6 months ago

Andrews’ AJ breaks 38-year-old Alabama record

The 127-pound, 12-ounce amberjack that reigned atop the Alabama state records for 38 years was landed before Brian Andrews was born.

Marcus Kennedy of Mobile, who caught the big amberjack on June 19, 1981, saw the last of his state records fall on Friday, August 23, when Andrews’ 132-pound, 12.8-ounce fish takes its place after the record certification process is complete.

Andrews was aboard Capt. Bobby Walker’s Summer Breeze II soon after the amberjack season in the Gulf of Mexico kicked back in on August 1 a few weeks ago.

Walker, who has been fishing the Gulf as a captain or deckhand for 50 years, went to a special amberjack (AJ) spot and his anglers started to hook nice fish.

“I couldn’t have had a better angler,” Walker said of Andrews, who hails from Citronelle. “I couldn’t have drawn it up any better. He was a big, strong, strapping guy. You talk about a guy working on a fish, he could do it.”

The 37-year-old Andrews is no neophyte angler. He has previously owned his own private Gulf boat and had some experience fishing offshore. He said the trip on Summer Breeze II started out in rough seas but turned into a nice day for fishing. After catching a few beeliners on two-hook rigs, the anglers got down to serious business at the amberjack holes.

When Andrews hooked up, he wasn’t sure what was on the other end of the line. He had caught a 70-pound amberjack earlier in his fishing career, but this one was different.

“I was trying to be positive, but several people were telling me it was a shark,” Andrews said. “He was pulling like a shark, but you never know. He made at least three big runs. It took at least 30 minutes to get him in. When he makes a run, all you can do is hold the rod and watch him go. When he starts peeling drag, you just hold on. When he stops peeling drag, you have to start taking some of the line back.”

The main thing the boat captain was worried about was the number of sharks that were hanging out in the same vicinity as the AJs.

“We had caught so many big bull sharks,” Walker said “I was hoping to goodness it wasn’t a shark. We had already caught two or three good jacks off that hole and broke off a couple. I was just hoping we weren’t wasting time reeling up a big shark. I hollered down to Paul (Resmondo), my deckhand, to let me know when he could see the fish and tell what it was. He said, ‘Bobby, he looks like he’s 40 feet down, but I can tell you it’s an AJ, and he looks huge.’”

When Andrews finally reeled the big fish to the surface, the deckhands gaffed the fish and struggled to get it into the boat.

“When that fish hit the deck, his mouth flopped open, and I said he looked like he could swallow a basketball,” Walker said. “His head was huge. I told them I’d lay money that the fish was at least 100. I didn’t think any more about it.”

Andrews said it was time for a break after the fish was finally on the deck and the deckhands were in charge.

“We admired him for a few minutes,” Andrews said. “We took a few pictures and got him on ice. I went inside for some AC (air conditioning) after that. After about 45 minutes, I was ready to catch another one. It took me a little while to recoup.”

The boat came back in and docked at Zeke’s Marina. Walker was busy squaring away the boat for the next trip when he heard something that got his attention.

“Then I heard people hollering and raising Cain and wondered what was going on,” he said. “They had hauled the fish up on the scales. When I saw it, I said, ‘Whoa.’ Tom Ard looked at me and said, Bobby, you’ve got a state record.”

The big fish measured 65 inches from the tip of its snout to the fork of its tail and sported a 40-inch girth.

Obviously, when you spend as much time as Walker on the Gulf, plenty of big fish are going to hit the marina dock.

“I’ve caught plenty of big amberjacks during my day,” he said. “I think that was the third one over 100 pounds. Believe it or not, we caught a 109 and a 111 on the same day about 10 years ago.”

When Kennedy, 17 at the time, caught the long-standing AJ record, he said big amberjack were more common during the late ’70s and early ’80s, and he was definitely gung-ho when it came to targeting big fish.

“We had caught several fish over 100 pounds back then,” said Kennedy, who held the Alabama blue marlin record for 26 years before it was broken in 2013. “I had previously held the record at 102 pounds. Some of my high school friends and my dad (the late Rod Kennedy) were out fishing. We actually caught that big fish (the record) on the Edwards Liberty Ship. I think I caught it on a small, live king mackerel, but I can’t remember 100%. I definitely was using a 6/0 reel with 100-pound test line and a Ross Hutchisson custom rod. That was my big amberjack rig. Back then, that’s what we fished for. We won the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo on a regular basis with big amberjack. When we got that fish in the boat, I knew it was significantly bigger that the 102-pounder that I’d caught before. We got him to the boat in 15 to 20 minutes. We fought them hard, and I had a good, strong back back then.”

