Catch and release fishing
When Ken Cummins moved to Bradenton nearly 20 years ago, his goal was to find great fishing and a bit of solitude when targeting prized billfish in deep waters.
“I wasn’t impressed with the east coast (of Florida),” Cummins said. “It’s crowded. That’s why I like it over here.”
In recent years Cummins and Team Hooker have been the leaders in west coast billfishing, and the results in the recent triple crown tournament known as the Florida West Coast Billfish Series prove just that. His team won the final leg in 2018, the Old Salt Loop tournament, and looked to continue their winning ways this year.
The tournament features three legs, each a grueling three days and nights in the summer heat with the goal of billfish in the main division and other pelagic species for the fun fish divisions. Competing teams traveled more than 200 miles offshore to the steps where the loop current creates bluewater fishing opportunities.
“The currents shift around often, moving fish. The loop current was good this year … actually it was perfect,” explained Cummins, whose team fishes aboard his 48-foot Viking.
In the first leg -- the Galati Yachts Billfish Blast from July 23-27 -- Team Hooker got off to a great start with two blue marlin landed and tagged for 1,042 points, putting them in first place with the opening leg victory.
The second leg of the tournament -- the Yellowfin Billfish Classic from Aug. 6-10 -- featured some of the best west coast billfishing ever seen. Team Hooker once again led the way with three tagged blue marlin for a whopping 1,562 points.
That leg featured seven blue marlin, two white marlin and three sailfish caught, tagged and released. After the two legs, Team Hooker’s 2,605 points provided a large lead over second place, held by Twisted Bills with 1,042 points.
“Everything was smooth for us. We’ve been doing it for a long time and have a great system with a great team of guys at this point,” Cummins said. “We get out there six or seven times a year, so we have it dialed in at this point. When the fishing is good, we just try to bring it all together. But like all fishing, you’ve got to be in the right place at the right time.”
Taking their lead into the third leg, Cummins knew business wasn’t quite done yet: “You never know for sure. Every team out there knows how to catch fish.”
Unfortunately for the other teams, Team Hooker won the final leg -- the 48th Old Salt Loop Classic held Aug. 20-24 -- to sweep the series. Their catch included another blue marlin and a sailfish both tagged and released for 626 points. They also captured the wahoo division with a 60.6-pounder. The tournament featured another 14 caught and released billfish.
“It’s fun, it’s our passion,” a victorious Cummins said. “I’ll do another trip or two before next season, when we hope to continue the streak.”
For the series the team won over $120,000. That will help go toward a large fuel bill and provide a few more trips to the steps, which Cummins said uses about 1,000 gallons per tournament.