Gage Fortson and Jacob Richardson show off the winning red drum in the Student Angler League Tournament Trail (SALTT) in Georgetown Saturday. Submitted photo
By Gregg Holshouser For The Sun News
Sometimes it all just comes together like clockwork.
Brent Gainey and his dad, Randy Gainey, didn’t have to wait long Sunday morning to know they had a good shot to win the 2016 Fall Brawl King Classic out of Ocean Isle Fishing Center.
Fishing aboard Miller Time, its 24-foot Cape Horn, out of Carolina Beach, N.C., the crew stuck with its plan of fishing along the beach, finally in tranquil conditions.
“That day was the prettiest fishing day we’ve had all year long,” Brent Gainey said. “The wind was out of the west and light, and on that east facing beach it was flat calm.”
The action heated up quickly for the crew of four, also including fishing buddies Ryan Wiggins and Jason McDowell.
“It was pretty simple,” Brent Gainey said. “We ran out of Carolina Beach Inlet and caught bait about 7:30 a.m. We went down the beach a little ways, put the lines out at 7:40 a.m. and we got three lines out (of six) when the fish hit. We had it on at 7:45 a.m.”
After the crew members boated the fish and nervously twiddled their thumbs throughout the rest of the day, Miller Time’s 44.20-pound king mackerel was declared the winner at Ocean Isle Fishing Center, earning $35,000.
“It’s made the week a little easier with a little money in the bank,” Brent Gainey said.
Gainey and his wife, Natalie, are expecting a daughter, Merritt Ann Gainey, to be born in mid-December.
“It’ll make putting the nursery together a little easier,” Brent Gainey said.
The Fall Brawl was a two-day, Captain’s Choice event with teams able to fish either last Saturday or Sunday.
Team Fishin’ Mission of Concord, N.C., fished Saturday and entered Sunday atop the leaderboard with a 43.25-pound king, but wound up barely getting bumped to second by Miller Time’s fish.
Liquid Fire of Cape Carteret, N.C., was third with a 37.80-pounder, Beats Working of Ocean Isle Beach was fourth with a 37.70-pounder and Greatly Blessed of Pleasant Garden, N.C., was fifth with a 36.80-pounder.
Four Hooks of Angier, N.C., was sixth with a 36.55-pound king and Capt. Joe Winslow’s Coastal Carolina University crew aboard Hooligan finished seventh after weighing in a 35.30-pound king.
The Gaineys and crew aboard Miller Time immediately knew they had a good fish on after their early hook-up.
“We were fishing on some bait in about 25 feet of water,” Brent Gainey said. “The fish took off and absolutely melted it (running) offshore. We caught a long line (from another boat) and we cut that off while the fish was still running.
“Ryan (Wiggins) was on the rod and he saw the fish first. He didn’t say much, just said it looked pretty good. But he was pretty nervous.”
The fish stayed under the boat for a while, then made an appearance behind the boat.
“The fish came up shaking his head, snapping its jaws on top like a largemouth bass,” Brent Gainey said. “It went down, came back up and I was able to get the gaff in the fish.”
The crew has fished four other king tournaments this year – the Jolly Mon, U.S. Open, Rumble in the Jungle and Carolina Beach Got ‘Em On Classic – and had not seen a fish like this one.
“It had that good sound when it hit the deck, we figured the fish was 40 pounds,” Brent Gainey said. “When it hit the deck, we got pretty excited. We had seen some decent fish this year but nothing like that, nothing like that sound.”
The crew continued to fish for about 45 minutes, but knew it would be a close call on whether the king would take over the lead.
“We felt like we had a chance (to win),” Brent Gainey said. “We thought it was going to be pretty close and we didn’t want to roll the dice and keep fishing the rest of the day and lose by a few ounces.”
They reached the weigh-in at the OIFC around 11 a.m., moved to the top of the leaderboard and held on for the win.
The Fall Brawl was postponed twice by tropical systems, including Hurricane Matthew.
“It’s been epically pretty (weather) for sure,” said Capt. Brant McMullan, the tournament director. “It was payback for the storm maybe.”
The Fall Brawl was the finale of the Southern Kingfish Association’s Division 9. Now, SKA teams from North Carolina to Texas have their sights set on The Nationals, scheduled for Nov. 8-13 in Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Winslow and crew aboard Hooligan, his 34-foot Yellowfin, had a record-breaking season while finishing in first place in SKA’s Division 9.
Winslow is a professor of instructional technology at Coastal Carolina University and calls on current and alumni members of CCU’s Saltwater Angler Club to make up his crew in SKA events.
The Hooligan crew fished all five tournaments in the division, winning the East Coast Got ‘Em On event on July 10 in Carolina Beach, N.C. In the other four tournaments, the crew finished second, fourth, seventh and 22nd.
In all, Hooligan set a new division record of 110 points, which combines the weight of the top three fish weighed in, an average of 36.7 pounds per king.
“We’re very excited about it,” Winslow said. “It’s always a goal for any team to be the top regional winner.”
Winslow has won nine SKA Division titles over the years and pointed out this is the first season he has used all CCU students or alumni for the crew.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for the students,” Winslow said. “I’m happy to have them on board for this. This one was very special because it’s the first time the team was composed of all students. They’ve fished hard, they’ve learned a lot and they’re great teammates.”
The season-opening event of the Student Angler Tournament Trail reflected just how much the series has developed since founder and organizer Rayburn Poston established it two years ago.
Thirty teams registered for the 2016-17 season, with 21 fishing in the first event, which was held Saturday at the Carroll Campbell Marine Complex in Georgetown. Many of the teams registered are composed of sixth- and seventh-graders.
“We’ve gone from eight teams (the first season) to 18 and now we’re going to have 28-35 teams this season,” Poston said. “It’s the 6th and 7th graders that are going to be with us the whole time. That’s encouraging.”
Anglers from three counties – Horry, Georgetown and Berkeley – have registered for the trail.
The trail features divisions for red drum and largemouth bass, with middle and high school anglers competing against each other in the individual tournaments.
All SALTT events are held out of the Campbell Marine Complex, located on the Sampit River in Georgetown.
Conway High School’s team of Gage Fortson and Jacob Richardson took first place in the high school red drum division Saturday with a two-fish aggregate of 7.61 pounds including the big fish of 4.71 pounds.
Second place went to Rosemary Middle School’s Noah Payne and Kadyn Kellahan with two fish at 3.55 pounds while Henry Poston from the Academy of Arts, Science and Technology had two fish at 3.40 pounds to finish third despite fishing solo.
Andrews High School’s Caleb Thornwell and Brandon Porter took first place in the bass division with a single bass at 1.94 pounds.
The next SALTT event will be held at the Campbell Complex on Nov. 12.