Thought I’d post about a few recent trips to keep things up to date. Two weekends ago I had the great challenge of taking old friend and experienced offshore captain Wiley Horton on an inshore trip, and we decided to fish in the Shands Fishing for Kids tournament. Frankly, I have avoided this tournament in the past because I dislike the way the winners are determined. The winning boat is the one with the largest 5-fish trout limit; that would be four fish between 15 and 20 inches, with one more allowed over 20 inches. With 60 boats fishing, that means that almost at a minimum, at least 300 trout were killed and brought in to weigh. I much prefer tournaments with either a single winner by weight, or a tournament that requires the fish to be weighed in alive (as in many redfish tournaments). However, with a change in venue to the Sea Hag Marina, and the fact that it’s for a good cause, I figured I’d give it a try, but in this circumstance I will always keep the fish in a live well in case we decide to release them. Given the fact that Wiley has as much disdain for “trout-snatchers” as I do for “offshore bottom-feeder fishing”, we usually have a great time insulting each other. However, the fact is that Wiley grew up inshore fishing before going to the dark side and fishing in many large offshore tournaments in Florida and the Bahamas over the years. At least he still remembers how to cast a spinning reel. My strategic plan didn’t work too well; we did end up with some nice trout to 19 inches, but never could get the big one we needed to anchor the limit. I did manage to lose one fish near mid-day that would have put us close, but there was a shark in the area and I put a bit too much pressure on the fish and the hook pulled. Wiley got a nice 5 pound redfish and we caught several smaller reds, but it was clear we were not going to win, so we released all the fish on the flats. What I can’t believe is that I neglected to take any pictures on this trip, being in my “tournament intense mode”. We did have a great time together (which our friends find hard to believe). The winning team tied for first place with a 12 pound limit, but won the tournament based on their largest fish, a 4 pound 15 oz. fish. The largest redfish was 6 pounds 9 oz. Both of these winning fish were smaller than usual for tournaments this time of year, probably reflecting the fact that a front had come through the day before and temps dropped dramatically during the night.
The next weekend I fished the Perry Optimist Tournament with Doug Barrett. This tournament always has a lot of large fish, and there were three weigh-in sites, Steinhatchee, Keaton Beach, and Econfina. Since I knew some cut baiters were fishing (including Jeff Evans and his wife Debbie) I had no great fantasies, but I figured we’d have a good time. As I could have predicted, for the second straight week, a front came through on Friday and the temps dropped once again. Our strategy worked a little better; we found some nice larger trout in several different locations and several decent redfish, but none over 25 inches. The trout were slightly over 4 pounds on the Boga grip, and the redfish clearly weren’t winners, but as they say, you can never tell, so we kept them in the livewell.
We got to the weigh-in early, as usual, and weighed in the two largest trout and the redfish. The larger trout was 4.4 pounds, which usually is a very nice fish, but not close to a tournament winner. However, I did get to be in first place for the $2500 prize for a while….
So we got a beer at the Tiki Bar and settled in to watch the action. Wasn’t long before Bobby Cumbo, a regular Rocky Creek resident, came up and said “well, I just barely got one bigger than yours”. His was 4.45 pounds. I chuckled and said “well, don’t worry. Neither one of us will win this tournament”. But the longer we waited, and reports started coming in from the other locations, there weren’t any trout weighed in larger than his. However, we did get a report from Keaton…Debbie Evans had weighed in a big trout at exactly 4.45 pounds as well. Since the tiebreaker went by earliest time weighed in, Bobby was in first place, and I was in third. The problem was that, as you might expect, one of the scales broke and they had to drive some distance to get another. I was still figuring that certainly someone at Econfina would have a larger trout….but after waiting over an hour to get the weights, their largest trout at that location was….would you like to guess? Yep, 4.45 pounds. Three trout, all weighing exactly 4.45 pounds, from three different locations. When the dust had cleared, sure enough, Bobby Cumbo had the winning trout. This was astonishing. I can’t remember a trout winning any major tournament that weighed less than 5 pounds in many years. I sure wished my trout had eaten a nice 4 ounce pinfish just before taking on my plug, but that’s the way it goes. We had a great time, and I did win a nice cooler for my efforts. The next day Doug and I decided to take his bay boat a few miles offshore to one of our cobia spots and corraled some live pinfish. There were plenty of cobia, and they were hungry. I had at least six pickups, and got cut off three times. At one point I had a pickup, set the hook, and felt something much smaller than a cobia…here are the before and after pictures of that fish, with the “after” including some crabmeat stuffing.
We had a great time, and I got a great dinner. All told, we caught some nice fish, but I have to say the fishing is still a little “late” this year. The large schools of whitebait are just showing up, and there are still areas of recovering grass and when there are temperature swings, the fishing will suffer for a day or two. However, things will continue to improve daily as the late spring/summer pattern begins. I’m looking forward to the next big tournament, the Doug Johnson Reeling for Kids tournament, which will be the first weekend in June. Tommy Thompson and I have donated a trip for the past few years, and my boat managed to catch the second largest redfish last year. It’s a huge tournament, with $30,000 in prizes and a raffle for a $70,000 Mirage boat donated by Ken Fickett, and all the moneys benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alachua County, so I’d love to see everyone get involved. Urban Meyer and a bunch of Florida Gator football players will be there, and tentatively I’ll be fishing with Noah Brindise, former Gator quarterback and NFL coach, again this year. The website for the tournament can be found at:
- http://reelingforkids.com/t_prizeschedule.html Hope to see you there!