MADEIRA BEACH — Capt. Steve Papen has a decision to make that would make most people green with envy.
That is, what to do with $130,583 in tournament money his five-member fishing team won at the 28th annual “Old Salt Spring Fishing King of the Beach” mackerel fishing tournament held April 29-May 1.
Papen’s “Team Lagerhead” took the top prize in four fishing categories by pulling in the largest catch at 54.06 pounds. That beat out second-place finisher Single Source Insurance’s catch weighing 47.17 pounds.
Papen, owner of Fintastic Fishing Charters Inc., a Madeira Beach-based charter fishing company, says the decision on how to spend their tournament prize money will actually be an easy one.
First, a modest portion of that prize money is already earmarked for an agreed-upon split between Team Lagerhead’s five members.
“It’s a hard conversation that you have to have with your team before you win any tournament money,” the Seminole resident said. “But we have a corporation set up and we run it just like a business. There’s income, and there’s expenditures.”
Papen said the rest of Team Lagerhead’s tournament winnings are to be plowed back into the team’s tournament bank account, used to pay expenses to enter various tournaments each year.
“We keep a lot of money in our team account so we can pay for all that stuff,” Papen said. “We usually win enough tournament money each year to break even and pay for everything that we have.”
And Team Lagerhead’s “everything that we have” can mount up to a sizable sum.
Although tournament fishing holds the allure of that possible big payout, it’s not for the light of wallet, Papen said.
“We spend a lot of money in kingfishing tournaments,” he said.
Case in point: fuel to run Papen’s fishing boat propelled by up to four 350 horsepower engines. “We burn a ridiculous amount of fuel.”
This year’s estimated $135,000-plus prize money is the largest single payout in the King of the Beach tournament history.
“Overall, it’s the highest tournament payout they’ve ever had by almost $25,000,” Papen said. “King of the Beach is the biggest kingfish tournament each year, period.”
Held at the Madeira Beach Recreation Complex, the tournament is hosted by the Old Salt Fishing Foundation to benefit several local charities. At this tournament, checks were made out to PARC, the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation and the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
The tournament consists of six divisions: Overall, Single Engine, Spanish Mackerel, Traveling Angler, Ladies and Youth. Each division has cash or prizes with approximately an approximately $200,000 purse.
Tournament entry fee starts at $245 and goes up depending on fishing category.
Tournament operators this year set a 30-mile fishing boundary to ensure any size boat can compete. Larger boats have the fuel capacity to travel much further.
Team Lagerhead members are tournament veterans. In any given year, they will typically enter 10-12 different fishing tournaments held in Florida and other states.
“We used to do a lot more than that, but the Southern Kingfish Association tapered off as far as how many tournaments they would do,” Papen said. Team Lagerhead is a regular entrant of the bi-annual “King of Beach Tournament” here, having competed in all 28 tournaments held to date.
Area kingfish tournaments had also been whittled down last year by COVID-19, Papen said.
“It canceled quite a few tournaments last year, including the SKA National Championships,” Papen said.
On May 17, Papen and his team sailed a 42-foot Yellowfin tournament boat over to Fort Pierce on Florida’s east coast to enter two fishing tournaments to be held there.
According to Papen, the formula to winning such competitive prize tournaments such as “King of the Beach” is a combination of detailed preparation and luck.
“There were 600-some odd boats in that tournament,” Papen said. “There’s a lot of people with a lot of fishing hits in the water.”
And Papen says the variables in catching that “big tournament winner” can often be measured by a thin fishing line.
“We have a fish on the line that’s worth $130,000 and there’s a 25-pound piece of monofilament and a little sliver and a little piece of wire, and a small hook that’s stuck in that fish,” he said. “If that fish comes at the bait in one different way, and he doesn’t get the hook him in really well, he can shake his head and that hook pops right out.”
But Papen also acknowledges that winning also requires well-honed skills of seasoned fishermen.
“You definitely have to prepare, to pre-fish the territory, make your decisions on what’s the water temperature, on wind and location history,” he said.
“Pre-fishing” a tournament means actually going out the water prior to the contest.
“You want to go out and fish areas that you think might be good,” Papen said.
Tournament “prepping” also includes securing sufficient fresh live bait, rigging fishing lines, engine maintenance and a complete top-to-bottom boat check.
Papen readily acknowledges that tournament fishing holds the allure of that possible big payout.
But while winning fishing tournament money is nothing to sneeze at, he earns tremendous satisfaction from just competing out on the water with his longtime close friends.
“As weird as it sounds, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the money,” Papen said. “Three of on the team have been fishing together for over 20 years.
“We’re all very competitive, or we wouldn’t do it,” he said. “It’s the competition of fishing against other guys who are really, really good and know what they’re doing. You want to beat everybody. Hey, we live in the fishing capital of the world.”
Florida’s formidable fishing competition makes tournament victories all the more satisfying, Papen said.
“It makes it sweet; big tournament victories don’t come often.”
While Papen’s life is essentially a 24-7 fishing world, tournaments provide him a special personal satisfaction that’s different from his professional charter boat work.
“Fishing tournaments — that’s my fun time,” Papen said. “I get to hang out with my buddies and go fishing.”
Like a page taken out of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” Papen’s love for fishing started early on in life, oftentimes earning top billing over other requisite childhood pursuits.
“I’ve been fishing since I was eight years old,” he said. “I’d be skipping school and going fishing.”
Fishing has also defined Papen’s professional life the past 22 years.
“My life is fishing. It’s everything I do,” he said. “I run a full-time charter boat business, I commercial fish, I have seven different private boats that I run. Every nickel that I make every year comes from fishing.
“As a team, we have won every single fishing tournament that held out here (in Florida) at least once,” Papen said. This King of the Beach was the only tournament that we had never won. It was kind of like our white elephant. We finally got it.”