The southwest coast of Florida is home to numerous events for competitive anglers looking to test their skills, but in its 5th year the Gulf Coast Open’s new format puts it on the map as a premier kingfish tournament along the highly competitive SKA trail. In years past the Gulf Coast Open awarded anglers for an array of species ranging from tuna, amberjack, seatrout, redfish and more, but the focus has solely turned to the area’s highly coveted offshore predator—smoker king mackerel.
Not so long ago, the Southern Kingfish Association was the leading tournament series across the southeast United States, but through declining membership among other issues, the SKA was forced to close its doors. Fortunately, longtime SKA sponsor NBOA Marine Insurance stepped up to the plate and acquired the SKA, with the goal of continuing the legacy.
“It was a natural move to assume ownership of an entity we’ve worked so closely with for so many years,” said Jeffrey Berndt, NBOA Vice President. “We’re just happy to see this sport through and able to give the anglers and fellow sponsors what they want.”
On the first day of competition Under Armour/Caliente proved how performance and reliability are major factors in high-stakes tournament fishing.
Almost exactly a year to the date of NBOA acquiring the SKA, the 5th Annual Gulf Coast Open was set to highlight the hard work and dedication of everyone under the new ownership. “New memberships are up over 20 percent and there are quite a large number of crews signing up that haven’t fished with us in a few years, so it’s very encouraging,” remarked Erin Henshaw, Director of Tournaments for the SKA.
“We also introduced a Single Engine Division, and that’s one of the things we’re really encouraging at the SKA. It’s important to get the local communities and families involved, because that’s really the heart and soul of the SKA. We’re happy to get the little boats back, with families spending quality time together and hopefully winning some cash and prizes along the way,” continued Henshaw.
Partnered with NBOA and SKA, the Gulf Coast Open sports a unique format accommodating the Mercury Pro Tour, SKA Division 6 Jackpot, and Single Engine Division. Teams competing on the Mercury Pro Tour fished Friday and Saturday in hopes of weighing the heaviest two-fish aggregate. Pro teams fishing on Saturday were really fishing two tournaments at once, with Saturday’s fish also counting toward the Gulf Coast Open.
Coming off a first place Mercury Pro Tour victory with a 55.43-pound king mackerel at the Stock Island Marina Village King Mackerel Tournament in Key West this past January, Captain Arik Bergerman’s Under Armour/Caliente fishing team set their sights on another top finish at the Gulf Coast Open. Teams knew there were big fish to be had, but the action wasn’t close.
“We competed in a tournament a couple weeks earlier and knew where the big kings were. I also checked satellite chlorophyll reports to make sure the conditions were still ideal. It was a long 150-mile run and we knew that it was going to be difficult for the rest of the fleet to reach the spot due to the weather and distance,” Bergerman said.
On the first day of competition Under Armour/Caliente proved how performance and reliability are major factors in high-stakes tournament fishing. Racing to the grounds aboard their 39 Yellowfin powered by quad Mercury Verado 350s, the Under Armour/Caliente crew was first to the grounds and able to fish alone for 25 minutes before the remainder of the fleet arrived, which was just enough time to pull a 52.58-pound smoker king over the side. However, at the end of the first day of fishing, Bandit was sitting on top of the leaderboard with a monster 62.89-pound king mackerel.
On the second and final day of competition the 54 teams were faced with deteriorating sea conditions, but that didn’t stop Bergerman from making the same 150-mile run. “I knew we had to get back to the same area, but there was another tournament taking place and the anglers had a 30 mile advantage, yet we still reached the grounds before anyone else. We also faced 5-foot seas on Saturday, but were still able to run at 65 MPH and ended up reaching the spot a full 30 minutes before anyone else showed up. Fortunately, we caught a nice fish on the first bait we put in the water.”
“I believe success happens when preparation meets opportunity, but then there’s no denying the speed factor. The new Verado 350s are so impressive that we can run wide open at faster speeds and with greater efficiency,” continued Bergerman.
With a combined two-day, two-fish aggregate of 99.57 pounds, Under Armour/Caliente secured top honors in the second leg of the Mercury Pro Tour, as well as first place in the Gulf Coast Open for the 46.99-pound king they landed on Saturday. In addition to a $30,000 check, Bergerman’s team gained valuable points in the race leading up to the 2015 Mercury Pro Tour Championship in Biloxi, October 1-3. Ron Mitchell’s Bandit fishing team was hoping to repeat Friday’s performance, but only managed to boat a 28.60-pound king and were narrowly edged out, taking home second place on the Pro Tour with a 91.57-pound two-fish aggregate worth $8,750. Lil Devil rounded out the top three with 85.54 pounds, earning $3,850. Although Native weighed a 45.36-pound kingfish Friday and a 33.22-pounder Saturday, they had an exciting event catching a 100-pound wahoo!
While Under Armour/Caliente took first place in the one day Gulf Coast Open with a 46.99-pound fish, Palace Saloon Fishing Team from Fernandina Beach took second with a 46.48-pound king, while Lil Devil took third with a 45.56-pounder, showing how a few ounces make a big difference. In the Single Engine Division Bandit took first place with a 40.06-pound king aboard their 23 Bluewater, followed by TNT with a 31.11-pounder.
Held at the Ramada Waterfront Hotel and Sara Bay Marina in Sarasota, the Gulf Coast Open raised $12,000 in charitable contributions for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida. Visit fishska.com and gulfcoastopen.com for complete results and information on how to participate in next year’s event.