My favorite tournament is coming up on September 9th. I guess I helped start it, but it really began as a bet between Charlie Hamaker and me. You see Charlie and I have been fishing offshore Mayport for almost 50 years. When we started there was no such thing as trolling live baits, or pinpointing some twenty different ledges or wrecks that we could fish in a day. It was a matter of dropping over a spread of 4 ballyhoo, 1 bonita strip, and a split tailed mullet on a wire line, and trolling around a general area until we caught something.
If there were no fish, and we decided to fish another reef some 3 miles away, we trolled that way until we found it. It was easy, it was fun, and it was very effective on my favorite target, sailfish.
I was a proud member of the Jacksonville Offshore Sportfishing Club back then, and we had an annual trophy for the most sailfish releases. I was fishing with Capt Danny Ruby, and we won it in 1969 with 8 releases, and lost it in 1970 with 7 releases.
All that led to a bet between Charlie and I that we would pick a day, troll nothing but naturals over the same reefs we fished in our childhood, and bet $100 bucks, and dinner with our wives, over who released the most sails. A few other old timers caught wind of it, and the “Mayport Masters” was born.
In my mind, kingfish tournaments changed everything in Northeast Florida. Certainly they’ve been good for the economy, and at the height of their popularity, they brought a whole new level of excitement to offshore fishing. My problems started when what had been a fun family day offshore, became “pre-fishing” and the only fish that mattered was a kingfish. I have seen everything from sailfish, to yellowfin tuna broken off intentionally to get a kingfish bait back in the water. And that’s on the “PRE-FISHING DAYS!”
Well, you know what? That ain’t happening on my boat. We’re back fishing for the fun of it. Let me say right now, if you’ve ever been a guest on a boat when I got too intense, please let me apologize. I’m finally learning in my old age, fishing is supposed to be fun. I can be intense on my job. On the ocean, we’re gonna have a good time. My radio co-host John Botko said it very well. “I don’t like what big money tournaments do to me. They make me lie to my friends, and yell at people I care about.”
One of the things I like best about the “Mayport Masters” is the inherent integrity required to win it. I think when you set up a tournament you’ve basically got two choices. You can go on the assumption that the competitors are all honest, and you need a bare minimum of rules, or you can assume the competitors are dishonest, and you have to have every rule ever invented, to try and keep someone from cheating.
In the Mayport Masters, there are no colored ribbons, or secret hand signals that must be photographed to show what you caught when. You go fishing, you come back and tell us how many sailfish you released, and if you say you caught the most, we’re gonna give you the money. Integrity needs few rules. We don’t need proof of your catch. If someone stole the Mayport Masters jackpot, they would still have to look in the mirror on Monday morning. Surely it wouldn’t be worth it.
I also think it’s extremely cool that Charlie and I have pretty much been proven right. Almost every one of our twenty something boats that fish the tourney will report getting at least one shot at a sail. We’ve never had a year where none were caught, and it often takes multiple releases to win it.
So as I approach my 60th birthday, I’m dialing down the intensity on Dos Amigos. We’ll still fish hard, I’m just done with the screaming. As my good friend George Labonte says, “I love fishing as much as I ever have. I’m just not mad at them anymore.” I will however, thoroughly enjoy the prime rib Charlie’s gonna buy me, at the end of this year’s Mayport Masters.