THE EARLY YEARS: Part II
his may have been the true turning point for your association. There were several issues we were confronted with. First and foremost, we had to get a handle on the number of fish we were killing. Sponsors, too, were taking a hard look at this issue. They had huge concerns! The association was growing by leaps and bounds and fishery managers and environmentalists knew we were putting pressure on the resource. Next, because we were successful, other individuals truly believed they could replicate our efforts and do it better. Plus, we
had some tournaments that were flourishing and others that just couldnâ€™t understand the importance of uniformity. Letâ€™s look at these. The resource was rebounding from the devastation caused by the roller rigs that were allowed by the Feds to eliminate the king mackerel in the upper Gulf. Now we were possibly perceived to be the new culprits. We started an approach to limit the number of fish we could scale at events, going from
Top of page: The Isle of Capri Hotel & Casino, circa 1998, before Hurricane Katrina. Center: Larry Fowler was a part of Team Hydra-Sports. Bottom: Dock scene at the Kingbuster 400.
www.FishSKA.com Fi hSKA
ANGLER | April 2010
two or three to just one. We had some resistance to this but, through time, we were successful. Catch and release was being used in many fisheries so we weren’t the only ones singing its praises. We preached to the choir and the choir responded. Then we began to keep very accurate records. Exactly what did we kill and how do we assess the fish in the holds that were not brought to scale? After a year of doing this and carefully asking the majority of the teams what they saw, caught, and released a formula was taking shape. After all, with one fish on the scale, we needed to know what the by-catch was. From this information we gathered, we developed a formula to helpp us understand a fairly accuratee orrecord. That forh mula, although e, tweaked a little, ed still is being used today. We still had some problems with a handful of tournament organizers however. They believed that if federal resource managers told recreational fisher people that they could catch and keep two or three fish per person, then why were we preaching to them to change? After all, they had been doing this for years. They were correct except they didn’t understand that when the SKA was formed to create a trail, areas that had never come under pressure were seeing events spring up. Now we were catching fish from the bottom of their migration pattern to the full range of that migration. This also included the Gulf stock. We took it upon ourselves to showcase our efforts to the Feds and to this day are still held in high regards for our efforts. They agreed; we were responsible stewards. Some tournament directors didn’t like this at all and to this day still resent us, but it was the right thing to do. April 2010 | ANGLER
Top: The SKA booth at the Miami International Boat Show. Center Left: A Ronda Abshire Pro Line poster seen at the Miami Boat Show. Center Right: Jim Armstrong, Mike Collins, and Deona Holmes, with the Steve Goione print we gave to sponsors and participants of the National Championship in 2000.
Right: A Wellcraft banner. Bottom: The weigh in crowd at Gators in Treasure Island.
Some ent enterprising individ viduals believed the they could do it bet better and a new org organization came to knock us off ou our perch. Good fo for them! Were w we concerned? A Absolutely not, h however we still ccould not ignore tthem. It just m made us put it in h high gear! Their failure ccame at the h hands of sponsors. They really had no idea what itt took. The relationships r we fo formed did not come easy aand it took many months, if n not years, to formulate. We w worked very hard in harmony tto develop marketing strateggies, earn their trust, and bbasically taught them how to ssell in our market. While we aall agree the SKA produces ttournament trails, its real
business is marketing. Then we never forgot who was really king: You, the tournament participant who we constantly promoted. Making it into the pages of Angler magazine was a badge of honor. Make the cover, you were king! That still is paramount today. I never could understand why when a team was formed to fish a tournament, they never considered joining the SKA. Then they would do well, but would never ever be remembered because only members are showcased in the Angler. And we all know that local sportswriters for local papers would rarely cover the event. No publicity, no honor, no memories. Remember, in the mid-nineties, if you owned a 31â€™ Fountain you were king of the hill. I remember a journalist from a national publication who wrote a great article on how a group of king mackerel fisher people was changing the landscape of fishing. He told of serious fishermen traveling unheard of distances in pursuit of king mackerel, returning on the same day to the scale with big fish, all in high-powered rocket ships. He was partially right, however Top Left: Wilmington, North Carolina, 1997 the real reasons were first, competiNational Championship. tive fishermen did not like to loseâ€“ Top Right: Rosemary VanLent. they needed range, and second, the boats had to be much tougher than Center: Dan and Ronda Abshire, 1999 previously built, plus have a greater National Champions. Dan Atwood from Pro Line, Mike Collins from Donzi, and Ben degree of comfort. That revolution Worthy from Loadmaster. was caused by you and our marketing strategies and still continues Bottom: Anglers of the Year Steve and Ginger Shook, and Aaron Pierce.
cont. pg. 41 ANGLER | April 2010
Top Left: Jim Davis and George Summerlin.
