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Big kings are in range of small boats

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 2001


As a "small" boat fisherman, Larry Munch has learned to listen patiently when the guys in the big boats start to brag.

As a "small" boat fisherman, Larry Munch has learned to listen patiently when the guys in the big boats start to brag.

At a recent kingfish tournament near the Florida Panhandle, the St. Petersburg angler ran into a team fishing out of a triple-engined 33-footer.

"They were pounding their chests and talking about how they ran 280 miles and burned 300 gallons of gas," Munch said. "Then they held up a 17-pound kingfish."

Munch and fishing partner Keelie Oar didn't have custom-embroidered rain suits or decals plastered on the side of their 30-year-old, 23-foot Sea Craft. So Munch just smiled and told the truth.

"Well, we only ran 12 miles and burned 20 gallons of gas," he confessed. "But we did catch a 39-pound kingfish."

Like most of the anglers who fish the kingfish circuit, Munch has learned that patience, planning and a little luck go a long way in evening the playing field when you find yourself fishing against well-financed, professional teams.

"We have always managed to hold our own," said Oar, who has spent her share of time on the leaderboard. "You just have to keep at it."

Which can be hard, week after week, especially when those winter cold fronts start to blow.

But fishing out of a small boat, like Munch and Oar of the team Lunch Money, has its advantages.

"We can't run all over the place looking for fish," Munch said. "We don't have that kind of range."

In recent years, the trend in tournament fishing has been toward big, fast and expensive kingfish boats. It is not unusual for top teams to spend more than $150,000 for an offshore boat that fields a crew of four for as many as 10 tournaments a year.

But nonsponsored teams like Munch and Oar consider it a treat when the cooks at Munch's famous breakfast and lunch spot on Fourth Street S in St. Petersburg make some egg and smoked sausage sandwiches on tournament mornings.

"We used to wrap them up in aluminum foil, then put them down with the diesel engine," he said. "We may not have the biggest boat, but we eat well."

Munch does have one thing in his favor.

"All the serious fishermen come into the restaurant to eat," he said. "We all just sit around and talk fishing."

It may not seem like much, but that kind of insider knowledge helps when you have 100 boats searching for the same thing: one big kingfish.

There are those who believe the best way to achieve that goal is to hit a lot of spots and cover as many spots as possible. But you can't catch fish unless you have lines in the water.

Gene Turner, the "granddaddy" of west coast kingfishermen, has won more than one tournament while anchored in sight of land. The youngsters in fast boats who run all over the Gulf of Mexico return to find a 45-pound smoker chilling in Turner's fish box.

A twin-engined, 35-foot boat will increase an angler's range, but when the seas are rough, nobody heads offshore, no matter how big the boat.

If the wind howls this weekend, as predicted, the hundreds of anglers fishing the Suncoast Kingfish Classic will be forced to rely on brains and skill, not equipment, to put them on the leaderboard.

In recent years, tournaments have been won by anglers fishing a mile from the beach, especially when the wind blows out of the east. Rough weather levels the playing field.

The "little" guys, the boats 23 feet and under, have the best of both worlds. They compete for their own prizes, but still are eligible for the boat, motor and trailer package, if they hook a monster.

Kingfish Classic

A 30-foot Donzi, above, with twin 225-horsepower Mercury Optimax engines and a Loadmaster trailer, valued at more than $100,000, will be awarded to the winner of this weekend's 11th annual Suncoast Kingfish Classic. Spectators are welcome at the weigh-in, 3-4:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday at Gators on the Pass in Treasure Island.

NEXT UP: The third annual Suncoast Kingfish Classic on Indian Rocks Beach runs Nov. 8-11. The top team wins a 20-foot Mako with a 200-horsepower Mercury and Loadmaster trailer. The captain's meeting is 7 p.m. Thursday at the Holiday Inn Harbourside. Call (727) 363-0071 or go to treasureislandcharities.com.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Old Salt King of the Beach Tournament runs Nov. 15-17 at Crabby Bill's in Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 319-0568.

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