After being rescheduled due to inclement weather, the Bluewater Movements Saltwater Showdown kicked off Aug. 22 out of the Boca Raton and Hillsboro inlets. The Saltwater Showdown is the third and final leg of the Mercury-sponsored Bluewater Movements Summer Series, ...
Mercury-powered team travels across Florida by water to compete and win
Team Lagerhead, of St. Petersburg, Florida, won the inaugural Angler Armory World Championship Kingfish tournament presented by Mercury® on Saturday, Aug. 28. The team, which is captained by Steve Papen and owned by Doug Speeler, weighed the biggest fish of the day at 51.44 pounds. The tournament was held at Causeway Cove in Fort Pierce, Florida.
For the event, and the winning team, the journey to the inaugural championship was rather long and winding.
When initially announced early in 2019, the World Championship created a buzz among the teams on both coasts of Florida. However, facing the challenges of a global pandemic, organizers postponed the event from May 2020 to May 2021. Foul weather then derailed the rescheduled date, and the tournament was again pushed to August 2021.
The journey by the victorious Team Lagerhead was also long, but for much different reasons. By vehicle, it takes three hours to travel to Fort Pierce from the team’s base in St. Petersburg on the west coast of the Sunshine State. Because pulling a 42-foot Yellowfin® boat powered by quad Mercury 400hp Verado® outboards isn’t the team members’ favorite way to travel, they looked for another, more enjoyable option.
So, instead of driving to Fort Pierce, Papen and Speeler ventured by water – across the state of Florida by way of the Okeechobee Waterway. And they first had to navigate south 90 miles just to enter the waterway, or the Okeechobee Canal, as it is also called.
The Okeechobee Waterway
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, the 154-mile-long Okeechobee Waterway is located in central and southern Florida, where it extends from the Atlantic Ocean at Stuart, Florida, to the Gulf of Mexico at Fort Myers, Florida. From west to east, the waterway passes through the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Canal.
The waterway can support tows such as barges or private vessels up to 50 feet wide and 250 feet long if they draw less than 10 feet. There are five lock-and-dam systems in the canal.
For Papen, this was his first experience making the trip.
“The trip there and the trip back both took 10 1/2 hours,” he said. “We went through the five locks and also two swinging train bridges. I had never seen anything like that before.
“We sat in the St. Lucie lock with a 10-foot gator next to the boat,” Papen added. “That lock drops 16 feet, so I’m not sure where he was headed. You never know what you will see on the water.”
Despite some rough conditions on the return trip home due to Hurricane Ida, Papen says the team will likely make the trip, which totaled about 300 miles each way, by the same route in 2022.
“One thing is for certain,” he said, “you better have confidence in your motors to make a long trip like that. As soon as you leave the lock near Lake Okeechobee, there is one final lock on the system heading east. The locks are open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 pm, so if you don’t run fast enough, you have to sit there overnight until they open up at 7:30.”
Chasing Kings and Trophies
During the tournament, Team Lagerhead located the winning fish nearly 60 miles south of the Fort Pierce inlet. There, the anglers trolled live blue runners and goggle eyes in 100 feet of water. Though, discovering that spot didn’t come easy.
“We were struggling to get on quality fish during the week,” said Papen. “On Friday, we didn’t even catch anything over 20 pounds. On Friday night, we sat down and studied the bathymetric charts for that area, picked a spot that looked good, had some structure, and went there Saturday. When we saw some of the East Coast teams in the area, that made us feel like maybe we were in good water.”
They clearly were, and the anglers took home $62,374 for the victory.
Team Lagerhead has competed together for 20 years. In addition to Papen and Speeler, the crew consists of Dave Bayes, Erik Danowski, Corey Alley and Mike Hollingsworth.
Team Lagerhead also won the Kings of the Beach tournament on May 1, 2021, out of Madeira Beach. That kingfish tournament has a field of more than 700 boats.
The Scott Beattie Cup
Angler Armory Tournament Director James Maltz announced at the captain’s meeting on Thursday that the winner of the World Championship would receive the Scott Beattie Cup each year.
Beattie, better known as Scotty B, retired from Mercury on July 1, 2021, after 15-plus years as manager of competitive angling tournament support. Beattie plans to hang out with family, fish, cook, and do some boat and motor survey work on the side.
“This is a real honor, and you can bet I will come back every year and hand this cup to the winners,” he said. “This World Championship is going to be a great event for a long, long time.”
The aggregate winner (two fish) was Team Lil Devil, captained by Michael Jacquin, with 94.87 pounds. Overall (for heaviest single fish), the Mercury-powered team finished second with a 48.93-pound kingfish and earned $23,450 in its Invincible® boat.
Seven of the top 10 teams were powered by Mercury.
The second annual World Championship Kingfish tournament is scheduled to take place at Fort Pierce on May 19-22, 2022. Registration is open to any team consisting of members of the Angler Armory Fishing Club. The anticipated field for 2022 is 75 to 100 boats.
For more information about the event and Angler Armory, visit anglerarmory.com.
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