Hatteras Pinfish Tournament is all about catching the biggest smallest
. . .
WITH SLIDE SHOW
“We picked the smallest fish you could catch and turned it into the
biggest smallest fish!” say the organizers of the second annual Pinfish
Tournament that just concluded at the waterfront in Hatteras village.
Last year, Kelsey Aiken of Hatteras, a senior at East Carolina
University, and his former roommate, Greg Nachman, a Richmond native
and graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, decided it
was time for a genuinely fun tournament, one that didn’t require an
expensive boat, lots of equipment, or a hefty entrance fee.
Their entry fee is only $25 for the Pinfish tournament, and all of it
goes into the awards pot.
Their goal was to have something on the docks to laugh about with
people of all ages, in particular kids. All they wanted was
get everybody together for “enjoyment.”
They have wildly succeeded!
Both men have pinfished for a long time and decided it was time “to put
some money into it.” So the idea of a Pinfish Tournament was
brewed as they worked in the summer at Jeffrey’s Seafood at Hatteras
Harbor and fished together in the marina during their off time.
Last year’s tournament, the first, drew 50 participants. This
year there were 72, all fishing in the marinas of Hatteras village from
the docks and the finger piers only -- no boats allowed.
It was a mixed group of kids and adults, locals and visitors, including
a retired English teacher and a philosophy professor from New York who
had spotted the poster and signed up. Those two women were at
or another of the marinas every day at 6 a.m. and caught more than 100
pinfish since July 15.
The month-long competition runs from July 1 until 3:00 p.m. on July 31
and ends with a pig-pickin’ (the whole hog, of course) and the most
unique awards ceremony I have ever seen.
Many of the competitors were sporting 2011’s new T-shirt designed by
Brantley Gwin with the help of “Miss Trish” Dempsey, a noted artist and
mother of last year’s first-prize winner, Jake Dempsey, and this year’s
third placer, Beau.
It is a great design, true to the spirit of the competition, but I do
miss the original, hand-painted and fish-printed shirts, inspired by
the guys’ former teacher, “Mr. Jim” Lyons who taught them to print fish
when they were in the second grade. They also attribute much
their love of nature and outdoor activities to his continued mentoring.
But they decided to move on up in the world with printed T-shirts since
they weren’t looking forward to another all-nighter making 72 of them.
The awards ceremony ... what can I say about that? Not the
that’s for sure!
Hanging from a wooden platform was the winning pinfish.
Aiken pointed it out to me and exclaimed, “Hey man, that’s a big
pinfish!” All 186 grams!
We are used to seeing the occasional huge, tournament-winning blue
marlin or trophy giant bluefin tuna hanging there, so it was
appropriate for this biggest smallest fish to take its place of honor
Aiken and Nachman stood on the platform, high above the crowd, with
very original trophies and cash prizes. Nachman’s father,
John,” made three painted, wooden fish on wooden blocks for the big
As each category’s winner was called, the proud fisherman had to scale
the heights to claim the prize. Once there, they were faced
yet another challenge. They had to climb under the railing
sorts) and stand unprotected on the edge of the platform, outside the
admittedly shaky enclosure, to take the prize from Aiken or Nachman.
Everyone made it to the top, where they deserved to be, and accepted
the cheers of the friendly, enthusiastic crowd of both losers and
supporters beneath them.
For the record, Kelsey’s Dad, Jeff Aiken, assured me that “We have a
forklift” that could be used as needed. But they
The first category announced was the sting ray
The winner was 10-year-old Wheeler Ballance of Hatteras who was unable
to attend as he was attending summer camp.
According to the rules of the Pinfish Tournament, the winner must be
there in person to receive the prize so he had to forfeit the
cash. Next year’s pot is now $100 richer.
up was flounder. “Mr. Jim” Lyons won that category with a
3.4-pound summer flounder and won $170. Lyons has had his eye
that prize for quite a while now, and the real reward for him was
catching the fish
The rockfish first prize went to another Hatteras fisherman, Cameron
Whittaker, mate on the Captain Clam. He is a high school
who seems to leave the docks only to go to school.
He stalked the fish all during July, feeding it and dangling his line
off the pier near where he works.
One fateful day at 6:40 a.m., he “chummed it up and brought it over
here (Jeffrey’s) in a hurry” to be weighed before he went to work.
A lot of people were after that rockfish, but Cameron was awarded $100
for the capture of the 8.75-pound fish.
The best was saved for next-to-last. But it nearly didn’t get
the attention. The fish almost had to hang out there on that limb
alone, after having been caught a mere 10 minutes after the fisherman
had paid his entry fee and spending two weeks on ice.
Stevie Genovse was in Boone, N.C., nine hours away, camping and playing
in the Rhododendron Softball Tournament when Aiken phoned to tell him
he won the grand prize of $800.
He had to be in Hatteras the next day to receive it. He
and cajoled. “What’s up with this rule, man?” he asked. But
organizers stuck by the rules. They suggested he fly back
his truck was in Greenville but Genovse told them, “No way!”
didn’t want to spend all of his prize money getting it but he had no
way to get to Hatteras.
He had one more game to play too and didn’t want to let his team down,
even though they had not won a game yet. They lost that game
so his commitment was completed.
A friend in Raleigh saved the day when she agreed to drive to Boone,
meet him after his game and bring him to Greenville to pick up his
truck. He made it just as the final day of the tournament was
He, too, made the jungle-gym like ascent and accepted his trophy and
$800. His friend commented, “It’s a good thing he was on a
He came down from the heights and four men grabbed him by his limbs,
swung him out over the creek and let him loose.
With a great splash, the captor of the coveted biggest smallest fish
and winner of the second annual Pinfish Tournament was “creeked.”
The second place went to Rom Whittaker who caught his 140-gram pinfish
within seconds of the tournament’s end. He was awarded a
and a fishing rod.
In third place was Bo Dempsey with 137 grams. He was beaten
few seconds and only 3 grams and has a trophy to prove it.
The final award, a fishing rod and $20, went to the “Hardest
Fisherman,” and it was justly deserved. Another 10-year-old
fisherman, “Little John” Canning, fished every single day of the
tournament, rain or shine. I can attest to that as I saw him
matter what time I was over at the docks. In an act
generosity and appreciation for commitment not usually seen in a
fishing tournament, Rom gave John the rod he had just been awarded.
Such was the spirit of the tournament. Aiken and Nachman
their goal - and some.
As Stephen Peele, fellow employee at Jeffrey’s Seafood, observer of
many a tournament and cooker of the pig, summed it up, “It’s for
fun! Nobody’s mad. It’s an easy time.
one of the factors. Some people have tried to complicate it,
mostly about rule bending and money. The guys hold
But it’s really great for kids and for everyone else, tourists too.”
Kelsy Aiken and Greg Nachman agreed. “It’s been fun,” they said.
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