Kennedy has been fishing since he was a young tyke, though he didn’t begin participating in the bigger tournaments — which sometimes involve consecutive days of heavy-duty fishing — until he was 14 or 15. When his father, Marcus, weighed in at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo at Dauphin Island in 1996, 5-year-old Tyler was on hand to help hoist a 53-pound king mackerel. Also on the dock are an 85-pound warsaw grouper and a 49-pound jack crevalle. “The jack crevalle was the rodeo record for the longest time, and might still be,” Tyler says.
The Kennedys are well known on the Southern Kingfish Association tournament circuit. In 2001 Marcus, Tyler’s father (right, with crew), won $100,000 with this 46-pound fish at the Grand Ole Opry tournament in Clearwater, Fla. “We’ve been fishing the king mackerel tournaments since the early ’90s and have won a ton of them,” Tyler says, “but that was easily the biggest prize.” First place payouts in most king mackerel tournaments range from $10,000 to $30,000.
Fewer king mackerel tournaments than usual on the family’s schedule this year gave Tyler time to target other species. In early July, on a deep-water trip for yellowedge and snowy grouper, Tyler hooked a 48.56-pound yellowedge. “We weren’t fishing to try and break records,” Tyler says. “We were just out for the weekend. But every time we go out we know there’s a shot at catching a really big one.”
“When the fish came up, I had kind of forgotten who had the record,” Tyler says, referring to his uncle, state record-holder Jonathan Graham, who was also on the boat. “My dad was the first to bring it up. He was kind of poking at Jonathan, saying [Tyler’s fish] was bigger.” A trip to the scales confirmed it: Tyler had topped Graham’s Alabama state record yellowedge by almost exactly 2 pounds. Tyler says his uncle took the loss of his record in stride. “He wasn’t mad or anything, but on the way in you could tell he was a little down. But he was glad at least someone in the family had broken it.” The fish also outweighs the IGFA all-tackle record, a 46-pound, 2-ounce yellowedge caught in Virginia Beach in 2008, making it the pending IGFA world-record.
Believe it or not, it’s not the first time one member of the family has knocked another from the top of the record books. In 1989, Marcus Kennedy was fishing with his brother Michael in the Mobile Big Game Fishing Club Memorial Day tournament when he hooked this 779-pound blue marlin. Michael then held the Alabama blue marlin record with a fish that had tipped the scale at around 650 pounds. “My dad always talks about him and uncle Mike arguing all the way in about whether his fish was bigger or not,” Tyler says. Marcus Kennedy won the argument, the state record and the tournament. His marlin still stands atop the Alabama record book.
Marcus also set another Alabama record in 1981 that still stands today with this 127-pound amberjack. “I think he may be more proud of the amberjack than the marlin, because pound for pound, amberjack might be the hardest-fighting fish down here in the gulf,” Tyler says. “Every year that we fish the deep sea rodeo one of his favorite things to do is try to catch a big amberjack and try to win that category. They’ve got a reputation for being so hard-fighting.”
Kennedy says he’s learned a lot from his father, not the least of which is the importance of sharing what you love with family. “When one of us is out fishing the other one is usually out there, too,” he says. Marcus was there to watch Tyler catch this 100-pound wahoo, which Tyler describes as one of his two favorite catches. “They’re tricky to target because they are scattered all over the place,” he says, “but I really like catching them.”
A second “most favorite” is the tiger shark Kennedy caught on Aug. 4 this year. He hooked the 14-footer early while competing in the Outcast Mega Shark Tournament. Fishing with his uncle Michael Kennedy and Brett Rutledge (pictured) over natural bottom 20 miles south of Orange Beach, Tyler was unsure at first what he had. “With those big sharks, it’s hard to tell how big they are until you see them,” Tyler says. He got his first look about 30 minutes into the fight, when the big tiger surfaced near the boat. “Uncle Mike and Brett have been sharkfishing a long time and have caught numerous sharks over 500 pounds, and they both said it was the biggest shark they’d ever seen. That’s when I knew I had something decent.”