Now that his last record is off the Alabama record books, he’s not worried about getting back on the list. He’s going to leave that up to his 28-year-old son, Tyler, who already owns three state records for other saltwater species.

“If I catch a record fish, it’s going to be something smaller,” Kennedy said. “It’s not going to be an amberjack or blue marlin. I’ll leave that up to Tyler and Ryan (Kennedy, his 20-year-old nephew).”

Walker said amberjack are usually around some kind of structure – wrecks, petroleum rigs or big rocks on natural bottom – and can be anywhere from 50 feet to 300 feet down. He said it’s easy to distinguish between the different snappers and the amberjack. He marks AJs on his bottom machine and tells his anglers how far to drop.

Although a lot of anglers will use big jigs for amberjack, Capt. Walker likes to use live bait for the big fish.

“Hardtails (blue runners) are probably the best bait,” he said. “Jigs used to work great, but AJs are just not as plentiful and are harder to catch. We just like to drop a big, live bait down and see what’s down there. The secret to catching a big AJ is having the right tackle. You’ve got to go pretty heavy. You can’t catch one like that on light tackle. First, you’ve got to get him away from the wreck or the rocks. You’ve got to have some pretty strong tackle to do that. If you can get him away from the structure, you’ve got a good chance of catching him.”

Walker said amberjack fishing has been a little slow so far, but he knows fishing success is cyclical.

“One year it’s great, and the next year you’re wondering where the AJs went,” he said. “This has started out like one of those years that’s down a little.”

Walker said the demand to catch amberjack doesn’t compare with red snapper. He fished 55 of the 62-day snapper season for charter boats.

“People like to catch amberjacks, but it’s nothing like the bookings we get for snapper,” he said. “We tell them we can also catch beeliners (vermilion snapper) and maybe a scamp or a grouper. I’ve got some more 12-hour trips coming up. I’m probably going to the amberjack hole. I want to see if lightning strikes twice in the same spot.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

18 mins ago

Amendment One puts kids first, politicians last

When Alabamians take the to the polls on Super Tuesday, they will either be concerned with the Democratic nominee for President of the United States or the Republican nominee for the United States Senate. More important to the future of Alabama is a constitutional amendment that would end our current model of a popularly elected state school board in favor of one appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate.

Supporters of Amendment 1 argue that this would be a major step in improving Alabama’s permanent residence at the bottom of the education barrel. As it is currently designed and managed, the state board of education is doing very little to improve the quality of education in the state. Board members are trying, but clearly nothing is working very well. Supporters of the amendment argue a shake up is the best hope for improving education in Alabama. In some respects the argument does not go far enough. That is because the current process creates negative incentives for board members; because they hold their office at the behest of voters, there is every incentive for them to avoid upsetting their constituents.

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That is the chief problem with the board as it is currently construed. Board members are not uncaring or ignorant or irresponsible. Instead, they respond to the whims and wishes of voters or other powerful political interests. No matter what politicians say, they are inevitably swayed by the whispers of voters and donors. Not because they are corrupt, but because they are human. All people are prone to this, which is why the framers of the Constitution created a system that checked and balanced one human tendency against another. It’s true that voters can provide a check on board members, but that argument does not account for an additional problem.

The second problem with the current system is that voters have limits to their knowledge about education in our state. Committed parents and citizens can often learn a lot about their own schools and school districts, but rarely does even the most passionate citizen have the time and mental energy to devote beyond that. Should Amendment 1 pass, the state Senate would have a direct responsibility to ensure that the governor appoints quality people to the board, but also to make certain that the Board is making progress in evaluating and improving the quality of education in our state.

Critics argue that an appointed board would lend itself to cronyism. That’s possible, but the executive and legislative branch often have competing interests, even when they share the same partisan and ideological commitments. Those competing concerns would help smooth over concerns about patronage and cronyism. Still, the amendment will not be an easy transition given the natural tendency of politicians towards vanity and self-promotion. The current system is of a worse nature, however, as it leaves the governor and senate almost powerless to impact education policy, which is instead run by another group of politicians with little incentive to do anything that might upset the voters who put them there.

