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Solid hunch delivers winner

Kingfish event goes to Mark Kennedy, who boated well into the gulf.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001

CLEARWATER -- If Mark Kennedy had listened to his fellow fishermen, or if he stuck to what he knew best, he'd be a little lighter in the wallet today.

But Kennedy took a chance on the first day of the Grand Ole Opry King Mackerel Sport Fishing Tournament. Kennedy and his crew, Steve Shook and Max Williams, ran 90 miles Friday morning to the Gulf of Mexico's middle grounds.

The trip took 21/2 hours in rough seas with no guarantee of a catch. But after more than two hours of trolling live hard tail bait, Kennedy and crew got the bite they wanted.

After a long fight, in which the kingfish ran nearly 2 miles, the group from Mobile, Ala. had its fish, a 46.78-pound lunker. Once boated, Kennedy ran back to Clearwater Harbor to weigh in before the 5 p.m. deadline.

"I've always dreamed about going out there and fishing but everybody always says to fish the beach," said Kennedy, a veteran of Southern Kingfish Association tournaments. "I've got a boat that'll make it now whether it's rough or not, so we went. I've fished over here for 10 years and that was the biggest one I've ever seen, much less caught. It was rough so we decided to go on in and let somebody beat us."

Kennedy had to wait until 3 p.m. Saturday, when the second day of fishing was complete, before he officially became the winner. The threesome split $100,000, the largest tournament payout in the area.

Kennedy didn't take his boat, Kwazar, out on Saturday. Instead, they waited by the weigh-in station to see if a bigger fish would be caught.

"We were walking around here (the Clearwater Harbor weigh-in dock) in circles, nervous," Kennedy said. "We washed the boat until there wasn't any gel coat left."

"We have a VHF radio in my truck," Shook added. "I wanted to listen to it and see how we were doing but (Kennedy) didn't want to hear it. He thought it was bad luck."

Around 2:45 Saturday, 15 minutes before the deadline, Chris Mariani and Charles Kottmeir of Clearwater gave Kennedy a scare when they weighed in a 41.36-pound kingfish. It was good for second place and $20,000. The fish was caught 9 miles offshore on live blue runners.

"It was the first and only fish we caught all day," Mariani said.

Brian Hasson was third with a 39.12-pounder. Mike Wansley was fourth at 38.44 and Mike Collins was fifth with a 35.76-pounder.

Mark Ternes of St. Petersburg didn't catch a big kingfish, but had the most unusual catch. Ternes hooked a sailfish in 30 feet of water off John's Pass on blue runners, a rare feat.

"To catch one in 30 feet of water is very unusual," Ternes said. "He ran all the line out, jumped about 10 times. He went right through the boats and all the traffic. I'd never seen that."

There were 433 boats registered in the tournament. Each boat paid $375 to enter, with part of the proceeds going to local charities. The tournament's prize fund was $163,000.

Each boat was allowed to enter one kingfish.

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