After that fleeting glimpse, the shark disappeared and it took Tyler another two and a half hours to bring it close to the boat. After gaffing and tail-roping the tiger, the crew faced its next challenge: how to get the shark in the boat. An attempt to winch it in failed, and they lashed it to the side. “It took us five hours to make the 20 mile run to Orange Beach, because we could only go 5 mph with the shark tied to the boat. My uncle has a 36-ft. Contender with three 250 Yamahas. It’s kind of demoralizing to have to go 5 mph in a triple-engine boat.”
Several hours later, having used a friend’s boatlift to get the shark in the boat and after making the run to the tournament weigh-in in Pensacola, Tyler learned that his tiger was big enough for first place in the tournament. It shattered the tournament record by 70-some pounds and nearly eclipsed the Alabama shark record, held by a 988-pound tiger. “From the time we got the shark hooked into the boat to the weigh-in several hours later, this shark easily lost 40 pounds of fluid,” Tyler says. “But weight loss from the boat to the dock is something every angler has to deal with.” Another intriguing twist was revealed the next day, after biologists dissected Tyler’s tiger shark. They reported that the big female was not pregnant, and they found in the shark’s belly the entire skeleton of a 7-foot long porpoise. “If somebody had caught that shark a few days earlier, when that porpoise was fresh in there, it would have weighed 1,200 pounds at least.”
When he hooked the tiger shark, Tyler had already weighed in a big bull shark weighing 336 pounds. That shark ended up taking second place in the tourney’s bull shark division — and it set a new Alabama state record for the species. “Because the boat that caught the first-place bull shark was from Florida, it didn’t qualify for the Alabama record,” Tyler explains. “You have to leave and return to port in a state to qualify for a state record.”
At 21, Tyler is already a veteran of the tournament circuit. He caught this 55-pound king mackerel in 2005, when he was 15, in the Southern Kingfish Association National Championship in Biloxi, Miss. Matched against the best anglers from the entire SKA national circuit, Tyler boated the second-biggest fish of the tournament and earned a paycheck.
Kennedy won multiple junior titles on the SKA circuit, but he still has a ways to go to top his dad’s biggest king, this 64-pound fish caught in the mid-1980s.
Tyler was on the boat when his father (with friend Pete Shores, right) won the Orange Beach Red Snapper World Championship in 2008 with this 34-pound red snapper. The win came with a $72,000 paycheck.
Tyler has learned well from his elders, which in addition to his father and his uncles also includes his aunt, Wendy Kennedy, who holds the women’s IGFA 80-lb.-line class world record for cobia with this 105-pound fish caught in the late ’80s or early ’90s. “It’s good to have something like that you can go out and do with your family and kind of keep people together and close and spend time with each other,” Tyler says. “A lot of families don’t have an opportunity to do that.”
He’s returning the favor for his younger cousins, like Ryan Kennedy, who in 2009 caught this 28-pound red snapper during the Roy Martin Young Angler’s Tournament that precedes the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo each year. In July, Tyler was on the boat when another of his cousins, 15-year-old Taylor Graham, finished first in five categories and second and third in two others to win the 2012 Martin tournament.
As a kid, Tyler remembers seeing his father and uncles’ world- and state-record certificates on the wall of the family’s Dauphin Island house. He dreamed of someday having his own record. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about the last few years when we go fishing. I’d thumb through the IGFA book looking for some of the species we were going for that weekend, seeing if there’s something I might have a shot at. I always thought it would be cool to have something like that.” Now, thanks to what he calls “probably my best summer of fishing ever,” Tyler has a few records to add to the family roster. “I’m eagerly awaiting my IGFA certificate to show up pretty soon so I can get it framed and put it up on wall,” he says. “I’ll be pretty happy.”
When 21-year-old Tyler Kennedy returns to Auburn University this week to start his senior year, he’ll have plenty to talk about if someone asks what he did on his summer vacation.
Kennedy hails from a Mobile, Alabama family that has seen four different members set world and state fishing records; he became the fifth record-holder in the clan after turning in a phenomenal few months of fishing. He set an all-tackle world record and booked two state-record fish while narrowly missing out on a third with this 948-lb. tiger shark. To claim one of his state records, Kennedy beat out his own uncle’s top mark — while his uncle watched.