You likely saw Captain Wes Winters and his merry men. A now retired Westhampton, New York commercial maritime pilot, Captain Winters often treated his crew to bluewater trolling while moving freight athwart the Seven Seas. He tells stories of container-ship-caught mahi-mahi being “fixed up” in the galley and sailfish hooked off the coast of Miami.
But when asked about his greatest fishing moment, Grandpa Winters immediately turns to his granddaughter’s ongoing quest to establish and smash International Game Fish Association (IGFA) records.
In Winters’ eyes, 10-year-old Julia Grace Ketner is quite the catch. Ketner was four years old when she found a picture of a girl holding a plaque in grandpa’s IGFA quarterly publication. She turned to her mentor and said, “I can do that.” And so began a now decade-long and -lasting commitment to setting and besting IGFA records.
Under the tutelage of Grandpa Winters, Ketner has literally been putting on clinics. To date, she owns 24 approved IGFA world records — ten of which were caught on St. Croix rods. She also has 28 pending world records — 25 of those on St. Croix rods. In addition to this impressive resume of ‘Small Fry’ category successes, are three female line-class records.
Although young Ketner’s records are cast wide, from saltwater to freshwater, she has clear favorites; the fishing phenom names mahi-mahi, white marlin and locally-grown pickerel as her top species to tangle with.
What drives Ketner besides her documented achievements? “It’s fun. It’s exciting to fight a big fish,” she says with a glow. That’s a feeling that obviously doesn’t discriminate against age or dull with graying. And to the Captain’s delight, she also chases fins to “fish with Grandpa and spend time together.” That, in fact, is the essence of it all.
St. Croix Rod first became aware of the motivated lassie at an IGFA function where V.P. of Product Management and part-owner Dave Schluter met Grandpa Winters and Ketner. The rodsmith was so enamored by the girl and her pursuit that he fashioned Ketner a custom Avid Pearl embossed with her name. She fishes the Pearl proudly and sets records with it to this day.
Notwithstanding Ketner’s beyond-her-years competitive spirit, she does have a normal-kid side. The 6th grader giggles at Sponge Bob Square Pants and loves playing with her sister, Abby.
By the way, 8-year-old Abby already owns one IGFA record and has another pending.
Like granddaughters, like grandpa.
Image courtesy St. Croix Rod