Who is king of the beach? This team of Gulf fisherman landed a near 50-pound kingfish

In what may be the largest fishing tournament along the Gulf of Mexico, only one fish was big enough to be crowned the king.

On Sat. April 27, 436 boats headed west, south, north and some to the east for the 31st Annual Spring King of the Beach. Bob Strawhecker and Team Wood Butcher decided to head northwest despite reports that their target wasn’t in the area.

“We ran just to the south of the northwest boundary,” said Strawhecker, who owns a cabinet business and HydraSport boat with triple Yamahas used by the team. “We had heard from people it was no good out there, but that’s how it can be. Sometimes fish are there one day and not the next.”

With a strict nearshore boundary to level the playing field keeping most teams shallower, Strawhecker saw other tournament boats in the area searching for the largest kingfish they could find. After about an hour of fishing, he decided to troll away from the other boats.

“It was rough, four- to five-footers most of the day and blowing mid-20s. We made about a two-mile slow troll away.”

Just before 10:30 a.m., angler Jonathan Nemeth saw a couple of lines were crossed due to the rough conditions. He began to reel one in to check it.

“I told Bob I felt there’s a fish here so I went the extra mile to ensure everything was running smoothly. I took the long line rod and uncrossed it and handed it to Chris (Lewis). At that instant, a fish skied 15 feet off the port transom inhaling the bait on the rod in my hand,” described the excited Nemeth. “After laying eyes on it for the first time up close, I knew it was a stud and the adrenaline really kicked in. Then I noticed that something felt off and I could feel the line was wrapped in something.”

A lengthy fight and many long runs left the crew on edge with the big fish not giving up.

“I started looking around and saw that we were wrapped in our long line pretty badly and I yelled at Chris to get the pliers in order to free us. Bob got the gaff ready to stick the fish. It was hooked pretty good with all the hooks in its mouth so I thumbed the spool, turned its head and kept it coming to the gaff. Bob stuck it and in one fluid motion it came over the rail!”

When the fish hit the deck, the three-man crew knew it was big, but not exactly how big. They quickly slid it into the fish bag to ice it down, losing less weight.

“I thought maybe 43 to 44 pounds. I knew it was big, but didn’t think it’d be almost 50 pounds,” said Strawhecker.

Fishing for a little while longer, they managed another quality kingfish that was slightly smaller. With the rough conditions slowing their return, they headed into the seas at 8 miles per hour. Arriving back on land early, they had a little intel that there were two fish possibly over 50 pounds that would be heading to the weigh-in.

“At the scale, we weighed in our fish. It was 49.2 pounds. The other two big fish were 46.27 and 43.63 pounds!”

For beating the other 435 boats, Strawhecker and crew would win $40,000 plus a diamond pendant from Johnston Jewelers. Second place K-Factor with the 46.27-pound kingfish and Captain Kyle Corey would bring home a total of $77,956. Their winnings were larger by entering more divisions, known as TWTs (tournaments within the tournament). Third place All Jacked Up and Captain Steve Stalba would win $48,274 with their TWT entries. Strawhecker wasn’t upset about the winnings.

“We didn’t do it for the Calcuttas. For me it’s not about the money, I do it for the fun of it. For me, having my stepson (Lewis) on the boat for his first tournament and being able to win was amazing. There were some good teams, that’s a memory I’ll always have. In time, people will remember we won it, not the amount of money we won or didn’t win.” Strawhecker said.

“We’ve got some things we’ll hold onto like the trophies and jewelry. You can’t replace that,” he added.

Next up for Strawhecker will be his second Crosthwait Memorial Fishing tournament. Last year he fished it for the first time.

“That was a lot of fun. We’re looking forward to it,” he said.