Lots of fish flingers competed in Saturday’s 26th annual mullet toss on St. George Island, but not the big names of the past.
None of the past top finishers, including Chip Sanders, Brett Johnson, Dillon Grant and multiyear victor Hunter Bartley, took part in the competition, which meant that for the first time in recent memory, the four men who entered the toss-off finals were all visitors from elsewhere.
Earning a berth was Louisville, Kentucky’s Perry Finley, with a 136-foot hurl to lead the first round. Finley had earned third place last year, with a 165-foot throw.
Another achievement he did last year, right around the time of the mullet toss’ silver anniversary competition, was to propose to a classy brunette on the beach. He and fiancée Tamara tied the knot earlier last week in the Plantation, and danced their first dance at sunset on the very beach where Finley’s mom had carried him during pregnancy 26 years earlier.
Jake Motto, from Columbia, South Carolina, was a guest at the Finleys’ wedding, and because he threw it nearly 129 feet he too qualified for the toss-off.
The second best in the first round had been Blake Mears, from Tallahassee, who threw it three feet short of Finley’s mark, with Brandon Prudhomme, from Tifton, Georgia, throwing it four feet behind.
Motto sanded up the fish and let loose with a 126-foot throw to open the toss-off, and then Prudhomme balled his fish up and threw it 114 foot.
The matter was settled, when Mears let loose with a pitch into the teeth of the wind that flew more than 144 feet, making Finley’s last throw of just over 104 feet a moot point.
Mears, an insurance adjuster in Tallahassee, a single dad of a 7-year-old daughter, overcome a couple of past runner-up finishes to win his first victory in his four years of trying.
“The guy (Finley) he just picked a bad fish. Balled up on him,” said Mears, who last year took second, and like Finley, was edged out in three overtimes by Grant.
Mears took home $200, as did the top woman, Shannon Burt, of Coolidge, Georgia, who threw 89 feet.
“They weren’t firm like they usually were,” said Burt, whose best finish in 15 years of trying had been runner-up.
“She’s a nurse, she works out all the time,” said her friend Sherri Warrington, who was there with Vicki Kipper for a girls weekend on the island.
Jordan Gilkerson, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, threw five feet behind Burt for second place, while Joiner Ivey, from St. George Island, tossed the fish 81 feet and Amber Nabors, of Tallahassee, 80 feet. They, like the top male finishers, all took prizes.
The loss was particularly painful for Nabors, who knows fish from her work for FWC. She had studied the art form last year, and came down with her fellow “Tipsy Tossers,” who all sported t-shirts boasting of their crew.
Teammates Ryan Aamodt and Catherine Lockhart, from Amelia Island, Andy Digby, from Tallahassee, and Jessie Kanes, from Tallahassee, all watched breathlessly as Nabors tossed her fish.
“I got a really chunky mullet the second time,” she said, and settled for a consolation prize of a beach recliner.
Emcee Brian Bowen and Blue Parrot owner George Joanos got the ball rolling with the kids competition, which opened with the youngest competitors christening the throwing of fish.
Kai Chapin, son of Lee and Kit Chapin, of St George Island; Ella Donahoe, daughter of Nathan Donahoe and Lauren Luberto, of Eastpoint; and Charlotte Sparks, daughter of Pat and Jessica Sparks, of St. George Island, all took part in the pre-toss ceremonies.
Kayden Gunn, son of Shaun and Jill Gunn, of Hartsfield, Georgia, had come down with a trio of families from Georgia, all connected with the South Georgia Legends youth baseball team in Mitchell County.
“You didn’t get a running start,” Shawn Gunn said to his son when he returned after competing.
“I coach him in baseball,” dad explained.
One of the ballplayers, Banks Johnson, threw 96 feet for the win in the 10-and-under bracket, and took home a purple-and-pink tackle box. His older sister, Reid, a softball player, posted a decent throw as well. Also throwing from the Georgia crew was Logan Magelund and younger brother, Noah.
“The four boys are all good friends,” said the Johnsons’ mom, Heather Nobles. “They love hanging out together. They were supposed to at a tournament this weekend but we chose to be here.”
In the 11 to 13 year old bracket, Bennett Rash, son of Blue Parrot owner Steve Rash, upheld the reputation of the local boys by throwing 112 feet for the win. In the 14 to 16 year old bracket, Kolton Looper, of Lebanon, Tennessee won the top prize, a bicycle.
Among those locals who did throw in the mullet toss as Sheriff A.J. Smith and former sheriff’s deputy Kit Mashburn. A portion of the proceeds this year will go to the Franklin’s Promise Coalition.