MBARA's annual kingfish tourney comes back strong after Mexico Beach destruction

The Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association held its 23rd annual Kingfish Tournament on this past Friday and Saturday, and it was a perfect tournament.

That is how Tournament Director Ron Childs described how things went. “We had perfect weather, perfect seas, great food, fabulous door prizes, great music, lots of boats, and lots of anglers seeking the big kingfish for the big money,” he said.

The Kingfish Tournament is the largest fundraiser of the year for MBARA, a non-profit organization that builds artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We have been doing this tournament for 23 years, and we did not want Hurricane Michael to stop us and keep us down,” he added. “We are making a statement to the world that Mexico Beach was pretty much destroyed, but we are coming back strong, and we will rebuild once again.

“Our fishing is fabulous, the people are strong, and our future looks really good,” Childs said.

In addition to raising funds for artificial reefs, fishermen were encouraged to donate their mackerel. Under a special permit with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and cooperation from Water Street Seafood, proceeds from the donated mackerel will benefit Franklin’s Promise Coalition, which among its many community services, is helping Franklin County with recovery from Hurricane Michael.

Aboard the Bee’s Knees, captained by Max Christopher, Jack Cadman caught the first place recreational kingfish, weighing 26.46 pounds. The team, which also included Grant Christopher, was from Tallahoma, Tennessee, and won a $6,570 SIMRAD marine electronics package with that fish. Kevin Lanier, a Navico pro, and Phillip Sweeny, Navico regional sales manager, also took part in the award presentation.

The 118 boats registered in the tournament came from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee. “The housing is pretty much gone right now in Mexico Beach, so we had people staying on Cape San Blas, St. George Island, Panama City, Port St. Joe, and Apalachicola,” said Childs. “They came to show their support for Mexico Beach and the MBARA so they found a place to stay.

Second place recreational kingfish was caught by Frank Carlisle and weighed 25.14 pounds. He was fishing aboard the Outta Service Fishing, captained by Trammel Dukes and also including Alan Dukes. He won a beautiful Browning Citori White Lightning 16 gauge over/under shotgun from Bluewater Outrigger.

The Tow Boat US Slot kingfish was 15.98 pounds. The target was 16.00 pounds, and being the winner earned Capt. Robert Ice $1,000.

Ice was first to arrive at the weigh-in scales, and knowing his fish was probably not going to be big enough to win the top prize, he hoped to be in early enough to get of photo of him and his boys Josh and Jeffrey in first place, even if it was a temporary victory. Ice was pleasantly surprised to learn his fish was very close to the slot weight, only two-hundredths of a pound below the target weight of 16 pounds. Even if he didn’t hold first place, Ice had a great chance at third.

In the end, it was lucky he came in early. Later in the day, the boat Flatlined, captained by Christopher Posey, brought in a king mackerel that was just two-hundredths of a pound over the slot weight. Although it was a tie, under tournament rules, the first fish brought to the scales is the winner.

There was some added excitement at the end of the tournament. Seconds before the horn blew signaling the end, the Trulight Consulting team ran to the finish line with their three king mackerels; cheered on by the crowd. Unfortunately, their fish did not win, but they were a crowd favorite.

Tops in the Professional Division which featured 14 teams, was Capt. Wade Guilford out of Mexico Beach, piloting the Capt. Morgan. The winning fish for this professional angler weighed 24.21 pounds, and was taken by Mason Rigsby. Guilford is a local charter boat captain married to a former Miss Kingfish, and they just had a brand new little baby girl. He won a $3,000 gift certificate from Bluewater Outrigger with his first place fish.

The winning wahoo, weighing 34.20 pounds, was caught by Jake Waits aboard the boat Jawbreaker, captained by Harold Cawthorn and including Oz Dover. He won a $1,000 gift certificate from Bluewater Outrigger.

The winning Spanish mackerel was caught by Tuan Nguyen aboard the Black Jack, and it weighed 4.47 pounds, and paid $500.

“This was a really great event for the folks who have been with us for 23 years and continue to support our efforts to build artificial reefs out in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Bob Cox, president of the MBARA. “The MBARA has built over 350 reefs and there are more to come.

“We had lots of great volunteers come and help us, and even though we did not have a sponsor magazine this year, there were a lot of donations that really helped us fund this tournament,” he said. “So many businesses were still recovering from Hurricane Michael, that we did not want to ask them for advertising funds. But several businesses sponsored the tournament by providing prizes this year.”

Cox expressed thanks to Navico and SIMRAD for providing the first kingfish prize consisting of a $6,750 electronics package - almost everything an angler would need on his or her boat; to Bluewater Outriggers for helping with prizes for second place, a Browning Citori Shotgun worth $2,300, and gift cards for the winning wahoo, and the professional division winner.

He thanked TowBoatU.S. for furnishing the slot kingfish prize, and said the tournament was grateful for sponsorships by Salt Lick Sausage Company, PENN Reels, Kingfish Engineering, Appledore Marine Engineering, Centennial Bank, PeoplesSouth Bank, Forgotten Coast Realty, Budweiser, ACE Hardware and KC Sportfishing.