Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament
The AT&T Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament (GJKT) is a contest fishing for King mackerel that spans six days every July in Jacksonville, Florida. The tournament is the largest kingfish tournament. According to Rick Ryals, a local boat captain, the GJKT is "true competition in its purest form. It doesn’t matter how big your boat is or how much it costs. There are no secret weapons. There is only good solid preparation and the luck of the draw."
In 1980, a handful of Jacksonville businessmen including Bob Gipson, Walt Murr and Pete Loftin resolved to create a fishing contest like the ones offered in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The first tournament was staged in 1981 at the Pablo Creek Marina at the Intercoastal Waterway. Commuters on their way home would stop, relax and enjoy the event. For thousands of spectators, it became more of a food festival than a fishing tournament. That changed drastically in 1996, when the tournament was moved to Sisters Creek Park, a much larger area but more remote. A newspaper reporter stated that "Sister's Creek (Park) isn't 'on the way' to anywhere from anywhere. If you're headed that way, you're pretty much headed there." The location is ten miles northeast of the city center, down a winding, two-lane road.
By the tenth year of the tournament, the event was firmly established and had grown so large that a legal entity was needed to take responsibility for signing contracts and handling finances. Jacksonville Marine Charities, Inc. (JMC) was founded in 1991 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to run the tournament and distribute the proceeds. Leona Sheddan was executive director of the tournament for eight years. The projects that JMC supports must be marine-oriented and originate with another not-for-profit group. In its history, JMC has awarded over $650,000 to other non-profits, which has benefited all Floridians, as well as First Coast residents.
Current and past projects have included:
- Development of Sisters Creek Park and more than $308K contributions to the park maintenance & improvement fund (The park was renamed Jim King Park & Boat Ramp at Sisters Creek after his death in 2009)
- Helen Cooper Floyd (Little Jetties) Park renovation.
- A scholarship fund for marine science and oceanography students at Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida
- Jacksonville University Marine science research projects.
- Offering the Boater 101 marine science education course in area public and private high schools
- Support for the Reef Ball project at Mandarin High School.
- Encouragement of marine conservation and habitat preservation
- Donations to:
For the 25th tournament in 2005, special events were added to the week's activities. The GJKT invited all the previous first, second and third-place winners to participate in a Tournament of Champions on Monday, and offered a $10,000 cash prize. The VIP Tournament, also on Monday, had $50,000 in cash for the winner, and the Yamaha Pro Kingfish Tour held a two-day contest for the biggest two-fish catch with $40,000 in cash. The Junior Angler Tournament was Tuesday, then the Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament was Thursday and Friday, with cash and prizes valued at over $400,000.
The history of the GJKT has been relatively free of controversy; the exception being 2007. Scott Senecal had the highest total weight for two fish at 66.95 pounds at the end of the second day. Later in the evening, tournament officials discovered that Senecal's Contender 23T was actually a 25 foot boat and not eligible for the 23 Class. His entry was moved into the Ultra category due to "a clerical error on our part" by the tournament official present. The next morning, executive director Mike Wheeler erroneously stated that 2nd place finisher Don Combs had filed a protest, and the rules committee would meet in the afternoon. Senecal was invited to attend, but he chose not to. Jeff Royer, tournament director, called Senecal to inform him that he had been disqualified for an improper application form by leaving his boat length blank. When asked to cite the rule for application omissions, Royer admitted there wasn't one, but he insisted that Senecal violated the rule that says boat classification changes can only be made prior to the start of fishing. However, the GJKT originally stated that he had not specified a class.
After witnessing public outrage on Sunday and Monday, the GJKT acknowledged some responsibility for the problem, and on Tuesday gave Senecal a prize equal to the one he had lost. He was also awarded first place in a special category. However, some of the anger was directed towards Don Combs, who did nothing wrong. On several websites, he was portrayed as a bad guy by individuals who were ignorant of the facts. The GJKT did nothing to restore Comb's reputation.
Master of ceremonies
Jim King was a popular and powerful Florida senator from Jacksonville, but he always found time for the GJKT and was the voice of the tournament for more than 25 years. His favorite spot was a seat where he could see the boats return to weigh their catch, and provide a humorous commentary. Jim Sutton, a reporter for the Florida Times-Union, wrote that "Jim King can talk for hours without noticeably taking a breath. He can be darn funny doing it, and he personally knows 80 percent of the captains and crews that hit the dock for weigh-ins."