But shouldn’t voters have a say in these matters? No, at least not directly. This is because education policy is a difficult matter, and it is hard for voters to adjudicate the success or failures of these policies beyond the very narrow window of their own experience. It’s fine that we elect local school boards; they are indeed local, and voters often see those board members at church or line at Piggly Wiggly. Only the most politically involved voters are likely to have any encounter with their board members, who are busy juggling very difficult conflicts within their own districts. Each district contains such a variety of constituents that it is almost impossible for board members to adequately address those concerns, instead pandering to the one or two constituencies most likely to keep the member in office.

There is a final reason to support Amendment 1. A central feature of modern politics is the tendency of politicians to see themselves as mouthpieces instead of statesmen. Some of that is natural but other parts of it are due to the incentive structure within our own government. This is as true in Montgomery as it is in Washington D.C., and Alabamians should care far more about the goings-on in our state capital than in our nation’s capital. Since our legislature is stripped of any real influence in state education policy and therefore little accountability to voters, it leaves them free to demagogue and pander on the issue without really having to stand before the voters and take account for their time in office. The same is true for the governor. By making the governor and the state senate responsible for staffing the state school board as part of an ongoing process of appointment and confirmation, these branches of our government would finally have real skin in the game. The success of our schools would be their success, and the failure of our schools would be theirs, also.

Matthew Stokes, a widely published opinion writer and instructor in the core texts program at Samford University, is a Resident Fellow of the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit educational organization based in Birmingham; learn more at alabamapolicy.org.

47 mins ago

Gary Palmer honors the late NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson on House floor

U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) honored Katherine Johnson with a speech in the House chamber on Thursday.

Johnson, who passed away recently at the age of 101, was one of America’s most important mathematicians in the space race. She pioneered a place for African-American women at NASA and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

“Despite intense discrimination throughout her years at NASA she remained committed to advancing America’s space program,” said Palmer during his speech in her honor.

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“She hand-calculated the flight path for America’s first crewed space mission in 1961, and also helped calculate the trajectory for the famed 1969 moon landing,” continued Palmer.

Palmer also recounted the famous anecdote when astronaut John Glenn was about to become the first American to orbit Earth and he demanded that Johnson do the calculations for his mission. Glenn trusted Johnson more than he trusted NASA’s new computer system.

Watch:

“I stand with my colleagues in the House and with countless other Americans in gratitude for Mrs. Johnson’s hard work and pioneering spirit that have undoubtedly made our country a better place,” Palmer concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Shelby, Jones introduce legislation to make Alabama’s Black Belt a National Heritage Area

U.S. Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Doug Jones (D-AL) have introduced legislation to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, authorizing 19 counties in the Yellowhammer State’s Black Belt Region as an official National Heritage Area (NHA).

The bill – entitled the “Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act” and designated S.3363 – would allow for federal funding to be directed to the region over the span of 15 years. U.S. Reps. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Mike Rogers (AL-03), Terri Sewell (AL-07) and Martha Roby (AL-02) have introduced a companion bill in the lower chamber, underscoring the bipartisan and bicameral nature of the effort.

“Designating Alabama’s Black Belt region as a National Heritage Area will not only promote tourism, but it will also increase public awareness of the natural, historical, and cultural assets our state has to offer,” Shelby said in a statement on Friday.

“Investing in this region to preserve these unique and diverse resources is important for future generations. If passed, this legislation could have significant impact for years to come,” he added.

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NHAs are partnerships between the National Park Service (NPS), states and local entities to protect and support conservation and public access. Through public-private partnerships, NHAs create a diverse, community-driven approach to increase heritage conservation, economic development, recreation and tourism. Currently, the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area is the only NHA in the state.

“Alabama’s Black Belt counties were originally named due to the area’s rich, black topsoil,” Jones stated. “While that is still an accurate depiction of the area, another is of the Black Belt’s rich history and culture. The 19 counties that make up Alabama’s Black Belt has been home to some of our greatest artists, writers, and leaders. This legislation will help preserve and celebrate this historic region through much needed investment.”

The established area would include Bibb, Bullock, Butler, Choctaw, Clarke, Conecuh, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Washington and Wilcox Counties.

The legislation names the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the University of West Alabama (UWA) as the local management entity. The designation of a local entity, like UWA, ensures its ability to address the interests and needs of those in the surrounding communities, according to Shelby’s office.

Shelby introduced similar legislation during the 111th Congress and the 113th Congress.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council endorses Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race

Friday, the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Council announced its endorsement of former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race.

The National ICE Council represents approximately 7,600 officers, agents and employees who work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) throughout the United States and its territories and possessions.

