Over all my years as an avid angler, I have participated in hundreds of fishing tournaments.
Marlin tournaments, king mackerel tournaments, wahoo, flounder and redfish -- you name it and chances are I have competed against other anglers for that coveted top spot.
But this past weekend during the Collin Stokes Memorial Inshore Tournament, I saw something that gave me hope that the sense of community among anglers that I cherished when this area had fewer people has not disappeared. It was simply waiting on a cause that would bring out the best of Hilton Head, Bluffton and Beaufort.
Back in the day when there were far fewer people here, fishing tournaments were not nearly as competitive as the events these days. Everybody knew one another and fun was the name of the game. If you were to win, that was simply a bonus.
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Thinking back, I find it hard not to laugh at some of the shenanigans that cropped up between this tight-knit group of fisherman.
We didn't have fancy boat wraps with matching outfits like I see at many of today's tournaments, nor did I see the fevered pitch to win. Tournaments just seemed friendlier and not so darn serious.
As any real angler knows, skill does play a part in winning, but Lady Luck has as much to do with coming out on top as any boat type, technique or lure.
Getting back to the Collin Stokes Memorial Inshore Tournament, from the time we had the captain's meeting on Friday afternoon until we announced winners, gave away raffle items and had a party with music and a fabulous feed, every competing angler showed the very best of our community. I never once heard testosterone-laden bravado, but rather total unselfishness from every single fisherman there.
It has to be genuine caring for not only who we lost, Collin Stokes, but also love for the Stokes family.
If you are new to the area or don't spend time on the water, then you may not know the Stokes name, but Al Stokes, the director of the Waddell Mariculture Center in Bluffton, has probably done more for our waters -- and fishing -- than anyone else living here.
Even more impressive is that he has been doing this on a shoestring budget for some 30 years now.
As for his wife, Shannon, as a teacher she has no doubt helped raise many of your children, so together, these two are the best of the best. When they lost their 22-year-old son Collin in January in a most horrific way, healing for Al, Shannon and their daughter Mattie was sure to be long and hard.
What can you say to make the pain go away? There was such a tight bond within the family, no words can possibly help, so the only way Ethan Olliff, Collin's roommate at Clemson, I and others could show our caring was to hold this tournament and use the money raised to help fund Al's dream of erecting a new wrought-iron entrance gate to the Waddell Center.
With tabby columns on both sides of the entrance and a sculpted array of intertwined redfish and other Lowcountry flora and marine creatures, "Collin's Gate" would stand forever in remembrance of Collin and the entire Stokes family for their unselfish giving.
The list of all the people who gave to the event is simply too long to include in this column. But special recognition needs to go to the staff at Shelter Cove Marina; Jeff Kruse, the F&B director for Sea Pines Resort; Frank Gaston, owner of the Palmetto Dunes General Store; and Stuart Booth, owner of Willy Tee's. Without their contributions, the event could not have happened.
As for the winners, everybody who participated won. We raised nearly $9,000 to go toward "Collin's Gate," and the word is this tournament will be a yearly fixture to raise money for worthy causes.