The Late-2000s recession had an extreme impact on the sport marine industry. Job losses and cutbacks affected discretionary recreational spending more than most market segments. New boat sales were nil, so manufacturers cut their sponsorships. Some fisherman were forced to give up their boat ownership or team up with friends to save expenses. The tournament had not covered expenses since 2004 and had spent $200,000 of their reserve fund to compensate, so in 2009 the board of directors made drastic changes to daily activities to ensure the future of the event. Two paid positions, an executive director and assistant were both eliminated to save over $90K per year. Bob Gipson, one of the tournament founders, resigned from the board of directors and assumed the executive director position at no salary. He then examined virtually every facet of the operation to reduce expenses.
- The VIP tournament was dropped after 2008 because the board of directors resolved that the tournament should emphasize the average fisherman, not professionals in sponsored boats.
- The Liar's Tent, which in the past featured professional entertainers, was scaled back and uses local talent.
- The Boatshow has fewer participants. When Boater's World went out of business, their large display went with it.
- A big exhibitor tent was discontinued. Exhibitors once included government agencies, local & national businesses and organizations. The ones who return are assigned a 10-foot square piece of ground.
- Operation of the Boatique, which sells official tournament merchandise and souvenirs, was turned over to a private vendor; the tournament receives a percentage of sales.
- Vendors for the Food Festival were required to bid their services for the first time in 2008. Some long–time participants thought they were exempt and didn't bid or bid seriously, and were excluded from the event.
- The KidZone, a free children's play area, was discontinued due to high liability insurance costs and limited usage.
Professional and amateur anglers compete side by side for as much as $500,000 in cash and prizes, depending upon the total number of entries. The rules permit the registration of up to 1,000 boats, each with as many as four anglers, for an entry fee that was $400 in 2010. There are prizes for the heaviest single kingfish, pair of kingfish, and the largest cobia. Five kingfish caught in the week precedeing the tournament are tagged, and there is a prize for catching them. Sponsors often offer prizes for the largest fish caught using their products. The tournament attracts approximately 20,000 spectators who watch the weigh-in and enjoy the festivities. The tournament is traditionally capped off with a substantial fireworks display sponsored by the City of Jacksonville.
Tournament winners Single Fish Fish Group Year Winner Weight Winner Weight 1981 Paul Hanson 50.2 Gerald Beasly 135.4 (5) 1982 Jack Proctor 41.2 Walter Bates 78.1 (5) 1983 Ross Vilardo 48.5 Clayton Kirby 100.3 (5) 1984 Benny Hendrix 47.2 Brad Reed 118.2 (5) 1985 Jerry Byers 42.2 Roy Hawkins 114.6 (5) 1986 Michael Youngblood 50.7 Mark Williams 116.1 (5) 1987 Dennis Young 49.0 George Register 94.3 (5) 1988 Robert Bell 41.4 Daniel Parker 75.5 (3) 1989 Todd Crawford 47.9 John Jones 96.8 (3) 1990 Randy Smith 49.35 Clayton Kirby 88.35 (3) 1991 Clifton Lewis 49.4 Stephen Proctor 94.5 (3) 1992 Charles Newton 47.7 Dan Upton 108.05 (3) 1993 Douglas Sturm 48.75 Rick Smith 83.7 (3) 1994 Ron Gunter 42.7 Earl Clewis 77.6 (3) 1995 Fred Morrow 44.65 Robbie Sabiston 64.0 (2) 1996 Rick Raleigh 33.05 No qualifiers 1997 Jack Conard 49.1 David Hamilton 72.3 (2) 1998 Bian Bushloper 48.25 David Ward 70.85 (2) 1999 Sandy Smith 52.55 Matt Pittman 68.6 (2) 2000 Ross Vilardo 53.3 Frank Strickland 62.5 (2) 2001 Mike Burch 42.65 David Murphy 68.4 (2) 2002 Tom Rady 55.2 ? 2003 Scott Routh 45.5 Clyde Keen 65.8 (2) 2004 Paul Dozier 46.0 Trip Fletcher 75.9 (2) 2005 Bill Rew 48.95 Richard Geiger 69.85 (2) 2006 2007 James Croft 48.6 Don Combs 63.95 2008 Michael Crabtree 51.35 Ryan Rodeffer 73.80 2009 Benjamin Hinson 42.85 Greg Simmons 66.55 2010 Russell Stuart 45.75 Jerry Carter 68.15
This event was always held the first day of the tournament week, matching celebrities, politicians & big contributors with knowledgeable fisherman for a one-day fun outing. It was discontinued in 2008 due to high operational expenses and limited benefit.