today. Many companies still rely on SKA fisher people to help them design models for this market. Together we created a market that no one in the industry could perved that some ceive. Factories believed of the better fisher people could not only enhance their product through sponsorships, but by them showing off the product at tournaments, plus winning, brought customers to their dealers’ showrooms and even their factories. No matter how hard we tried, and wee did push, some organizations just couldn’t’t tweak their programs to appeal to a much more demanding tournament fisherman. Hence, they were dropped and new ones sprang up. You can’t imagine how many organizations rose up wanting to get on the bandwagon. We helped and they reaped big benefits in the form of charitable dollars. We were not only working hard to professionalize our sport while still keeping it fun to fish, family April 2010 | ANGLER
Top Right: 1999 Banners at the Miami International Boat Show. Center Left: Larry Fowler won an award at the Hog’s Breath Tournament in Key West.
fr friendly, and ecologically sound, bbut also we were helping these pphilanthropic organizations rraise monies for local charities aand marine enhancement proggrams. Some years contributions aapproached as much as a million d dollars. Events were flourishing aand sponsors loved us even more because of our tournaments. In 1996, Ranger was still with us along with Mercury and Mariner Outboards. Wellcraft was there and developing a new line of saltwater boats. Loadmaster and Aquasport were there too. Henry O Boats came on board to award the topp junior angler of the yea year a new boat, motor, an and trailer. There we were nineteen other Co Corporate Partners. We sanctioned fortyth three events from eight di divisions and design nated nine of those as oopen division events fo for hard core competit tors.
The National Championship was held in St. Petersburg again with Howard Poe coming out on top. Howard’s engine went sour while pre-fishing so thanks to Danny “Dan-O” Wallen and Randy Taylor, who were in town to vacation and lent Poe his boat and fished with him. They scaled a two fish aggregate worth 59.40 pounds. Ron Dorsey’s King’s Ransom was second and Dave Mistretta’s Jaws Too was third. It should also be noted that Wellcraft was working hard with SKA fishermen to develop their new line of performance fish boats. They had a very strong team led by Wellcraft’s Gordon Houser. David Franklin earned first in Division 1 followed by Ronald Sutton in 2. In Division 3 it was Ron Enslen, who went on to gain employment with Ranger Boats thanks to SKA. Division 4 fell to Charles Getsinger while Jack Horne took first in 5. In Division 6 it was Tom Chase, 7 P.J. McLeod,
Above: In ’98 we did the Kingbuster 100 event in Biloxi. Jim Armstrong, Bobby Carter, and Jack Holmes on stage. Right: Cheryl & Larry Warren, John Rumbold, and George Page, Three Stooges and Cheryl. Still fishing hard today!
8 Marcus Kennedy, and Mark Emmart earned the top slot in 9. The Top Angler of the Year award went to Rick Smith’s Wild Turkey. It was the start of legend status for the team of Smith. In ’96 we had forty-two SKA members sitting on the Board of Trustees and helping SKA management make important decisions. They were invaluable. Also by ’96 the organization had developed a complete line of clothing for members thanks to Deona. It was a huge success back then and still is in 2010. In ’97 journalist David Brown was scrambling to keep up doing resumes for talented teams. Sponsor dollars were available, but not the easiest to get. Clayton Kirby won his second Angler of the Year title. Clayton became one of the guys to beat in any event he entered. But unlike the early nineties where he was a superstar, now he had plenty of competition. The rights for being the best in the country were becoming tougher and tougher to earn. It didn’t deter Kirby, he just worked harder. Kirby, along with Dan Upton, were the go to guys if you wanted to get a Fountain Powerboat. While Fountain was still not a sponsor yet, they were certainly capitalizing on our market. However, Ranger still dominated sales thanks to their strong presence. Mercury and Mariner were still our outboard sponsors. We had 22 sponsors in ’97 that are long gone now. In Divisional competition, Denny Spence earned the top slot in 1 and Steve Walton was tops in 2. Earning first in Division 3 was David Hooks Jr., first in 4 was Larry
Wilson, and Billy Crabtree picked up first in 5. Marcus Kennedy again dominated Division 7, Steve Shook won 8, and Stacy Wester picked up 9. DuWayne Crofton won Division 10. He also took over the “Biggest king ever caught in an SKA event” title scaling a 66.50 caught in the upper Gulf. That was some king mackerel! Gary and Elizabeth Unger won the National Championship, which was held in Wilmington, North Carolina. When we contracted with the city for the event, they promised us there would be a working waterfront downtown. New docks were slated to be erected by late summer, but it never happened. We went back to the city with the understanding we needed those docks to weigh in fish but it was hopeless. I then came up with an idea. If the city would let us, we would take the boats out of the water thirty miles away, transport them to Wilmington, stage them at the college parking lot, then move them down the street and weigh them from the stage we had erected that sat out over the road. It was great fun, successful, but way too much work. In the middle of the weigh-in, with the street backed up four blocks with trucks and boats, a pizza deliveryman came by the stage holding a pie. “Where’s Vinny?” he
asked. I assumed he was talking about Vinny Holmes, Director of Marketing for Penn Tackle. “Down the road,” I told the pizza man. He found Vinny and by the time they got to the stage the pie was long consumed. Forty-one events filled the bill for ’98 with again ten of those earmarked to also be Open Events. Isn’t it ironic that in 2010 we’re going back to a similar format
for the Pros? Beginning in ’98, Ranger and Mercury were still our title sponsors along with Wellcraft,
Top: Ben Worthy at an event with his service trailer. Still doing it today and all the more reason to buy a Loadmaster. Center: Howard Poe, Danny Wallen, and Randy Taylor accepts the ’96 National Championship award. Bottom: 1995 National Champion Randy Keys, Jimmy Hasson, Ira Pearson, with Amy Kidney. Back row, Jim Armstrong, Dan Schadd, Jim and Ben Worthy, Sammy Lee, and Jack Holmes. Left: Gary and Elizabeth Unger, National Champions in 1997. 42
ANGLER | April 2010
Top Left: Dave Workman and Jeff Dry won the ’99 Angler of the Year honors. Dave is still the most recognized person in our sport. Top Right: The Convention Center hall in Fort Pierce. Center: Forrest Taylor won the Championship in ’98. With him was Don Ewing, William Taylor, Richard McRae, and Adam Taylor. Bottom: Marcus Kennedy won the Kingmasters Tournament. With Marcus was Joe Antonneau from Yamaha and Joe Neber from Contender.
Aquasport, and Loadmaster Trailers, however a new player was on the horizon and running ads in Angler magazine. That was Contender boats. This was also the final year for Ranger Boats with us. They were probably the best sponsor the SKA ever had or maybe will ever have. They really worked hand in hand with us to develop a line of saltwater boats. It also proved to be their downfall. Fisher people who bought their 23s and 25s absolutely loved them and they didn’t break. However, the demand for higher horsepower and bigger boats hurt the company. Both Ranger and SKA tried to find a place for them to build bigger boats. Flippin, Arkansas, home to Ranger, just wasn’t going to work. After a lot of effort, their two boats were dropped. Except for a couple of bay boats, they were out of the saltwater market. I can only imagine that if they had kept the program up, they would be king of the saltwater market. The Angler magazine headline read Woof, Woof … That’s My Dog Eats the Competition in Fort Pierce. Forrest, William, and Adam Taylor, plus Don Ewing, and Richard McRae won the National Championship in Fort Pierce, Florida. They were the best this year! They were also a part of the new Donzi Boats saltwater team. It was a huge year for this brand. In Divisional competition, Kenneth Lane won Division 1, Stacy Wester picked up 2, and Derrick Blanton earned 3. April 2010 | ANGLER
Stuart Booth won Division 4, Brian Bushloper was tops in 5, and Mike Smith won 6. In Division 7 it was Brent Maggio, David Murphy won 9, and Sid Steverson captured 10. Steve and Ginger Shook won Angler of the Year honors when they won the Outer Banks Tournament. This was really the start of Pro teams competing with factory backing. Shook, who was fishing for Donzi Boats, went into the final event of the season for the Pros with the full support of all his teammates. Every one of them helped in winning the title, but it
also set the stage for the future of the Pro or Open Division. King mackerel fishing hit the big leagues. By ’99 both Donzi and ProLine had factory teams and people like two-time Angler of the Year Dave Workman Jr. and others were working hard to enhance their sponsors program. The reality of it all was there was an enormous explosion of building and technology emerging and SKA fishermen were the nucleus of this movement. There were still others. Fountain was being left behind and began their move. Wellcraft was up to a several boat team including Rick
Smith and Sandy Smith. Contender, who was still sitting on the sidelines just running ads, began pushing the envelope, and because of a strong dealer network, they were right in the middle of things. In Divisional competition, John Wilkins earned bragging rights for Division 1. Joe Winslow was king in 2, while Robert Wyndham topped 3. Next came Al Martin in Division 4, Russ Russell in 5, and Chris Chase in 6. Weldon Heiser took Division 7 and Steven Cole was best in 8. Joe Winslow won his second Division title capturing 9, and Randy Keys rounded out the order in 10. The National Championship was held in Biloxi, Mississippi with Dan and Ronda Abshire, and Aaron Pierce taking center stage. They had a remarkable season and also became the third husband and wife team, Dan and Ronda, to win national titles. It was also the first national title for Pro Line Boats who Dan fished for. Dave Workman Jr. captured his third Angler of the Year title and really set the stage for Donzi Boats. Two years, two titles! This was also an unprecedented victory for Workman. No one has won three Angler of the Year titles and Dave came out of the nineties with certainly the connotation of being the best ever in our sport. It was like the SKA was on fire, things were happening, and it was all good. One thing else happened in the late nineties, it was called the Class of 23. Next month, two topics will be defined: New ownership for the SKA and the Class of 23—two new beginnings! ■ 43
The third article in a series about the history of the Southern Kingfish Association.