Chris Prince's reaction was disbelief Friday when the Hilton Head Island angler learned that the 32.4-pound king mackerel caught aboard his boat, Cool Cat, was the leading catch in the 17th annual Key West Boats Fishing for Miracles King Mackerel Tournament.
"That's great. We deserve it after what we went through," said Prince, who elected to fish out of Hilton Head. "We didn't catch bait until 9 o'clock this morning, had to run 40 miles to catch this fish.
We've got to fill up with gas before we go home."
And then do it all over again today.
Fishing was slow, and the size of the kings caught on the opening day was unusually small for the 185 boats participating in this year's event. Cool Cat's catch would have placed 23rd overall in last year's event. Only 31 fish were weighed Friday, and an 11.6-pound fish was in 30th place, the bottom spot to earn a check at the tournament's end. The first boat to weigh a fish didn't do so until 3:30 p.m., 90 minutes after the scales opened; usually, boats with big fish are waiting at the dock for the scales to open.
Cool Cat, a 29-foot Twin Vee, has a slim lead over Bow Movement, a 27-foot Key West owned by Jimmy Sherrer of Charleston, which landed a 32.2-pound king mackerel. The only other fish over 30 pounds was a 31.3-pound catch by Blue Runner, a 33-foot Contender owned by Craig Hoover of Pawleys Island.
Jason Sawadske, the angler aboard Bow Movement, said they caught their fish on an artificial ribbon fish after their live bait died. That was their only bite of the day and it came at 3 p.m.
Hoover, whose fish was the first one weighed Friday, said they heard on the radio that several fish had already been weighed "so you can't always believe the radio." He said they caught one other king mackerel, an amberjack and a shark.
The tournament wraps up today, with the scales opening at 1 p.m. and closing at 4 p.m. First prize overall is $25,000.