VIP winners Year Winner Weight 1981 Joe Frazier 20.5 1982 Monroe Campbell 30.1 1983 Fred Holland 34.2 1984 Paul Hanson 36.6 1985 Robalo Fishing Team 23.6 1986 Donald Gowdy 46.5 1987 John Campbell 48.5 1988 John Jones 32.7 1989 Marvin Pate 40.5 1990 Bob Dunagan 44.45 1991 Ronnie Worsham 48.85 1992 Daniel Casino 40.1 1993 Bob Dunagan 44.35 1994 Jimmy Cox 43.2 1995 Chester Stokes 37.7 1996 Frank Strickland 37.85 1997 Gerald Pack 37.45 1998 David Workman 26.45 1999 Lowell Breeding 32.25 2000 Sandy Smith 40.6 2001 Ricky Raleigh 41.2 2002 No Tournament 2003 Tony Benevento 38.9 2004 Kenny Crawford 40.5 2005 Kenny Crawford 40.9 2006 2007 2008
Junior angler tournament
First held in 1991 for those under 16, it is a family event to promote good sportsmanship, conservation awareness and fun. The $10 (per angler) entrance fee has not changed since the Junior Angler tournament's inception, and prizes are awarded based on Kingfish weight. The boat used by the junior angler must be registered in the regular tournament.
Junior angler winners Year Winner Weight 1991 Jeremy MacEwen 49.4 1992 Chris Newton 47.7 1993 Gabe Carlson 41.95 1994 Chris Wood 34.8 1995 Corey Hill 41.0 1996 Kevin Wood 42.25 1997 Crocker Stickney 43.9 1998 Dustin McIntire 26.95 1999 Sarah Pugh 29.65 2000 Casey Lands 36.8 2001 Gerard Haley 32.55 2002 No Tournament 2003 Hayley Craven 29.9 2004 Ross Crabtree 39.2 2005 Quint Wright 34.1 2006 2007 2008 2009 Spencer LeSage 37.40 2010 Cody Powers 36.95
All the fish caught and weighed become the property of the tournament, but they don't go to waste. Within minutes, they are gutted and iced down by Ed Thomas, a professional from Safe Harbor Seafood Market. They are shipped all over North America and consumed (mostly) by non-American ethnic groups who like the taste and low price (less than $2.75/lb). The tournament is paid just under $1 per pound for 5-8 tons of fish.
The tournament relies on volunteers to maximize the proceeds available for charities. As many as 400 individuals donate their time to make the event a success. A few people have actually served in every previous contest.
The Walt Murr Award honors an outstanding volunteer during the annual Tournament. The award was established during 1987 in honor of the first tournament chairman, Walt Murr. The honoree is selected by the board of directors upon recommendation from the current tournament chairman and vice chairmen.
Murr Award recipients Year Winner 1987 Bob Medley 1988 Al & Joan Lancaster 1989 Pete Loftin 1990 Doodles Cinotti 1991 Edgar Ochs 1992 John Lees 1993 Brenda Ochs 1994 Jim Ingalls 1995 Carl DiSalvo 1996 Jimbo Crumley 1997 Joe Tomlinson 1998 Tom Fulmer 1999 Peggy Collins 2000 Harvey Rohn 2001 Ted Karst 2002 Sheryl Rohn 2003 Dennis Collins 2004 JoAnn Preston 2005 Charlie Smith 2006 Rita Contos 2007 John Edenfield 2008 Wally Brown 2009 Barry Lancaster 2010 John Laforge
- Sutton, Jim: "Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament changing with times" Florida Times-Union, July 24, 2009
- "General Tournament Information" Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament
- "Champs to win big in Kingfish tourney" Florida Times-Union, March 21, 2001
- Sutton, Jim: "Lessons learned at kingfish event" Florida Times-Union, July 29, 2007
- "Executive Bios" Jacksonville Humane Society
- "Mission" Jacksonville Kingsfish Tournament
- Galnor, Matt: "State Sen. Jim King dies after battle with pancreatic cancer" Florida Times-Union, July 26, 2009
- "Kingfish Tournament donates $13,000 to JU" Jax Daily Record, April 16, 2007
- "A pile of prize money offered in kingfish events" Florida Times-Union, July 17, 2005
- Johnson, Kiem: "Kingfish tournament's festivities are no fish story" Florida Times-Union, July 22, 2005
- Sutton, Jim: "Kingfish aggregate winner loses title" Florida Times-Union, July 22, 2007
- Littlepage, Ron: "Jacksonville making progress on access to waterways" Florida Times-Union, February 25, 2010
- "Tournament Info" Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament website
- "Kingfish Tournament: Past Winners" Florida Times-Union, July 18, 2006
- Sutton, Jim: "Kingfish haul hits the market" Florida Times-Union, July 22, 2007
- "Walt Murr Award" Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament