Annual fishing tourney returns Aug. 27

The annual Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association (MBARA) Kingfish Tournament is turning 20, and it figures to be a whopper of a time.

The fishing tourney, held from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m. CT Saturday, Aug. 27, brings an average of 140 boats to the waters off Mexico Beach each year, inviting anglers to compete for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes.

Prizes in this year’s recreational division include $3,000 for largest King Mackerel, $2,000 for 2nd and $1,000 for 3rd; $1,000 for largest wahoo; and $500 for largest Spanish mackerel.

The 20th anniversary tournament also introduces a professional/masters division, in which the angler with the largest King Mackerel will take home 50 percent of the masters’ registration entry fees up to a maximum of $3,000.

“It’s not just a fishing tournament, it’s an event,” said tournament director Ron Childs. “We want everyone to have fun, not just those six people who win.”

A Captain’s Party will be held 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. CT Friday, Aug. 26 at Veteran’s Memorial Park at Beacon Hill with food, drink and countless door prizes.

The cost to enter the Kingfish tournament is $175 per boat and may include as many boaters as can safely fit.

Registration may be completed online at www.mbara.org/tournament-registration.cfm or in-person at the Mexico Beach Marina, Bluewater Outriggers, Half Hitch Tackle or during the Captain’s Party.

The tournament will close out with a weigh-in at the Mexico Beach Marina from 1-5 p.m. CT on Saturday.

As the tournament’s reputation has grown so has its reach. What started as a local tourney now welcomes competitors from across the Southeast, the word spreading through social media.

According to Childs, who has run the tournament for 17 of its 20 years and likens it the Kentucky Derby or Daytona 500, the event has become a tradition for many families. Those children who came with their parents have grown up and are beginning to enter it on their own.

And for those fishermen who don’t plan to cook their catch, the MBARA has partnered with Apalachicola’s Water Street Seafood to donate the fish. Money made from the sales is then donated to the Franklin’s Promise Coalition, which funds health and wellness projects in Franklin County.

The MBARA, in its continued efforts to promote and enhance ecotourism has been a great attraction to the marine life and to tourism in general for Mexico Beach.

“The Kingfish Tournament is the longest-standing event in Mexico Beach and continues to bring in new and repeat anglers year after year,” said Community Development Council director Kimberly Shoaf. “This event draws spectators and fishermen from all over the southeast and beyond.

“The tournament continually allows the MBARA to surpass (its) deployment and research goals and Mexico Beach would not be the great fishing destination it is without those who volunteer and participate in this tournament.”

Since 1997 the MBARA has deployed more than 200 artificial reefs off the coast of Mexico Beach ensuring the creation and sustaining of habitats for wildlife such and fish and sea turtles and creating myriad opportunities for eco-tourism.

The goal of the organization is to educate the public on the benefits of reef systems for marine life while creating a bountiful sport fishing location for anglers of all ages and skill levels.

Not only one of the biggest fishing tournaments along the Forgotten Coast, the Kingfish Tournament serves as the MBARA’s largest fundraiser of the year, having raised more than $1 million over the past 20 years. Monies become matching funds for artificial reef grants, and well as to support reef building, research and public education.

According to MBARA president Bob Cox, 96-97 cents of every dollar raised goes to building reefs, a ratio the organization has worked hard to reach.

“Not many charities can claim such a low overhead,” Cox said. “We have a group of volunteers that are hard-charging and devote a lot of time and effort without direct compensation. The reward is the enjoyment that comes out of the marine reef habitat they help create for our communities.”

Each year the MBARA prints a special t-shirt to raise additional funds for the cause. This year’s tunic was designed by Guy Harvey, a marine wildlife artist and conservationist whose depictions of sea life are popular among fishermen. Harvey is also an advocate of marine conservation, having established the Guy Harvey Research Institute in Fort Lauderdale.

Cox said he met Harvey two years ago at the Gulf Coast Pepsi Jam where the designer stopped by the MBARA booth, intrigued by the underwater videos on display. Impressed by what he saw, Harvey offered Cox his services and soon after the t-shirt became a reality.

“Guy is also a famous marine biologist and underwater videographer,” Cox said. “Being recognized by Guy is a clear message that MBARA is doing great conservation work benefiting the public.”

To ensure the competition is as fair and honest as possible, all winners are subject to a lie detector test administered by deputies from the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office. Any angler who fails or refuses to take the test will be automatically disqualified, along with all anglers who fished from the same boat.

To learn more about the MBARA, its reef sites or to make a donation visit www.mbara.org.

“The MBARA has changed the whole dynamic of fishing here,” Childs said. “It’s been a lot of work and we’re very busy. We’ve been on fire for four years and our hard work has paid off.”