The PBR Classic Fishing Tournament was held at the Avon Fishing Pier over Veterans Day Weekend, and the event, which raises funds for The Sons of the American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors, made a big impression in more ways than one.
The November tournament targets two types of popular fall fish – bluefish and red drum – and the 71 participating anglers were treated to a barrage of big drum catches that began on Friday and lasted all weekend long.
67 red drum that measured more than 40 inches were caught during the tournament, which included 51 that were caught in a 24-hour period alone.
Tournament organizer and Avon Pier owner Joe Thompson says that in addition to the record number of huge drum catches, the tournament also surpassed milestones when it came to fundraising, with roughly $10,000 raised for Operation Comfort Warriors – a hefty increase from 2017’s total of $6,700.
The annual tournament, which celebrated its fifth year in 2018, partnered with The Sons of the American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors three years ago after a conversation with Detachment Judge Advocate for the organization, Steve Gower, who is also an Avon homeowner.
“In order to grow the tournament, we needed to find a cause,” said Thompson. “After talking with Steve, we shifted the tournament to Veterans Day Weekend and brought Sons of the American Legion [on board], and it has been growing every year since.”
“The nice thing about Operation Comfort Warriors is that every dollar passes straight through to the veterans,” he added, “and they assist in areas that aren’t being met by traditional support – such as transportation costs to VA hospitals, or medicine costs.”
And over the past five years, the tournament has hosted a return group of dedicated anglers who make attend the weekend-long event every year.
“It’s one of the smallest fishing tournaments on the Outer Banks, but it’s amazing how many of these people have been fishing every year at the tournament,” said Thompson. “[Many of] these individuals did not know each other the first year, and have become really good friends over the years, so it’s become quite a brotherhood / sisterhood, which is a great thing for this island.”
And this year, the loyal anglers were certainly rewarded for their participation.
Social media was swarming with pictures of huge drum being reeled in off the pier on the first day of the tournament, with the winner alone catching more than 320” of red drum.
In fact, Thompson reports that during the tournament, a pier regular, Jimmy Mason, caught a 46” drum during the tournament, while his son Danny Mason caught a 47.5” drum, and his grandson Justin Mason caught a 48.5” on his 16th birthday.
“We ended up giving out additional prize categories because there were so many drum caught,” said Thompson. “It was very, very impressive.”
Of course, it takes a village to make any fishing tournament a success, and the PBR Tournament was boosted by prize donations from primary sponsor PBR, as well as Kellogg Supply Company, Frisco Rod and Gun, Tidewater Coffee, Tower Circle Motel, Sonny’s Restaurant, Food Lion, Frito Lay, Anglers Choice, and Calcutta. Crazy Johnny’s Bar-B-Que also pitched in with the event by providing the catering.
And though the tournament officially wrapped up over the weekend, plans are already in the works to expand it for 2019.
Space at the end of the Avon Pier is inherently limited, which means that it can only comfortably handle a set amount of anglers who are targeting red drum. “We can’t grow the number [of drum fishermen] without diminishing the experience for those guys, but we can grow the number of recreational anglers fishing off the sides of the pier,” said Thompson.
As such, next year’s tournament will have an elite red drum category, a category for bluefish, as well as a new category for sea mullet – also known as whiting. “They’ve been catching sea mullet in big numbers all week long, so adding sea mullet will open it up more to even more recreational anglers, [including] children,” said Thompson.
And the name of the proposed “new” tournament for Veterans Day Weekend 2019? The very appropriate “Red, Whiting and Blues” tournament.
“Friday was literally a National Geographic Moment for [drum fishing],” said Thompson. “It was really impressive the number of fish caught over the course of 2.5 days.”
“We’re going to expand the footprint of the tournament next year,” he added, “and in turn, that will allow us to expand the number of contestants, and the [amount] of fundraising for a very worthy cause.”