ON THE WATER: Party with a Purpose
Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: Andrea Bruemmer
Beneath the surface, Hilton Head Island’s largest and longest-running tourney is also part of a state-sanctioned effort to analyze and protect species from unnecessary federal fishing bans. “We haven’t been able to fish for red snapper around here for five years and we’ve got piles of them out there,” said veteran event organizer Stephan Patrick. “When Florida got overfished [the feds] shut things down, but the Southeast region also includes us. People always thought that fish migrated north as the water warms, but studies are proving that they really move inshore and offshore. The tournament is all about having fun, but there’s also a serious side.”
As such, participants must agree to have their catches autopsied by biologists from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as part of an ongoing research effort to enhance local fishing prospects. And yes, the post-mortem creatures are still good for eating.
Patrick, owner of the Beach Break Grill and part-time captain of a 66-foot private yacht, recalls less studious beginnings for the event that’s now into its 28th consecutive year without interruption from rough weather. “It started out in the ’80s as a way to promote sport fishing at a time when everyone was coming here just for golf,” Patrick said, citing local charter captains Randy Osterstock and Jimmy Reeves for the original concept. “They decided to start taking food and beverage employees out so that they would go back and talk to their guests about what a great time they had fishing.”
This led to the first F&B Tournament, a decidedly loose-knit affair that built camaraderie and generated its fair share of hangovers as representatives from local bars and restaurants vied for a trophy to display in their establishments for the upcoming year. The same bragging rights remain at stake although the event is now open to the public and no longer requires a restaurant sponsor.
Patrick expects some 60 boats ferrying a few hundred people to turn out this year. They’ll hit the water after 7 a.m. and head in any direction they choose, the only rule being that boats must be back in sight of Palmetto Bay Marina by 5 p.m. Catches will be displayed then weighed with DNR-loaned electronic scales, with the heftiest combo of one cobia and one kingfish from a single boat winning the grand prize trophy and $1,000 cash. There will be plenty of other prizes as well, and Patrick notes that the entire $200 entry fee per vessel goes toward T-shirts, nautical pennants and other swag for participants.
Dave Harter, a sponsoring businessman and principal in the Hilton Head Sport Fishing Club, will again serve as weigh-in master (with Jimmy Muething), then look on as DNR biologists from the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton conduct tissue and DNA research on the catch to prove local origin and thus combat potential fishing bans in the future. “There’s great cooperation here between fishermen and the DNR,” Harter said, “and South Carolina is far ahead of other states as far as what we know about our local waters. No one else is even close, and we’re learning more all the time.”
A post-event public party with live music will be held at Patrick’s cozy Beach Break Grill on Palmetto Bay Road where an informal meeting of skippers is set for the Tuesday night before the May 29 event. “We still run things during the middle of the week, because it’s always been easier for an F&B person to get a weekday off than a Friday or Saturday,” Patrick said. A state-record 92-pound cobia was landed a few years back at the tourney, and a friendly air of competition lingers for the status of having winning details engraved on the grand trophy. “We don’t take things too seriously of course,” Patrick said, “and the only stipulation is that the trophy has to stay somewhere public. We’ve had the same one for 28 years, and I don’t want to hear: ‘Oh, he moved away’ or ‘his wife threw it out with the trash.’ If the winner doesn’t have an affiliation with a restaurant or just a favorite place to hang out, they’re welcome to display it here for the year.”
For entry information, call (843) 816-4121.