CEDAR ISLAND — It seems fitting that a girl won the Sarah James Fulcher Redfish Tournament.
The Cedar Island event, delayed until August because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, was held for the third straight year to honor the memory of Fulcher who died in 2017 at age 9.
It was 11-year old Corbyn Baker who showed skills beyond her years at the third annual by out-fishing 390 other anglers to take home a whopping $30,000 purse.
“It was crazy,” said tournament organizer Hunter Parks. “Her dad didn’t originally sign up for the Calcutta, and she begged and begged and begged him to sign up. We had these massive lines lined up around the tent, and so he had to wait in line again to sign up for the Calcutta. I guess that was the best $100 he ever spent.”
Kimberly Fitzgerald held the lead with a 51.375-inch red drum until Baker hauled in a 51.75-inch monster with about an hour and half left in the tournament to take the win by just half an inch. Baker swept the leaderboard, winning the $26,300 Ramsey Family Calcutta, as well as the first-place prize, lady angler and kid’s prizes.
Baker and her father, Garrett, registered the day of the tournament. They headed out on their 1977 20-foot Pro-Line Rogue Mullet, with Baker pushing the tiller motor to the limit heading west. She started by catching a finger mullet, worked her way up to a bluefish and used that bait to catch the prize-winning drum.
“They didn’t even start fishing for red drum until 8 p.m., which is halfway through the tournament,” Parks said. “The tournament is 4 hours, and they spent the first 2 hours catching other stuff. She was the story of the tournament.”
Baker's win was even more impressive considering the 391-angler field and $31,000 available in prize money.
“Everyone knew the purse was going to be big, so competition was fierce,” Parks said. “There was a lot of money on the line, so people were serious.”
There were also tough conditions to deal with in the form of torrential rain, lightning, water spouts and unexpected winds that pushed anglers to the far east and west portions of Cedar Island, given the heart of the weather system was over the land mass. This allowed anglers to get into different territory and pull in an estimated 400 fish over 40 inches.
Despite a forecast calling for rain a week leading up to the family-friendly, philanthropic catch-and-release contest, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the third Sarah James Fulcher Redfish Tournament somehow was bigger than the first two.
The purse went up $13,000, there were 50 more anglers and 47 more boats.
“We went into it not knowing what it was going to look like,” said tournament organizer Bailey Evans. “It was pretty slow six to eight weeks out, but when we were about a month out, the registrations starting popping up, and we had record online registration. We closed it a week before we did the previous year and still exceeded it by 10-20 percent.”
The tournament installed coronavirus protocols, including social distancing, masks and hand sanitizer stations.
It seemed nothing would thwart the turnout for a tournament that has quickly become one of the biggest of its kind.
“A typical pro redfish tournament pays out $20,000 to the winner, and those are sponsored by General Motors and Bass Pro Shop,” Parks said. “The biggest winnings I’ve ever seen for a pro redfish tournament is $45,000. It’s just cool to see the community get behind us. It never ceases to amaze me what this community can do.”
The event acts as the flagship fundraiser for Another Perspective, a non-profit organization used to raise funds for community-level projects that are inclusive, needed and promote recreation in the outdoors.
Another Perspective was launched in 2017 to honor the memory of Sara James Fulcher, the daughter of James and Brooke Fulcher. Sarah James died in 2017 at the age of 9 from semilobar holoprosencephaly, an abnormality of brain development in which the frontal lobes don't properly divide into right and left hemispheres.
Monies raised by the tournament have helped build handicap-accessible, inclusive playsets at Eastern Park in Smyrna and at the Cedar Island Volunteer Fire Department. The playsets, named in Sarah James’ honor, allow handicapped children to play alongside other children.