The National ICE Council endorsement comes just days before Alabama Republicans are set to vote in the party’s primary on Tuesday.

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“On behalf of the men and women of the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement Council, we’re proud to endorse Jeff Sessions for Senate in the State of Alabama,” Chris Crane, president of the ICE Council, said in a statement. “We know Jeff Sessions and we know what he stands for. As the United States Attorney General, Jeff Sessions led the fight against sanctuary cities and illegal immigration, and was an unwavering champion of law enforcement officers across the nation. As a U.S. Senator, Jeff Sessions was the strongest supporter in the U.S. Congress of ICE, its mission, and its employees. We have no doubt that Senator Sessions will pick up right where he left off – standing up for law enforcement and the enforcement of our laws. We know he will continue to lead the fight against sanctuary cities that threaten our communities and endanger our law enforcement personnel across the country. And we know that he will keep fighting against radical open border policies that threaten our national security.”

“Jeff Sessions has always stood up to The Swamp and always worked to hold Washington accountable,” he added. “We need him now more than ever to stand up for what’s right and stand with President Trump to keep America safe.”

Sessions applauded the endorsement in a statement of his own, and warned of the threat sanctuary cities, open borders and illegal immigration pose to the nation.

“The men and women who serve with the National Immigration and Customs Enforcement are honorable law enforcement officers who serve at the center of this nation’s effort to end illegal immigration,” Sessions said. ‘I am honored beyond words to have the ICE Council’s strong endorsement. We have fought side by side against the powerful, special interest forces that constantly work to further the lawlessness that is occurring at the border. We stood side by side in the effort to elect President Trump. Sanctuary cities and open borders are a threat to our nation. They encourage illegal immigration, protect dangerous criminal gangs, and undermine the rule of law.”

“I am extremely proud of this endorsement,” he added. “No organization has been more committed to law and our national sovereignty than the ICE officers. Their endorsement is therefore extremely valuable. I believe the people of Alabama should recognize how important this endorsement is in understanding who can be most effective in the Senate. I have fought to stop sanctuary cities and I will not rest until our immigration laws are enforced and dangerous aliens are taken off the streets.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.

4 hours ago

McCutcheon endorses Chris Lewis in AL-05 GOP primary — ‘Time to make a change’

Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on Thursday announced his endorsement of Congressman Mo Brooks’ (AL-05) Republican primary challenger, Chris Lewis.

In a brief video filmed outside the State Capitol and released by Lewis’ campaign, McCutcheon explained his support.

“Many people and organizations across North Alabama have discussed with me that it is time to make a change in our congressional seat,” the speaker said. McCutcheon represents parts of Madison County and Limestone County.

He further spoke to Lewis’ service in the United States military.

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Lewis is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval War College. He retired as a commander from the Navy after 23 years of service. His extensive experience reportedly includes multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, service as a strategic analyst for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a decade of defense acquisition experience and Contract Transition Team Lead for Arnold Engineering Development Complex at Arnold Air Force Base.

“Chris has proven his commitment to our nation through his military service,” McCutcheon remarked.

The speaker also highlighted some of the groups who have endorsed Lewis’ bid, including the Alabama Farmers Federation’s political arm.

“I believe Chris has the heart of a servant leader and would be a fine congressman for North Alabama,” he concluded.

Brooks has been endorsed for reelection by President Donald Trump.

The primary will be held on Tuesday, March 3.

UPDATE 12:15 p.m.

Responding to the McCutcheon endorsement, Brooks told Yellowhammer News in a statement, “I love the endorsement contrast!”

He continued, “I have the strong endorsement of President Trump, a man I worked hard with to CUT TAXES on American families and secure America’s borders! In contrast, Chris Lewis has the endorsement of legislator Mac McCutcheon, whose greatest expertise has been RAISING TAXES on struggling Alabama families!”

“Personally, I wouldn’t want the endorsement of a tax hiker! But, hey, if Chris Lewis wants to go to Washington to raise taxes, he picked the right endorsement to get! Similarly, Chris Lewis has ALFA’s backing,” Brooks added. “No surprise there. ALFA is a special interest group that intensely lobbies me for open borders, more welfare, and taxpayer payments for capital improvements on ALFA members’ land, greatly enriching ALFA members at taxpayer expense. Again, I stand with President Trump and border security. Chris Lewis stands with special interest groups that support open borders and prefer to hire cheap foreign labor rather than pay American workers a living wage. I will take that border security contrast any day of the week!”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn