Written By Sam White
At just over 600 teams, the King of the Beach tournament on the west coast of Florida has grown to become the largest king mackerel tournament of its kind anywhere in the world. So what does it take to win an event like this, and pocket just a hair under $80,000 along the way? We went straight to the source to find out. And the story may surprise you: no marathon 100-plus-mile runs, no super-secret hotspot stacked with big fish, just solid local knowledge and a bit of luck to get the right bite.
Richard Fabrizi has been tournament king mackerel fishing for over 25 years, from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the upper Gulf of Mexico and well beyond. He knows what it takes to be competitive against the best on the water, and so he used that experience when it was time to lay it all on the line in this year’s Spring King of the Beach, held April 28-30, 2016.
“We decided not to pre-fish this year,” he says. “With that many teams on the water, it wasn’t going to matter where you went—there would probably be boats there. That was what surprised us though, we got to our spot first thing in the morning and there wasn’t another boat around.” The Spring King of the Beach is a boundary tournament, so teams were limited to Cedar Key to the north, Boca Grande Pass to the south and roughly 30 miles offshore to the west. A lot of teams fishing a small area, but that’s what keeps it competitive for everyone in the game.
Fabrizi, fishing with Stevie Dellane, Sarah Dykens and Emiley Mangano, had run the Wise Guy, a 36-foot Yellowfin, out to a fairly well-known live bottom area in 120 feet of water southwest of Egmont Key. And, at least for the time being, they were all alone.
Legal fishing started at 6 a.m. “Stevie and I were talking about it, just like we do in every tournament, and pretty much just like everyone else who’s ever fished a tournament has said: Let’s get this over and done with early. Let’s just go catch a 40- or 50-pounder right off the bat and go home. Take all that pressure off,” Fabrizi says. “And in 25 years, it’s never happened like this.”
Richard was tending the downrigger at 6:40 in the morning when it got a quick ‘zip’ bite—the fish hit and pulled drag for just a few seconds before coming unbuttoned. As he was clearing the downrigger, Dellane was freespooling a blue runner back through the boat’s prop wash when the unbelievable happened. In a flash, a giant silver Polaris missile of a fish erupted from below, leaping higher than the big Yellowfin’s t-top with the hardtail bait in its mouth before crashing back into the water. Everyone on the boat saw the bite, and knew that the fish was enormous. “I almost had a heart attack right there on the spot,” Fabrizi reports. “That was the biggest fish we’ve ever had skyrocket on a bait behind my boat. It was just incredible.”
After a short 15-minute fight, their prize was safely aboard and the Wise Guy was done for the day. “I looked at my watch and at 7:05 we had the fish in the bag on ice,” he says. “I was home in the Jacuzzi by 9:15.” (Due to the large crowds, King of the Beach rules allow teams to weigh in by land as well as by boat).
But, as anyone who’s done much tournament fishing will understand, sometimes those big fish tend to shrink a little once they’re safely in the bag. In the excitement, a nice king coming over the rail tends to be over-exaggerated when it comes to size. “At first, we called it in the high 40s,” Fabrizi says. “But instead of getting smaller in the bag, it seemed to keep growing!” When they re-iced the beast later in the morning, both Richard and Stevie agreed that the fish might well go over 50 pounds. Could it possibly be 60?
The Spring King of the Beach weigh-in is one part fishing tournament, two parts carnival. There are scores of vendors, boats on display, bars dispensing a variety of fermented and distilled beverages, and a crowd of thousands having a good time. So needless to say it was a show-stopper when the boys and girls from Team Wise Guy showed up. When the final weight was announced—62.95 pounds—it was clear that they had done what seemed nearly impossible: land a 60-pound kingfish first thing in the morning to beat 608 competing boats. And by the time the optional jackpots were tallied, the payoff was a record too: $79,908 in cash.
During the awards presentation, Fabrizi thanked his major sponsors, which include HUK Performance Gear, Salt Life Optics, Dogfish Tackle, Elder Ford of Tampa, Yamaha and MBA Payroll Services. The customary king’s crown will be his for the summer, along with the memory of an incredible catch.
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