I was glad I could fish the Reeling for Kids event this year, for the first time since the first tournament in 2005. Two former Gator and NFL football players, Doug Johnson and Donnie Young, have sponsored this tournament to raise money for the Alachua County Boys and Girls Club, and have gotten a great response; it’s become the largest tournament in Steinhatchee. This year was a tournament record, with over 100 boats fishing.
Tommy Thompson and I donated two days of trips to dignitaries and sponsors, and in exchange we get a free entry into the tournament. Such a deal! On Friday I had the great pleasure of taking Bill McQuillen, owner of McCallister’s Restaurants, and his friend Chris Spann. Because Bill is recovering from an illness, he mostly rode while Chris and I fished. We found a redfish early, in the 6 pound range, but it was clear it would take a special fish to place in this tournament. In order to be a tournament-grade fish, first the fish has to be legal…27 inches or less after the tail is pinched. Then there is a tremendous variation in weights. Only the particularly chunky fish who are near the top of the slot size are going to be competitive. For instance, on day 1 of the tournament, Tommy caught a 26.75 inch redfish that weighed around 6.6 pounds. I was fishing a small crankbait and landed what looked to be a good fish…but he was 1/8 of an inch too long, and went back in the pond. Within minutes, Chris had a fine fish on that I knew would be competitive….he was a chunk. I quickly measured him, to find he was only a little over 26 inches….but when I weighed him on the Boga grip, it showed over 7 pounds. By way of comparison, in 2005 Brian Holt and I fished the initial Reeling for Kids tournament and won the big redfish with a weight of 6.9 pounds.
We continued to catch redfish, catching a total of 5. Because the tournament format was such that the best combination of a redfish, trout and Spanish mackeral would win the Inshore Masters title, we tried for trout next in some deeper water. The wind was sporty, and the water was choppier than I would have liked for my flats skiff. We tried fishing jigs, popping corks, and topwater plugs in water ranging from 8 to 2.5 feet and managed a number of smaller fish but couldn’t find that single good trout we needed. We ran to a nearshore bar and tried trolling spoons and plugs for a Spanish mackeral but caught only blue runners in the heavy chop. We fished hard until the mid-afternoon and headed in for the weigh-in. At the end of the first day, our redfish was in first place. Several fish were disqualified for being too long. However, with so many entries, I was far from confident the fish would hold up through the second day.
On day 2 I took out Noah Brindise, former UF quarterback and Washington Redskins offensive coach. After several years of college coaching at ECU and UNLV, Noah decided on a more stable lifestyle than a coaching career for his family, and works with a medical technology firm that provides structural support for orthopedic surgery, mostly sports injuries. Noah doesn’t fish as much as he would like, but knew his way around the boat and quickly picked up the shallow-water fishing patterns we were using. Noah caught an early fish on a small crankbait, and the bite continued for much of the day. We ran to several different areas, not finding the big trout we wanted, but finding lots of excellent redfish. We ended with a total of 9 redfish, from 6.5 pounds to 9 pounds. In spite of the good number of fish, we never could find a legal fish that was better than our fish from the day before.
We were fishing both crankbaits and the classic redfish lure…a gold Johnson spoon. Spoons are hard to beat when targeting redfish; you can throw them a mile, and they have a large strong single hook which makes unhooking the fish much quicker than a small plug with multiple treble hooks. This time of year, and throughout the summer, redfish caught on light tackle are at major risk. Unlike many fish, redfish will fight to the death. Getting them into the boat for pictures, weighing, and then resuscitating them at the time of release is essential to make sure they survive. I have spent 20 minutes trying to revive a fish, but it’s time well spent. When the bite decreased, we both noticed that something about the angler’s tobacco usage seemed to start the bite up again.
Again, the wind prevented us from going to the nearshore areas we need to get to in order to find the large trout and mackeral we needed, but we were having great fun and headed in for the weigh-in. As I glanced at the large board, I could immediately see I was bumped out of first place by a friend and regular Steinhatchee fisherman, Mark Mcready, who found a freakish 8.3 pound 27 inch redfish that weighed more than a pound more than my first day leader. We did manage to hold onto second place, and with Bill and Chris’ approval we donated our winning check back to the Boys and Girls Clubs.
It was a great weekend, with lots of good people doing great things. A shout-out to my good friend Captain Wiley Horton, who serves as the Tournament Master every year, and got me involved in the tournament the very first year. Doug and Donnie commit an enormous amount of their own time and money for this event, and it started because Doug, who grew up in Gainesville, spent a lot of his time growing up at the Boy’s Club, and feels it contributed to his later success in life. This is his way to give back, and there isn’t a more pleasant caring host. Thanks to both Doug and Donnie for their efforts on behalf of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alachua County.
Doug Johnson, Chris Spann, Rick Davidson, and Donny Young