Fun, Friends, and Faith in Gear: Austin Collins Smacks the Sailfish Smackdown.
Death, taxes, and confidence overloads at the Captain’s Meeting. Chins up, chests out, and game faces on. It’s the text between the lines in the tournament angler’s manifesto.
While Vegas probably would have had him favored if you asked anyone in the South Florida offshore kayak fishing scene, an overload of outward confidence wasn’t the case for twenty-three-year-old Austin Collins heading into the single circle hook, fluorocarbon leader only, Extreme Kayak Fishing Sailfish Smackdown Tournament in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Austin is different; he likes his tournament days full of jokes, his hooks on wire leader, and his stream of pre-tournament whiskey drinks strong and served with a pickle juice chaser.
In catering to the IGFA circle hook only tournament rule and leaving his wire and stinger rigs at home, Austin had little faith and a good sense of humor heading to the beach with eighty-six other anglers.
Keeping Tournaments Fun
“I’m gonna have a beer for every cutoff this weekend” he posted to Facebook while other anglers shot out more serious game-face posts in attempts to please sponsors or feign professionalism. His competition jumped in on the comedy and fired back suggesting that he bring a twelve pack, then a keg, and eventually started the hashtag #cutoffcity roasting Collin’s seemingly imminent cutoffs thanks to the IGFA regulations on hooks and leaders while competing in sailfish tournaments.
In the end, it was Collins that got the last laugh ending the first day at the top of the leader board with a sailfish that ate both of his flat line baits, giving the initial feeling of a double hookup. Facing a tournament angler’s worst nightmare, he chewed through the line that took the weaker hit and ultimately decided to fight the fish that hit hardest and landing the fish.
After a night of partying South Florida style, a hungover early morning launch, and hours of radio silence on the second day of the tournament, Collins quickly found himself in third place when competitors Brian Nelli and Pam Wirth landed their second sail late in the afternoon. Fully aware of his slide from first to third, Collins knew it was time for a Hail Mary pass to the end zone as the 3 pm lines out cutoff crept up on him.
At 2:40 pm, with only twenty minutes left to fish, it hit. Austin knew he had just hooked a $3,000 fish, an uneasy feeling that might pressure most kayak anglers to tense up and fall off of their game. But why would he start getting serious now? Collins’ simple fun loving attitude for fishing and partying with the EKFT crew is what brought him to the tournament, and it is what led him straight to the bank to cash the first place check. Whether it was joking with the chase boat captain about his beast Mutton Snapper, taking his hands off the rod and tossing his VHF radio out of his kayak to avoid the constant chatter, or heckling back at threats to jinx his leader grab from one of the tournament photographers, Collins was all stress-free smiles and loose vibes with the tournament winning fish on the line and only twenty minutes to get up.
When Gear Makes a Difference
As Collins pulled this tournament winning sailfish into his lap, the circle hook came loose. “It was crazy. All I could do was laugh. He was barely hooked. Any slack in my line, and he’s gone. I lose. Game over.”
Having boated over thirty sails from his kayak, Collins knows that Sailfish tear through circle hooks, rods, and rod holders just as much as they tear through goggle eyes. “I get it. Hooks slip, rods break, and rod holders seem to always find a way to give. It’s all happened to me before but with some bad experiences under my belt, I’ve got full confidence in my gear now. These are powerful fish and fishing for them from a kayak is a difficult proposition. You can’t set circle hooks. You can’t jerk them. You have to let the sailfish eat the bait. From resting in the Railblaza Rod Holder II at the hit to the controlled action on my Adrenaline custom rod reeling it in, every little twitch of a movement counts. If I don’t have faith that I’m using the best rod in the best rod holder, I would have been a nervous mess when he hit. I wouldn’t have been fun to be around.”
With $3,000 and an EKFT championship trophy on his kitchen table, it’s time for Collins to pay up on his promise: two cut-offs, two beers.
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