Kingfish tournament brings in 40th year with a handful of changes, high hopes

The coronavirus pandemic can’t keep the anglers off of the water.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The coronavirus pandemic can’t keep the anglers off of the water.

The Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and that means it has to adjust with the times in 2020.

That means precautions like a new check-in and check-out protocol and social distancing measures for those during awards ceremony time.

But make no mistake about it — the fishing will go on out of Jim King Park and Boat Ramp at Sisters Creek . On Tuesday, the junior anglers are first up. The general tournament is Thursday and Friday and the redfish tournament is on Saturday.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how the volunteers have stepped up and carrying the load,” said Jim Suber, Chairman of the Board of Directors for Jacksonville Marine Charities.

“And all of our planning and all of our committees. And … Glenn Morningstar has done a great job as our tournament chairman this year.”

The changes, Suber said, were done with two things in mind this year. The pandemic has prompted all sporting events to take a look at ways to be safer and the kingfish tournament did that. But some of the changes had been asked for by anglers for years.

Suber said that 2020 is a “beta test” to see if these go beyond this year.

Among the big shift is that the tournament changed its check-out procedure for 2020. All boats must leave from the Fernandina, Mayport or St. Augustine inlets. Boats who weigh fish must enter and check in with the north side committee boat through the St. Johns River inlet by 5:30 p.m.

The tournament hopes that will prevent boats from piling up on one another during the weigh-in process. Another change comes on line No. 27 in the Greater Jax rules this year.

No mutilated fish will be weighed. Mutilation is defined as any damage other that gaff marks.

Last year’s initial winner, Randy Howell’s boat, Hammer Time, weighed a 52.56-pound king and was declared the champ. But Howell’s fish was later determined to be mutilated and disqualified by the rules committee after runner-up, Chris Jonsson, filed a formal protest. His 49.79-pound catch was ultimately declared the winner.

Suber said that reports favor good catches and close to the shore.

“We’ve got a pretty good idea that there’s a lot of fish out there right now. On media day, almost everyone, well not almost, every single boat brought in fish. And every one of the anglers if they didn’t catch a fish, then they just weren’t really wanting to catch fish because they all caught them,” Suber said.

“If you’re contemplating and you’re not sure [about entering] you got a real good chance of winning this tournament off of a fish that’s caught on the beach because the big ones have been on the beach this past week or so. The pogies, which is the bait that they prefer, has been in in the surf. So, you know, if you’re contemplating because you’re a smaller boat, you only have to ride up and down the beach and you’ll catch kingfish the way it’s looking right now.”

The junior angler weigh-ins are from noon to 3 p.m. In the general tournament, weigh-ins are from 1 to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. The top prize in the main tournament is a Contender 24 Sport equipped with a 300 horsepower Yamaha outboard valued at more than $141,000. Suber said that entries in the main tournament are at roughly 250 boats.

About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.