Have you ever participated in a fishing tournament?
Freshwater bass tournaments are by far the biggest and most lucrative of tournaments simply because only a fraction of anglers in this country live along either the East or West coast.
Since there are ponds, lakes and streams in virtually every state, it makes sense these freshwater tournaments would be the most popular.
For me personally, saltwater tournaments make up most of my attempts at catching the big one, so for a brief period at least, I can strut around like a gobbler during mating season. From marlin to king mackerel to tarpon, redfish, wahoo, cobia and snapper, I have fished them all.
But if you were to ask me which tournament I remember best, one tournament instantly rises to the top in my mind: the famous — or rather infamous — Hilton Head Harbor Toadfish Tournament.
If you are asking yourself “What in the heck is a toadfish?” you can either Google one, or I can summarize them by saying they are ugly, slimy, have a disproportionately large mouth and stubby teeth, and if that were not enough, they have no culinary value whatsoever.
So why in the world would you have a fishing tournament for something like that?
Even now, no apparent reason comes to mind.
If I remember correctly, the first toadfish tournament was in 1975 and was held at the Hilton Head Harbor (now called the Outdoor Resorts Marina) just as you come on to Hilton Head Island. This is when my memory, or lack thereof, gets the best of me. But if I were to guess who started the toadfish tournament, I’ll blame it on three individuals — Capt. Fuzzy Davis, Capt. Randy Osterstock and Capt. Miles Altman.
For the first two or three years, it was a small event that was more or less a fun get-together for locals to break the boredom. There just wasn’t much to do in those days, especially for us younguns.
There was nothing serious about any of it, except possibly drinking. We did fish for toadfish with prizes for the ugliest toadfish, the smallest and largest toadfish and even one for the toadfish that looked the most like Miles Altman.
But as the years passed, the word got out and the Toadfish Tournament got larger and larger. About that same time, some whacked-out graphic designer got involved and to this day, if you had enough brain cells left to actually store away one of these prized shirts, you are held in high esteem by those that attended those last two years. It was Hilton Head’s own little Woodstock.
“You were at THE Toadfish Tournament? I am not worthy.”
In a nutshell, the T-shirts reflected the times. The one with Jesus holding a toadfish caused an uproar with angry letters to the editor here at the Packet, while the next year the Ayatoada told the story of the American hostages being held in Iran after the Shah was run out of town by the Ayatollah.
So what happened that last fateful year that doomed this great event? I can’t tell you the whole story, but just enough where you might be able to fill in the blanks.
You would have thought the Beatles were in town. There were that many people.
Some even say it was largest fishing tournament in South Carolina’s history. Even with the occasional beer or keg or even better, a beer tanker truck, it was always a family affair. There were kids and moms and dads — that is until the ever-popular beauty contest became a wet T-shirt contest, which in turn turned into a no T-shirt contest.
I know for a fact a lot of children learned more about sex education that day than they ever learned in a classroom. If that wasn’t enough, a biker gang showed up out of nowhere to a toadfish fishing tournament. That started hair-pulling between girls, teeth a-flying this way and that with the boys, and it all went downhill from there.
Heck, they even tried to roll over the beer tanker truck, and those things are dang heavy.
Every now and again someone blurted out, “Hey, let’s bring back the Toadfish Tournament!”
But you know what? According to Beaufort County’s 1980 Ordinance TFT-B-GONE, it states no toadfish may be caught for entertainment purposes under any circumstances no matter what. All violators will be hung. Period.