There’s no question big-game tournaments are a social affair. Many teams are composed of long-time friends, business associates and family members, all sharing a love of the sport and the camaraderie made possible by hours offshore. Age is another determining factor, with middle-aged and older individuals dominating the segment. Still, there are a few contestants who aren’t old enough to drive or shave every morning. And fortunately, the ranks of junior anglers are growing as more families introduce the next generation to this specialized sport.
The Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic offers two different categories for junior anglers (age 15 and younger) to win trophies. The first is for a notable catch or release of billfish; the second is for a significant game fish catch. In the 2018 ECBC fleet, more than a dozen teams had younger anglers aboard. Brothers Houston and Clark Adams were awarded the top prizes. Houston, 15, released two blue marlin as the top billfish junior angler and Clark, 11, whipped a 139-pound yellowfin tuna that would have put some men three times his age in traction. The boys compete with their older brother Gunner, 26, and their dad, James, aboard Gunnslinger, a 52-foot custom Southern Cross sportfisher.
“The boys and I have been fishing together for six years now,” the elder Adams explains. “We do everything together, hunt and fish. They really didn’t have a choice, they’ve grown up fishing. But they really do love it.”
Adams credits his former skipper, Capt. Andy Lindsey, for teaching the family team about tactics and tackle when they first got started. Early adjustments were also necessary to compensate for the boys’ size and strength.
“We used lighter tackle at first, 50 Wides instead of 130s and Clark used a 30 Wide for a couple of years. We knew if he hooked up to a big blue we’d have to run it down. We also made adjustments to the fighting chair, adding blocks of wood to the footrest so they could reach it.”
The boys are fully integrated into the team, though. Members take turns sleeping offshore but if it’s 4 a.m. and time to jig for blackfin tuna for bait, they’re in the cockpit. If one gets into the chair for a fight, the other clears flat lines or guides the chair. Despite their age, both boys are trained to do it all.
When quizzed about suggestions for introducing other young anglers to the sport, Adams offered this advice: “Get ‘em into it early and don’t be too hard on them. Make it a family affair and it’ll be awesome.”
Veteran tournament angler David Marshall of Dothan, Alabama, is another patriarch who fishes tournaments with his extended family aboard Traders Hill. The junior Marshalls have been regulars on the ECBC awards stage over the last few years.
“We started this ‘crap’ in the mid-1980s,” he says with a laugh, “and it’s just snowballed. Our first big boat was a 42 Bertram and now we’re fishing on a 105 Broward Sportfish. We’ve won a bunch of junior angler awards along the way.” The typical Marshall entourage consists of two children, five grand-children, a daughter-in-law, a young friend of one grandson and two small dogs.
“Our brood is a bunch of chair hogs,” he adds with a smirk. “They fight to get on the rod so we have to draw numbers. They all love to fish.”
When asked about the importance of fishing together as a family, Marshall has a quick response. “When they’re out on the boat with us, we know where they are. They can’t get into any trouble. I hope they all continue with the sport after I’m gone.”
Passing the rod. It’s a tradition with a long, proud heritage on the Gulf big-game circuit.