungle, April 2017.
For years, and we’re now greater than fifteen years deep in the process, the Rumble in The Jungle http://www.rumblekmt.com/ was known for its start. It was a single-day affair, so every single boat that fished the Open Division (and many of the Pros who stayed to fish it after their own tournament had concluded) threaded through the checkout lane at the Little River Jetties one at a time. The boats would all bob around in the vicinity of the sea buoy, and then it happened. Jethro Tull played over the VHF and almost simultaneously, throttles went to the dash. White water was everywhere as boats headed up the beach, down the beach, or directly offshore. The crowd thinned out, and everyone went fishing.
It was the Rumble that showed me how bizarre the stories generated by king mackerel tournaments can really be. I saw two brothers that I knew fairly well in a borrowed boat at the start. All I can definitively say is that they turned left when the song came on the radio. They may have turned again at some point. I saw them again at the weigh in, and they had the winning fish. The next day, the stories about where they caught the fish trickled in. Different accounts (and there were a LOT) put them at every major kingfish hole between Fripp Island and Diamond Shoals. What’s really funny though, is that everyone identified them with a boat name, rather than their names, despite the fact that they weren’t on their boat. The fact that they had a different brand and number of engines on the transom on their borrowed boat than on the usual didn’t seem to matter. Those two still haven’t told me where they caught their winner, and I haven’t really asked. I have, however, narrowed the area down to within about 150 miles of coastline.
One thing is for certain, the single day, no boundaries, simultaneous start format of the Rumble in the Jungle gave a distinct advantage to larger, faster boats who could make long runs in less-than-perfect conditions. Change happens, and that format is no more. The aforementioned story can’t really happen in the new Rumble, but then again, we don’t really know what happened in the first place, do we? That fish could have been caught at Lighthouse Rocks for all we know.
The changes to the Rumble created a more even playing field for all boats. The boundaries imposed, along with the time of the year that this tournament takes place, means that most of the teams will be fishing the beach, and everyone will be between Wilmington and Georgetown. The event is now a captain’s choice, meaning a savvy team can pick the better weather day to fish. With everyone on the same general stock of fish and being able to deal with weather a bit, there’s no reason that the top prize can’t go to a team fishing a 21’, single engine boat.
If the equitable nature of the Rumble wasn’t enough to get you to fish it, the payout should seal the deal. The generous trifecta of Sportsman’s Choice Marine, Contender, and Yamaha have ensured that the winning boat will get a minimum of $30,000, even if there is only a single boat that enters. If registration exceeds projections, that total goes up. Even if you don’t win, the event provides a great opportunity to chase the early fall run of kingfish, often within hailing distance of the beach.
The Rumble in the Jungle has changed, and for most boats, it’s a change for the better. While there may be a few that aren’t pleased with the differences between the current event and that of years past, we have a more equitable field now, still with the great fishing that fall on the Carolina Coast is known for. Is your team going to seal their bid to Ocracoke at Little River this fall, or is it where you fall out of championship competition. There’s only one way to find out!
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