FORT PIERCE — For a week this November, the Sunrise City is going to become the city of Champions, at least in the sport of tournament king mackerel fishing.
Thursday, at the River Walk Center, along the shores of the Indian River Lagoon in downtown Fort Pierce, Treasure Coast Sports Commission executive director Rick Hatcher, along with St. Lucie County District 1 Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky and city of Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson, announced that the Southern Kingfish Association has agreed to host its 2016 National Championship and Professional Kingfish Tour Championship tournaments in Fort Pierce Nov. 7-13.
Hatcher said the event is expected to draw hundreds of sport fishermen, their families and sponsors from across the southeastern United States to participate in a week’s worth of fishing tournaments and gatherings based out of Fort Pierce City Marina.
The championship tournaments are expected to be fished by as many as 200 to 250 fishing teams with an average of four anglers per team.
Anglers are members of the Southern Kingfish Association, a saltwater tournament sanctioning organization that has a membership of about 3,000 people, said David Worsham, fishing director for the Sarasota-based group. When fishing teams compete throughout the year in tournaments that have been sanctioned by the SKA, they receive competition points toward qualification for the year-end championship tournaments.
Worsham said members will fish in three classes of competition — Open, with no restriction on size of boat; Small Boat class, restricted to vessels measuring less than 28 feet in overall length; and the Single Engine class, restricted to vessels with one outboard motor.
Anglers will compete to see which teams can catch the heaviest aggregate of two kingfish over two days weighing only one kingfish per day.
This will be the seventh time the Treasure Coast has hosted the SKA’s marquee tournament week. Hatcher said the event will benefit many area businesses.
“The most recent year the SKA nationals were here in 2010, it generated an estimated economic impact of $750,000 and accounted for 1,500 hotel night stays,” said Hatcher, of the 220-boat event that year. “We see this as a huge economic development opportunity.”
Worsham said there will be four on-the-water fishing days with a day off in between meaning many of the teams that come to Fort Pierce from as far away as North Carolina and Louisiana will stay for five days or more.
While here, the anglers and their families will patronize restaurants, businesses, retail shops, marine equipment dealers and grocery stores to buy items ranging from fuel to ice to bait to everything in between.
Dzadovsky, who also is chairman of the county’s Tourist Development Council, said many people have been working behind the scenes for two years to secure the deal with the SKA.
“Fishing is in our history and in our DNA,” Hudson explained.
“It’s what brought early pioneers to Fort Pierce in the first place. We’re glad the SKA found us, and the timing is perfect with our redeveloped marina.”
Hatcher, whose organization is funded through hotel bed taxes in Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties, said Fort Pierce City Marina manager Dean Kubitschek will reserve as many as 50 slips for SKA competitors during nationals week, and many other area marinas will likely also receive reservations.
During tournament days, sponsors will have their displays at Marina Square, and the grandstands for the weigh-ins will be set up there as well.
Stan “Captain Stanman” Jarusinski of Port St. Lucie worked tirelessly behind the scenes as a liaison to help bring the county and city together with the SKA.
“This is the very best venue for a national championship tournament, and I’d like to see it fished here every year,” said Jarusinski who won the SKA National Championship for the Class of 23 (for boats with an overall length shorter than 23 feet) in 2005, one of the years it was fished in Fort Pierce.
He was a resident of North Carolina then, but moved to Port St. Lucie in 2011.
“I’ve been to all the places the SKA has fished its nationals. Here, the fish are close by, the bait is close by, the sponsors have room to set up their trucks, the crowds come to the weigh-ins, and it’s safer for anglers to fish here.
At places like Biloxi, sometimes the fish are 87 miles away — one way — and you have to try to run there in 6-9 foot seas.”
Mike Jacquin of Fort Pierce was another local business owner and competing SKA angler who was happy to hear the news.
“It’s good for this community,” Jacquin said. “In places like Biloxi, the public doesn’t have access to the venue where the anglers weigh fish.
For teams who have companies that sponsored them, it doesn’t help them out very much. Here, motor companies or electronics companies will get a lot of exposure. And our sport is still a little like NASCAR and Daytona where ‘what wins on Sunday, sells on Monday.’
“We have that in our sport so it’s good to help those relationships.”
Dzavodsky made one additional surprise announcement during Thursday’s news conference that will probably be well-received when the tournament anglers arrive in town in November.
“The county, through its marine resource coordinator Jim Oppenborn, is prepared to offer naming rights of its next artificial reef project to the winner of the SKA National Championship,” he said.
Oppenborn said it will likely be a 1,500 ton reef made of concrete rubble donated by area construction companies replacing infrastructure.
“In the past, the SKA has been one of the few organizations that hosts fishing tournaments in this community and gives back to the marine resources, so I thought it would be good to offer this as payback,” Oppenborn said.
Moneys raised in the past by SKA tournaments helped build the SKA Reef deployed in 54 feet of water in 2006.
Hatcher said per terms of the agreement, the Tourist Development Council will pay the SKA $10,000 to offset tournament production expenses if 100-199 boats compete in the national championship tournament, and they will also host the captain’s meeting and kickoff party at the Fenn Center.
The SKA can collect $20,000 if 200-299 boats fish, and $30,000 if 300 or more boats fish the event.
The agreement also secures SKA professional tour events during the seasons when Fort Pierce is not host city for the national championship tournaments.
What: Two national championship tournaments for members of the Southern Kingfish Association
When: Nov. 7-13
Where: Fort Pierce City Marina
What: A fleet of about 200 offshore fishing teams competing for thousands of dollars in two tournaments
Events: Professional Championship, Nov. 8-9; National Championship, Nov. 11-12
What’s a kingfish: King mackerel, commonly known as kingfish, are a sport and food fish that is caught in offshore waters of the southeastern United States. A large one is about 35 pounds, but in local tournaments, anglers can catch them as large as 60 pounds.
History: The SKA fished national championship tournaments in Fort Pierce in 1995, 1998, 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2010. The Treasure Coast also hosted pro tour stops in 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
Future: The Treasure Coast Sports Commission and SKA announced that Fort Pierce will become part of a three-city, three-year rotation for the year-end National Championships along with Biloxi, Miss. (2017) and Morehead City, N.C. (2015).
Join: To fish in the National Championships, one has to be a member of the Southern Kingfish Association and enter qualifying events. Learn about membership at www.fishska.com