Taste of Waddell — Mariculture Center’s major fundraiser
If ya’ll have been keeping up with my columns as of late then you no doubt sensed a touch of stress in my usual carefree writing style.
My wife wasn’t beating me, nor had I been arrested; the stress was all due to worrying if the weather would cooperate for the second annual “Run For The Bulls” mahi tournament held Saturday, May 11, at the Harbour Town Yacht Basin on Hilton Head Island.
Limited to 30 boats and 30 boats only with a $20,000 payout for the largest dolphin, or mahi, this tournament’s real purpose was to raise money for the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton. If the wind and seas were gracious enough to let us all fish, a dinner and awards ceremony would follow the weigh-in when we could hand Waddell’s new director, Erin Levesque, a fat check and let our community meet the new face of Waddell.
Sweating it out all week with contradicting weather forecasts that seemed to change hourly, the man upstairs came through in a big way.
As engines fired up around the harbor in Sea Pines around 2:30 to 3:30 a.m. Saturday, all 30 boats headed out on the 60- to 80-mile run to the Gulf Stream.
Expecting bumpy seas, we were greeted with gentle swells and crystal-clear skies that looked like a jet-black canvas that some psycho artist had splattered with bright white paint until the canvas was covered from edge to edge. Better yet, every few minutes meteors would streak from horizon to horizon. It was spellbinding.
As the sun peeked, the ocean could not have been friendlier. Cobalt blue with patches of golden Sargasso weed, it was a mahi-seekers dream. You see, dolphin love to hunt around Sargasso weed, picking off any of the thousands of small fish, seahorses and crabs that hide there.
From the chatter on the radio, everyone was hooking fish, including the boat I was fishing on called the Reel Deal.
I could go on about our fish but it was around 9 a.m. when I suspect one of our lures was trolled over a giant manta ray, startling it. Not 30 yards behind the boat, this manta was easily over two tons and around 26 feet from wing tip to wing tip. It came straight up in the air, wings spread before belly flopping. Everyone onboard saw it and for a few moments we were all speechless. Nature sure as heck has a bag of tricks.
With a box full of mahi but only one nice bull (male mahi) to weigh, it was time to head in. But I decided to try one last trick. With lines in, we pulled up to a huge Sargasso weed patch and I began chumming with all our leftover bait cut into small chunks while drifting one hooked piece in the chum.
Talk about luck, a big bull dolphin shoots out, gets hooked and it was our largest fish of the day. Caught by our 15-year-old female angler, Carlyle Cornell, she took the female angler prize, a $600 rod and reel.
Speaking of kids, there were two youth awards. First place, another very expensive rod and reel combo, went to Fisher Waite aboard Team Bluffton Marine. For the second year in a row, Mike Majer’s, owner of Majer’s Diving & Salvage, awarded $300 for the biggest fish caught by kids 16 and under. That went to Matty Bell aboard “On The Fly.” It was awesome seeing so many kids out there because they are the future.
Back at the dock, awards were handed out during a wonderful meal and every boat won something.
But the big $20,000 winner was Team “Shaw Dogs” with anglers Pete Shaw, Mike Casey, John Anderson and Erik DeLong.
They took $1,000 of their winnings to add to money raised for the Waddell Mariculture Center.
In all, 22 boats weighed in 58 mahi and two wahoo.
As for the check to Waddell, former director Al Stokes presented Erin Levesque a check for $8,000! Add the winners’ extra $1,000, and that $9,000 will go a long way for this great institution.
In all, dozens of local businesses gave to this event, along with major sponsors Bass Pro Shops, Hilton Head Boathouse, Bud Mingledorff and Rob Bender at the Harbour Town Yacht Basin, making this the perfect day and the perfect tournament! Thank you all!