By Steve Dougherty
Well-known among fishing’s elite, Kevin Paul is not only a decorated tournament captain, but he is also the father of Sutton Paul, who at the young age of 10 already has enough angling accomplishments and tournament wins to make most grown men green with envy. Unsurprisingly, Sutton has absorbed his father’s enthusiasm for the ocean and outdoors and is without a doubt one of the most talented and experienced junior anglers in the country.
With a fresh passport at just five months old, Sutton made his first trip to the Bahamas, ultimately watching his dad captain Lo Que Sea to a dominating win at the fourth leg of the Bahamas Billfish Championship in the Abacos. That little guy is now 10 years old and has been an integral part of several tournament winning campaigns. Ever since he can remember, Sutton has been fishing, but his mom says he wasn’t even old enough to recall his first catch. However, we can only imagine the giant grin on that pee wee angler’s face. “I do remember my first sailfish that I caught when I was six,” Sutton says.
Oftentimes, as parents we deliberate between the delicate balance of encouraging and pushing too hard. If you are meeting a good amount of resistance, then it might be time to examine your own motivations for pushing your kid in a certain direction. “You kind of just have to let them embrace whatever it is that they want to do. My father always told me that. I always told Sutton like my dad told me. Fishing or doing anything else, keep your head up and pay attention,” K.P. says.
While the beginning for most is at the local pond, many junior anglers turn to saltwater canals, surf fishing and pier fishing before graduating to boats and the open ocean. But this child prodigy has always been drawn to big game fishing, following in his father’s footsteps. “When he was a baby, he wouldn’t even get in the sink to take a tub without a fish in his hand. Whether it was something we got from my seafood market or bait shop, he was always playing with fish,” K.P. says.
“When I was cutting mullet on the dock, we’d strap him in a car chair and he’d sit there with a toy butter knife pretending like he was wedging and deboning, poking at the gills and head of the fish.” Many professional fishermen have mixed emotions about bringing their children into the world of sportfishing, knowing it is a tough way to make a living, though it’s certainly as rewarding of a profession as it comes. “To some extent, in the beginning I used reverse psychology. I told him; your dad is very talented with a knife. You could be a surgeon one day. You can do anything you want to.”
It seems that time spent on the water is all that he wants. “Kevin and I started fishing together in 2006 and he started running the boat in 2010, which was when Sutton was born. He started riding with us when he was probably three years old. He’s very talented and fishes a lot. Whether it’s off the dock, or he’s wading, on a skiff or sportfish boat, he just loves fishing. He’s caught everything that swims. I saw him catch a personal grand slam at the Corner last summer. It was pretty impressive…at just 10 years old, catching a blue, white and sail in the Bahamas on a day trip.” says Tony Huerta, owner of Lo Que Sea.
During his last semester at school, Sutton earned all A’s and one B. “He’s a real bright kid and very social. He’s going to go places,” K.P. says. Now being homeschooled, Sutton has the flexibility to travel with his father and balance extra-curricular activities with academic requirements. “Last summer, Sutton spent seven months with me up in the Northeast. During one of the tournaments he caught six white ones and a blue one, and a 250-pound shark on stand-up. He’s up from the time we start fishing to the time we stop fishing. He goes as hard as he can. He has a little harder time staying energetic when it’s rough or if the fishing is slow, but fishing feeds him. He gets jacked up for it. This summer we were in a tournament and I had to go into the salon for a minute. I said, watch my ‘riggers for me. And he sat there holding the lines with both fingers. His chin barely gets above the chair, and I said, watch this, he’s going to have a ‘rigger bite the moment I walk away. Sure enough, I turned around and it happened. I watched him dump line and said, good luck little buddy. He locked it up and shouted, ‘Pulling string!’ He communicates very well in the cockpit and listens carefully to what I have to say.”
Without homeroom, assemblies or exaggerated electives and after-school programs, homeschooling is a great way to carry through your child’s dreams while keeping your family connected and developing the depth of character that will hopefully guide them throughout the rest of their professional lives.
“This summer somebody hit the test switch for the emergency high water pump, so I left the long rigger to jump in the lazarette and make sure we weren’t sinking. The second I jump down there Sutton goes, ‘I got bit here on long rigger.’ Then he’s like, ‘nothing here…oh, I got bit again.’ I said alright, get a little better one next time. I couldn’t see what was happening because I was in the lazarette and it is so deep in there. Then I hear Sutton, ‘Pulling string, hooked up to a little blue marlin!” I’m like, oh my god, this is awesome! I think he hooked 5 or 6 blues this year overall. He’s having a goodtime with it. Most recently we won the Pelican on the Waterman and he caught a fish that added to our tally. To hear Ronnie Fields say he was very impressed by my son, you know, that warms my heart a little so to speak.” Already familiar with the tournament stage, we wish Sutton the best of luck in all of his future endeavors. May the odds be ever in your favor.
10 Questions with Sutton Paul
What’s your favorite thing about fishing?
It’s calm and peaceful being on the water.
Favorite thing to do besides fishing?
I like to hunt. I went hunting in Virginia Beach and shot an 8-point buck. That same day Jimmy Grant took me to see the Virginia state record swordfish. It was really big!
What’s the best thing your dad has taught you about the ocean?
He always tells me to stay calm and pay attention. Keep your head up.
Do you like to eat fish? What’s your favorite?
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be a fisherman if there are still fish left in the ocean. I think I would rather be a mate than a captain so I’m in the action.
If you could be any fish, which one would you be and why?
I would like to be a sailfish. It’s really cool how they glow and light up when you look at them at a special angle.
Besides your dad, who is your favorite person to fish with?
I don’t have a single favorite. I really like to fish with Tony (Huerta) and Mike (Standing).
What’s the most important boat rule that you know of?
My dad taught me how to navigate and set the GPS to get the boat back if anything was to happen to the crew.
Which of your nicknames do you like the best?
Mike calls me kid. I like it. I’m just used to it.
Do you have a favorite fishing memory?
Winning my first tournament with my dad this past summer. We won the Big Rock, then the McLeskey and the Pelican.