Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Outdoors

Team Lagerhead wins Wild West tournament with late 50-pounder

They were 100 miles offshore and time was running out. Members of the Lagerhead Fishing Team had given it their best shot.

All they could do was reel in the lines and head back to the dock empty handed.

"We were bringing in the lines when a fish hit the downrigger," Steve Papen said of Saturday's trip. "By the sound of the initial run, we knew it was big. But how big? That was anybody's guess."

Papen and his teammates had entered the Wild West Kingfish Tournament Series hoping to win some cash.

"This tournament has the best of the best," said Ed Walker, who won the season opener April 19 with a 49.7-pound king mackerel. "You've got to catch a real monster to be competitive."

A pig. A hog. That's what hard-core king catchers call the big females that typically win high-dollar tournaments like the Wild West or this weekend's King of the Beach.

"I'd say anything 45 pounds or more falls into that category," Papen said. "They are not that easy to find."

Ask 10 fishermen how they find big fish and you will get 10 different answers.

"If you are catching 25- or 30-pounders, then there is bound to be a 50- or 60-pounder hanging around too," Walker said. "But if you are catching 10- or 15-pounders, you better go someplace else."

Papen and his crew ran for nearly two hours to find a spot in 160 feet. It didn't look like much. But sometimes it doesn't take much to attract a school of blue runners.

The baitfish are found in nearshore waters often around buoys and artificial reefs. But offshore, in deep water, these members of the jack family can be three times as large as their inshore brethren.

"These were giant blue runners … 3 pounds and 20 inches long," Papen said. "Just looking at them you knew they would catch a big fish."

Studies show that kingfish feed primarily on menhaden, herring and sardines. But just like a man who eats fast food burgers and is offered a New York strip, a big king can't resist a fat blue runner.

"When this fish hit, it didn't run very far, it just dove down and sat there," Papen said. "It was like fighting an amberjack."

However, unlike an amberjack, you just can't lock down the drag and horse a big king to the boat. It takes a light touch: Some might say finesse.

"But I looked at my watch and I knew we had to be back at the weigh-in by 5:30 p.m.," Papen said. "We didn't have time to play around with this fish."

Dave Bayes, the angler on the rod, could see the fish 80 feet below, lit up like a neon sign. "The water was so clear," he said. "I knew it was at least 40 pounds and a potential tournament winner."

Papen checked his watch. They had to land the fish and head home. So the captain uttered the words no angler wants to hear: "Tighten the drag."

The advice went against everything Bayes had ever been taught. "We had been in that situation before," he said. "But I knew he was serious, so I did it."

Less than a minute later, the fish was in a bag and the 33-foot Contender was pointed east. "The GPS put our ETA at 5:39," Papen said. "So even at full throttle — 52 mph — we weren't going to make it."

They emptied the livewells, drained the freshwater tank and threw all of the ice overboard. The speedometer crept to 56 mph. Team Lagerhead made it back to John's Pass Village with three minutes to spare.

"Everybody knew we had a big king, but they didn't know how big," Papen said. "It was the last fish weighed in and when the scale said 50.3, the crowd went wild."

Team Lagerhead earned a $10,000 check and moved into third place in the standings of the four-tournament 2014 Wild West Kingfish Tournament Series standings.

"Now let's see if we can do it again at King of the Beach," Papen quipped.

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