THE START OF A NEW DECADE!
and 2001 were years I really can’t describe that well as to what happened, as I was not around. David Van Lent won the Angler of the Year honors in 2000 beating out David Murphy on the Attitude Adjuster by over ten points. It was also a huge win for Yellowfin. David was accompanied to the trophy stage with John Strome, Dan Hockett, and Yellowfin’s Wylie Nagler. Jack Wood and Dan and Ken Upton nailed the National Championship’s Open Division held out of Morehead City, North Carolina, fishing on Team Donzi. It was Wood’s second National title. With this win came all the big ads touting Donzi’s dominance of the sport. Buddy Hucks earned second on Mean C and Barely Legal picked up third with Paul Chivas at the helm. Danny Duncan earned the top spot in the Class of 23. Danny fished with Bill McNeely, Billy McNeely, and William Higgins. While Woods and Duncan were basking in glory, as they should, another milestone was made that through the years has never been
matched. Three gorgeous women, Donna Gowen, Tara Tuten, and Suzanne Cauley, won second place in a 23 foot Contender aptly named Contendress. Nearly half the teams fishing the 2000 Nationals picked up and went home due to weather conditions. The women didn’t and proved that an all female team could compete and win. Boy, did they get some press after that! The Nationals were something everyone paid close attention to because both second and third Top of page: The site of the weigh-in at an early event in Biloxi, Mississippi. Center: The ’01 Angler of the Year. Chris and Jan Chase, Rob Dunagan, and Chip Underwood. Bottom: John Holley won the ’01 Kingmaster 100 and its $50,000 top prize.
place in the Open Class were in Contenders. Even second and third in the Class of 23 were Contenders. In fact, they owned five of the top ten places in big boats. Donzi had three of the top ten places. The battle of the brands was really heating up. I talk about that because it was really a big deal. Fountain was running double page ads showcasing their fishing team and touting their 38 footer with triple Mercurys. Contender was running double trucks showcasing their 36 footer with triple Yamahas. Donzi also had double pages showing off all their trophies they had won over the past couple of years and Yellowfin had a page honoring their 2000 Angler of the Year title. The RXCape with Dan and Ronda Abshire, plus Quint Higdon won the Kingmaster 100 with a 61-pound king in May of 2000. During that invitational in Biloxi, a side tournament was held for boat executives. Century Boats VP Bob Dardenne fished the event with Robert Barus on the Predator with a 41.5 king. The Pro World Championship featuring the top 40 Pros in the country squared off in Ft. Pierce, Florida in the latter part of 2000. David and Kevin Murphy, Bob Townsend, and Jim Davis, all North Carolinians, won the event with a two fish aggregate of 72 pounds. The cover of the 2001 November Angler magazine had a picture of the 2001 Angler of the Year team consisting of Chris and Jan Chase, Rob Dunagan, and Chip Underwood. They fished The Chase Team Donzi. Sid and Sam White had turned the magazine into a nice slick four-color publication. Looked real good but lacked the pictures of people fishing the event, only four to six pictures per story. Plus, it was very expensive to produce. Sandy Smith picked up second place and Stacy Wester earned third. Stacy is still fishing today but Smith, whom I talk to on a regular basis, has been designing and building wildlife preserves all over the country. While he fully intends to return to the trail, his business interests are 24/7. Smith and Wester have joined forces a couple of times and could be one of the best teams ever. Tom Kenney won the National Championship in ’01 in the Open
Class held in Fort Pierce, Florida. The Carolina Adventure out of North Carolina ate up the Class of 23 with Jerry Dilsaver, Richard Denning, and Bob Black as the recipients of the award and fished a Mercury powered KenCraft. The Pro World Championship wass held in Treasure Island with Creighton Parker’s Rag Tag team winning the event. Never quite understood why a Pro Championship tournament was necessary or relevant. Once the Chases won the Angler of the Year honors it should have been over. The Pro Championship, which was limited to the top forty teams, only created confusion but it did give the boat builders something else to hang their hat on. Out of all the boat builders it was still Donzi and Contender who were
Top: The 2000 Angler of the Year, David Van Lent, Wylie Nagler, Dan Hockett, and John Strome. Center Left: Kim Grondzki headed up the Yamaha program. Center Right: Creighton Parker’s Rag Tag team won the Pro World Championship.
Right: Tom Kenney earned a National Championship title in ’01. Bottom: The Wellcraft team celebrated when Ed and Shawn Mecchella and Jim Conway won both the Angler of the Year and National Championship title in ’02.
building a company using the SKA. A couple of years earlier I had received a phone call from Mike Collins at Donzi. He was finally ready to build boats for our market and he wanted to put a team together. He asked me to give him the names and phone numbers of guys who, number one, could afford to buy a new boat, and two, would like to pioneer a new brand. I gave him about twenty names of Pro fishermen and he gave them a call. He told them he was building a new 30 footer but it Top: Dan and Ken Upton, and Jack Wood, 2000 National Champions. Left: Tailwalker Marine was a premiere Contender dealer and a top tournament promoter. Stuart Ballard with Rick Smith. Center: The Donzi team made for some great competition.
wouldn’t be ready for a few months. He was holding a meeting at the plant on Saturday and if they would come he would explain all the particulars. About twelve or thirteen guys came. Mike did a good sales job and all of them gave Mike a deposit on the boat that day. The boat turned out awful. It would run pretty good but you couldn’t get it on plane. It took them the next six months to straighten it out, but when it was done Donzi had the best team on the circuit. Dan Upton and Clayton Kirby were working hard to get teams into their Fountain boats but Reggie was dragging his feet. He was winning big on the Offshore Racing Circuit and fishing was not quite at the top of his agenda yet. Later, Dan
Above Left: Rube and Brant McMullan did the tournaments and Brant produced the Jolly Mon in North Carolina. Still one of the top three events in North Carolina. Right: Texas was up and running well as a Division. James Howell gets a Texas Marine tournament win and an SKA Division record—58.60 pounds. Still stands today!
wa lured away was fro Fountain by from Co Collins. Another gr great move by D Donzi. Another great m move was having th three-time Angler oof the Year, Dave W Workman on tthe team. With W Workman was S Steve Shook, F Forrest Taylor, Linwood Clark, Glenn Slaughter, Ken Thompson, L A Denzer L.A. Denzer, and C Chris Chase to name a few. But all the while Donzi was in start-up mode, their sister company, ProLine, was doing very well on the circuit. Their team had a big win at the ‘99 Nationals through Dan Abshire. I’m not sure who pulled the plug on ProLine but they did, asking the ProLine team to join the Donzi team. This was a horrible move and opened the door for other boat builders. The same thing was happening at Wellcraft. They had new boats that we were designed by SKA fisher people lik like Rick Smith, Sandy Smith, and C Conrad Lau and they were winni ning. I still believe Wellcraft could ha have been number one but the en engine company that worked with th them was Evinrude and they didn’t re really light up the circuit. Rick and C Conrad still believe in the produuct and still use the brand. I still bbelieve Evinrude could have been a fforce, but their marketing toward tthe saltwater market was horrible. M Mercury was the motor of choice but Yamaha was
right on their heels. To this day the two are strong rivals on the tour and their sales reflect that. Each year after the season, Wellcraft would gather up their team and head to the factory for a review of the season and make plans for the upcoming season. Gordon Houser was in charge of marketing and Wellcraft was lucky to have him. He knew more about marketing than all the rest of the marketing directors in the whole industry, however this meeting was in control of Dave Taylor. He was ticked off at Sandy Smith for not calling the team in on some fish at the Greater Jacksonville Tournament. Sandy won the event, thanks to Matt Pitman who won the aggregate division. Matt told Sandy where the fish were but asked him not to tell anyone else especially the Wellcraft team. Sandy honored his request as he should have, but Taylor was ticked. He asked me what I thought and I responded, “Friendships were formed long before there were fishing teams. Friendship comes first.” Taylor didn’t like my answer but it was the truth. The very next day Sandy resigned from the team and immediately bought a Yellowfin. Sandy never won a Pro title but he missed it four times finishing second. During the early 90s he and his team were the best. Maybe the best to ever fish our sport! There were other brands, however. Palmetto had built a nice 33 and thanks to Boater’s World had put together a wonderful team. The brand never won a title but got their sponsor tons of great publicity. They were in the game and members were buying from them. Other sponsors included Aquasport, Sea Craft, Sea Pro, KenCraft, May-Craft, and Hancock. Some bought these brands but the companies never really got behind the SKA. Half of these companies are now out of business. We were back at the helm in ’02 but Deona, Bob Flocken, and I had a decision to make. Who would stay and who was gone? We weren’t about to keep all the employees Sid had. It was determined that John Zalud was our only choice and he proved to be a great asset. Ed and Shawn Mecchella along with Jim Conway won the 2002 Angler of the Year honors and won the National Championship at the same time. We had bad weather
late in the season and just couldn’t get the final Pro event in, so we elected to hold it at the same time as the Nationals. Mercury wasn’t very happy about the move but it happened. David Lau was our Class of 23 Champion. We were happy the season was over. We were still running the Striper Tour also and the travel was starting to take its toll on Bobby Flocken and we missed him at some of the SKA events. You must remember that these were good times for all of us. The SKA was flourishing and profitable, manufacturers were selling lots of product, boats were getting longer, and motors were cranking out more horsepower. We were making history! y Boat builders were True story.
From Top to Bottom: Rick Smith’s Wild Turkey Wellcraft was sponsored by Wal Mart. Anthony Toups prepared a great meal for us at the Nationals in Biloxi. Dona Gowen, Tara Tuten, and Suzanne Cauley earned second in Nationals. First ever winning all female team. The Isle of Capri fire truck gave us a bead throwing platform at the Nationals in Biloxi.
scrambling to see who could make the biggest, fastest, and strongest bboats in the marketplace. Only oour members were the ones who w were dictating what they wanted aand they obliged. Our members d designed many of the models we eenjoy today. Boatbuilding had changed and it ccertainly changed for the better. In tthe early days of the SKA, running ttwenty or thirty miles from a tourn nament site was a big deal. By the tturn of the century we were running seventy to one-hundred miles from a tournament site and coming bback to the dock with tournament w winning fish. Go to any non-SKA tournament ttoday and you see lots of big multi engine powered center consoles. T Those fisher people or weekend w warriors should get down and tthank every SKA fisherman who ggave up their time and effort to help develop these battle wagons most ppeople just take for granted today. Next month, the great years of ’’03 to ’06. ■
The sixth article in a series about the history of the Southern Kingfish Association.