JACKSONVILLE - I was only inquiring about the media protocol to cover the upcoming Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament (July 15-20) when I was invited to be a part of the Wed., July 10 Media Day Kingfish Tournament out of the Jim King Dock at Sister's Creek.
My response: "How hard could it be?"
Fish for Kingfish in the ocean with three or four other guys for four hours; seemed like not much of any athletic endeavor considering I have run collegiate cross country, ascended Pike's Peak (14,000 feet), trained with the U.S. Olympic judo team for a summer and even completed triathlons up to Olympic distance (Mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6.2 mile run).
Catch a fish, silly?
First, kudos to all those guys that I infrequently write about that land the 50-100 pound fish in the sprinkling of tournaments throughout the Florida seacoast.
Was I ever mistaken.
Back to Media Day. The invite included coffee and donuts with other media types plus the 10-12 boat captains that would be ferrying us out to about 4-6 miles east of Jacksonville Beach to get a feel for the 'sport' we would be covering next week. Those boats would be venturing quite a bit further for the two-day Kingfish tournament and fishing for a $100,000 boat and gear first prize.
With Captain Casey Smith out of Nassau County and his 12 year old son Cannon (great name for a QB), we powered his boat "SoFISHticated" through the Sister's Creek Channel with two foot chops sending the boat airborne more than once with a cement-like landing.
My thought was that the hull of the boat would implode and we would need rescue, but we prevailed as we sped past aircraft carriers, battleships and other Navy vessels in port on the Mayport coastline (very cool).
Venturing onward with thoughts of seasickness (didn't happen) and a portable toilet somewhere on board, we crashed waves to near Neptune Beach to net up some bait fish.
With captain's mate Andrew Pelton taking first swing looking like a hammer or discus thrower launching the weighted net starboard, we gathered up probably 30 fish of about 6-8 inches in length. Bait.
From there, we pushed to a spot I heard about six miles east of Jacksonville Beach to begin our fishing.
First catch was a 12 pound Kingfish hooked and landed by William Boudreax, a manager for the Town Center West Marine store in Jacksonville, who, with girlfriend Kasey Tribbett on her first foray as well, was the prototype looking fish guy who one might see on a television fishing show.
Feeling like we were having some God's Grace bestowed upon us for the early snag, we floated for about 20 more minutes, before the buzzing sound of a reel above my head got the crew jacked up for another battle.
Pelton grabbed the rod, steadied the buzzing and handed me the pole with instructions to keep reeling to keep a slight bend at the end of the rod.
Easier said than done.
As the excitement level of the crew got more enthusiastic, I battled my way to an hour of fight with the unknown fish hooked below me with Pelton and Cannon at my side barking instructions of staying calm and reeling fast as I bobbed the rod in a 90 degree pattern to inch the fish closer to the top of the ocean.
First thing I noticed was that as I was cranking the reel with all my might, the fishing line was not in turn wrapping around the reel. I was doing something wrong and the fish was winning.
A click of the reel from Pelton for slightly more tension and a repeat of instruction to pull the tip of the rod upward slowly would cause the fish to swim harder thus tire out while quickly pushing the rod to the ocean while spinning the reel furiously was the name of the game.
Of course, at this point, near an hour and 20 minutes of battle, the fish at the end was nearing the top as the line was wrapping up on the reel with my improved technique.
One added strategic move was to put the rod brace around my waist to steady the rod that was crushing my hip each time I lifted the rod.
Steadied by the waist brace plus having Pelton behind me with his forearm pushing my lower back to the boat edge, the final stretch of the battle of wills was finally going in my favor as we saw flashes of the shiny scales of the fish; now presenting a quite impressive size to us up top.
As the fish, now identified as a Jack Crevalle about 40-45 pounds, started to thrash back and forth from one side of the boat, Boudreaux grabbed the pole to start some actual fish landing technique as he scurried from side-to-side to keep the slack of the line in front of the boat.
At this point, I grabbed a much-needed Gatorade to ready for the final attack before returning to the bow.
After nearly two hours; exactly one hour, 46 minutes according to Cannon Smith, as the leader line; about 10 foot of white line from the pole to the hook in the fish mouth broke the ocean's top, the size of my opponent became very apparent; a biggie.
Boudreaux finished off the land with Smith attempting a hand grab of the fish instead of a gaf that would have killed the fish. The Jack Crevalle is not a very edible fish and we would only be throwing it back as it was a Kingfish tournament, said the crew.
My thoughts, after the fish was let go off the side of the boat without a picture, was an unsuccessful land, but the fishing veterans on the boat proclaimed it a catch because we got it out of the water.
Me, I had been totally spent from the journey and, truth be told, the next morning hurt more than any athletic endeavor that I have attempted in a long time.
Well done fisherman dudes, sport fishing is, in fact, a grueling sport. I stand corrected.
Note: The pictured Jack Crevalle in my grasp in the photo was actually the second one that Tribbett and Bourdreaux landed just 20 minutes later after just a 30 minute battle and it was about half the size.
My concession to the sport was that many of the captains on deck afterward acknowledged my two hour battle as the fight of the day. I'll take it.