The 42nd U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament had to overcome a few obstacles, so it wasn’t a big surprise the winners had to overcome some too. One of the biggest obstacles was a friend who also wanted to win the prestigious tournament and caught a larger fish late the first day. Another was a knot that slipped. Fortunately neither was terminal.
Andy Broadwell of Southport and the crew of the Nauti Lady took the early lead, slipped to second place after Tracy Aman of Boiling Springs Lakes and the crew of the Sling N Bait weighed later on Friday, and then caught a slightly larger king on Saturday to reclaim the lead and hold on for the win. The perseverance of the Nauti Lady crew was a performance fitting for any comeback story, but fits this tournament perfectly.
The tournament had to overcome near complete destruction of the docks in Southport Marina by Hurricane Isaias in early August plus implement and monitor COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. Home of the Open since 1979, the marina took a direct hit, so the event was moved to Dutchman Creek Park.
This worked surprisingly well, considering the tournament drew a near-record 521 boats.
Andy Broadwell didn’t have time to prepare as he usually does. He got put off his game plan early when he began looking for bait with plans to pre-fish a little the weekend before, and his younger son, Garrison, got a hook stuck in his head. After that it became a situation of show up and fish for the normally well prepared fisherman.
Friday morning the Nauti Lady crew caught bait and fished near the bait school for a while before heading down the beach to look for an uncrowded spot to anchor. A friend called and said he had seen a big king free jump near the Cape Fear Ship Channel, so they headed there and dropped anchor.
“We had only fished about 10 minutes when the first king hit,” Broadwell said. “It looked nice, but not like a fish to take in early, so we tied back up to our anchor and put the lines back out. Once we had baits back out, I opened the fish bag and measured the fish. It wasn’t huge, but was bigger than I had thought, so we decided to take it and weigh it when the scales opened at 11. That’s a nice thing about this tournament – that they allow weighing multiple fish, so if you’re close and want to weigh one early, you can and then go back fishing.”
The first fish weighed in the tournament held the lead at 37.20 pounds until late Friday. The Nauti Lady crew didn’t think it would hold the lead, but were hoping. They weren’t surprised when Tracy Aman and the Sling N Bait crew weighed their 37.75-pound king just before 4 p.m. and bumped them to second.
When the Nauti Lady headed in to weigh, they left their anchors in place with anchor balls floating, so they could return to the same spot. Unfortunately, when they returned the anchor balls were not there and they didn’t have a second anchor aboard. Broadwell doesn’t suspect anyone tampered with them, but that the rough seas worked quickly tied knots until they loosened. He had an anchor, anchor ball and line at home, so a quick trip to the store for chain and shackles got them going again.
“We went back to the same spot first thing Saturday morning, but people must have figured out where we were and it got crowded,” Broadwell said. “We lasted there until about 9:30, then pulled the anchor and headed down the beach looking for somewhere that wasn’t crowded. There was a big school of bait just about off Big Hill and I remembered all the kings they used to catch at Long Beach Pier, so we anchored right in that school of bait. Still, fishing was pretty slow and we were about to accept we would have to settle for second again, when we got a big strike a little before 3 p.m.”
The fish cooperated and they landed it pretty quickly. This fish was 50 inches long, with a 24-inch girth. The question now was if it would be heavy enough? They pulled the anchor and headed for the scales.
Years of fishing have made Andy Broadwell a good judge of fish size and the scales confirmed this fish was just more than a pound and a half heavier than their Friday fish. It weighed 38.85 pounds and moved them back into the lead. They weighed at 3:36 p.m. so they would only have to watch a handful of boats weigh to see if this king would hold up and give the Broadwell clan their first U.S. Open win in 42 attempts.
It held for the win and the jinx on a Broadwell winning the Open had ended. This fish also earned Top Lady Angler prizes for Lauren Broadwell, Lily Broadwell and Heather Phelps.
There has been a Broadwell fisherman competing in every U.S. Open since the tournament began in 1979. This began with Andy Broadwell’s father, Boyce, and grandfather, Lonnie, at the first event. Andy Broadwell fished it with them for the first time in 1981 when he was six years old.
The 2020 Nauti Lady crew was stacked with Broadwell fisher folk. It began with Andy Broadwell, included his brother, Adam and Adam’s daughter, Lily, plus Andy’s wife Lauren and sons, Fisher and Garrison. They were joined by Chad Phelps, Andy’s partner in the Nauti Lady, with his wife, Heather, and son, Camden. These nine folks were the largest fishing team anyone at the Open could remember and they got the job done. Andy Broadwell jokes that they have to have a large boat so everyone can go fishing.
