Nobody trolls for kingfish at 70 mph but running Wide Open to get to the fish first is part of the challenge of competing in professional kingfish tournaments. The Mercury Racing/Pro Marine USA fishing team, led by Capt. Jim Naset of Redington Shores, Fla., and one of the top teams at the pro level, relies on Mercury Racing power for the speed, economy and reliability it takes to bring home the big fish and win a championship. Last year the team re-powered its 11,800-pound Yellowfin 36, replacing triple Mercury Racing 400R engines with Mercury Racing 450R V8 outboards. Mercury Racing/Pro Marine USA now runs the fastest triple-engine boat on the kingfish circuit, able to bump 85 mph on smooth water with a light load. Add 5,000 pounds of fuel, ice, crew and gear for the start of a tournament day, and the Yellowfin can still top 70 mph, speed that can put the Mercury Racing/Pro Marine USA on the fish first, and back to check-in with time to spare.
Raised in Chicago, Jim Naset moved to Florida in 1979 when his employer relocated. Naset soon embraced the beach, and offshore fishing. He’s been fishing kingfish tournaments for 18 years and established his team 16 years ago. The current line-up includes co-captain Kevin Hannon and crew Brian Brandano and Rick Cook, and occasionally Naset's son, Austin, when he’s home from college. Each team member has a role. Hannon is the high-speed boat driver, who pilots the team to the fishing grounds, which may be 20 to 150 miles away. He then hands over the wheel to Cook and manages the cockpit with Brandano, baiting hooks and setting out lines and outriggers. Naset usually moves the bow and launches the team’s fishing kites, setting out two or more lines. The team usually trolls at 1 mph, often on just one outboard and using Mercury Troll Control and the precise fuel injection of the four-stroke Mercury Racing 450R to hold a steady rpm when conditions are flat. The endeavor becomes much more challenging when seas are rough, and it’s not unusual for the team to be trolling in six-foot breaking swells and high winds. With a big fish in the box, the team stows gear and drops the throttles for home, often with a check-in deadline looming.
Tournament kingfishing is addictive. Naset and the Mercury Racing/Pro Marine USA average 22 tournaments a season, traveling as far as the Carolinas to fish. The team puts 1,000 hours on its motors a year. Naset says his boat has been re-powered 18 times. There are 50 to 75 teams competing at the top pro level, but some open tournaments can draw almost 500 entries.
Competing teams running a bigger boat can be faster than Mercury Racing/Pro Marine USA in rough water, but they are running quads and use a lot more fuel, sometimes requiring fuel bladders on deck to have enough range. Naset and crew average about 0.9 mpg in a tournament, compared to 0.6 mpg for the quad boats. The Yellowfin 36 with the Mercury Racing 450R power and 25-pitch Mercury Racing Revolution 4 XP props, gets its best fuel economy at around 4500 rpm and 60 mph.