Adam Broadwell fought Friday’s fish, while Chad Phelps had the angling duties Saturday. Andy Broadwell was the gaff man on both, while his older son Fisher ran the boat. Theirs is a team and family oriented effort and after years with miscues and near misses it paid off – big time – to the tune of $80,506 in total winnings. That plan of showing up, catching bait and going fishing worked – and it worked well.
Lonnie and Boyce Broadwell have passed, but their legacies continue. There is a special “Friends of Boyce Broadwell” prize awarded to the 56th place finisher in honor of Andy’s dad, Boyce Broadwell. The Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) awards the “Lonnie Broadwell Senior Angler Award” each year to the Top Senior Angler in the country in honor of Lonnie Broadwell, Andy Broadwell’s grandfather. Now, there is a fourth generation of Broadwells fishing the Open and they are winners. Special congratulations to Lily, Fisher and Garrison Broadwell and may they become keepers of the flame.
Of special note is that Andy Broadwell gave credit to his dad and granddad for introducing him to fishing and being sure he learned to do it right. He is instilling that same love for the sport in his sons. Broadwell said there were many fishermen that invited him along as a youngster and young man and he had learned from them all and wanted to thank them all.
Tracy Aman and the Sling N Bait crew had a tough time at the Open. Sure, they finished in second place and collected $53,557, but it was tough. This isn’t about being in a smaller boat, with a smaller crew, but catching a fish that bumps your lifelong friend from the lead, then holding the lead until the last hour of the tournament before getting bumped to second place.
“At least it was one of my friends,” said Aman. “We wanted to win – bad, but it just wasn’t to be. We knew it wasn’t a huge fish, but the tournament was nearly over and we were hoping. There’s still a pit in my stomach, but it helps a little that the folks that beat us were the ones we bumped to second the day before. They are friends too. Once I knew it was over, I called Andy to congratulate him.”
Aman’s tournament story is substantially different than Broadwell’s. He said he had been doing a little preparation for several weeks. He had found some fish pre-fishing and thought he had something going, but then the weather became a factor. Aman said that even with his pre-tournament work, he has a small boat and doesn’t enter unless the weather is fishable. One trait of the Open is that usually when the wind blows hard, it is coming from the north and the water for a mile or so off the beach is calm enough to fish.
When Aman got the weather forecast that had the wind turning to the north and northeast for the tournament, he knew he could fish along the beach, so he registered the Sling N Bait. His crew was his girlfriend, Teri Bruner, and his son, Austin.
Aman said they began Friday by catching fresh bait and fishing off Ocean Crest Pier. This wasn’t producing, so they decided to catch fresh bait and work their way out to Lighthouse Rock.
“When we got to Lighthouse Rock, it was too rough to fish in my little boat,” Aman said. “We worked our way back in to a spot about a mile from Oak Island Pier where I have caught fish before and decided we would fish out the day there. We caught three fish. One was almost 20, one weighed 24 pounds and change and the other was the 37 that finished second.
“That fish took off like a really big king,” Aman said. “Austin was fighting it and it took him close to the spool. We got a pretty good look at it about 20 minutes into the fight and could see it was large, but couldn’t tell just how large. It took us another 20 minutes to put it in the boat, but we were happy when it hit the deck. It was a nice fish and we had taken a beating so we decided to call it a day and head in. I didn’t bother to measure it or try to weigh it.”
Aman’s recognition of having a nice fish was spot on. At 3:41 it crossed the scales and when the weight was called at 37.75 pounds, it was also announced as the new tournament leader. The Sling N Bait crew spent Friday night and most of Saturday leading the tournament, but not quite until the end. Aman said he knew it wasn’t a huge fish and was nervous. The consolation was the person who bumped them to second was the leader they had displaced 24 hours earlier.
Third place also went to a fisherman from Brunswick County. D. Logan, Belville, led the crew of Logan’s Run to the third place fish, which weighed 36.60 pounds. This required implementing the time based tie-breaker when the Dirty Fins, led by Jeff Horrell of Fort Mill, S.C., weighed an identical weight king 16 minutes later. Logan was in all the TWT’s and collected the most prize money of anyone in the tournament. The Logan’s Run total winnings were $85,382.
The 42nd US Open King Mackerel Tournament had its share of excitement even though the fish weren’t huge. This excitement and suspense will be hard to top in 2021.