Just in case you don’t know what that all meant, let me tell you a bit about the Coastal Conservation Association. The CCA is a non-profit conservation group that advocates for preservation of marine resources and the interests of recreational anglers. There are state chapters in most of the coastal states in the country, currently 17 states. Florida is one of the largest state chapters, and has a number of local chapters. I’ve been a member of the Gainesville chapter for about ten years now, and now help represent our local chapter on the state board with my friend Wiley Horton. Florida CCA is involved in legislative actions and legal activities that deal with the intersection of commercial and recreational interests and the preservation of resources. Along with providing manpower and resources for habitat restoration, CCA Florida takes positions regarding proposed changes in state and national fisheries legislation. For instance, CCA Florida has taken a strong stand against the state Fish and Wildlife Commission’s recommendations to increase the bag limit for redfish from one per person to two. The redfish bag limit, along with the outlawing of gill netting, has resulted in an excellent redfish population and we see no reason to change this. For more information about CCA Florida, please go to this link: http://www.ccaflorida.org/index.html
Once a year CCA Florida hosts an inshore fishing tournament that is a competition between local chapters: the Interchapter Challenge (ICC). For the past several years it’s been held in Jensen Beach at the River Palm Cottages, a place I’ve visited several times before that has excellent fishing in the Indian River, including the St. Lucie Inlet. Tommy Thompson and I decided we would take on the challenge, which it was. Some chapters (Orlando and Martin County, for example) had over 15 members fishing and the competition was based on the largest fish caught within the chapter; so, the more people fishing, the more the likelihood of catching some large fish. The winning team is the team with the greatest length of the largest three fish caught from each category: redfish, trout and snook. All fish are measured on a tournament ruler, a picture is taken, and the fish are released. Another of our challenges was the fact that the location of the tournament is in Martin County, which also happens to be the home of DOA Lures; Mark Nichols, the owner of DOA, and Jerry McBride, their major point man, fish about five days a week in the area and post their catches for all to see on DOA’s Facebook page. Let’s just say they catch a whole lot of big fish. And they were part of the Martin County group. However, we knew we’d have a good time anyway, and since redfish have always been the challenge down there, and we love to fish for redfish, we figured we might have a shot, especially since Tommy is familiar with the area. This was their biggest year ever, with 125 anglers representing 19 chapters.
We launched the boat on Friday afternoon at a nearby ramp and staked it out in front of River Palm; that’s the Photo Opportunity on the right side of the dock. After a great dinner at the chickee at River Palm, we enjoyed the open bar but not for long as we had an early tee time.
We ran north from River Palm to a bay with mangroves on the north side and interesting prefab houses on the south, with a large grass flat in the middle. The flat and the channel alongside of it were full of schools of baitfish. On about the third cast, Tommy nailed a fine trout, followed by a small but legal redfish. I was throwing desperately, since I knew we were going to lose the topwater bite as the sun came up. I made a long cast and as the line settled down, a very unfortunate brown pelican came swooping through. Fish on. I promptly broke the bird off (he never even stopped, actualy) and had to re-rig. We continued to fish the area but had nothing but occasional swirls. We moved across the flat and decided to fish the mangroves on the other side for snook. We rigged with soft baits, Tommy with a DOA Shrimp, and me with a weedless soft plastic rigged Texas-style so it was weedless, which helps when you’re throwing into mangroves and skipping baits back into heavy brush. We were about halfway down the shoreline when I saw a fish roll on my bait and the line tightened. I set the hook and then started worrying. With my usual cavalier attitude, I was using the lightest rod and reel combo I had. When a fish is hooked in the middle of mangroves, the idea is to horse them out away as quickly as possible to avoid getting wrapped. Well, this was a big fish and I had little choice but to grab the spool and try and turn his head out of the mangroves. At one point he ran about 5o feet under a string of mangroves, then moved away from shore, and amazingly the line managed to make it through as well. Tommy moved the boat away from the shoreline and from then on it was just a struggle with a big fish on light tackle. As we got the fish closer, we were surprised to see that it wasn’t a snook, but a large redfish. It measured 27.5 inches, without the tail pinched. At the time that seemed like a pretty reasonable fish. In retrospect, I wish we had paid a little more attention to pinching the tail and taking a more accurate picture, but more about that later.
With a decent trout and what we thought was a great redfish (the largest redfish caught last year was 21 inches), we decided to spend the rest of the day trying to catch a good snook. We had a few hints from folks (we knew some fish had been caught in the famous Hole in the Wall along the edge of the inlet) but also had some recommendations to try some docs along the river. We fished with DOA shrimp along the docks, throwing into the shady areas under the docks. We finally located some (based on a suggestion from Drew Wickstrom, the media director of Florida Sportsman magazine) and Tommy managed a longspine snook that was two inches short. We had a few others on, but just couldn’t get one that would help.
As it turned out, that redfish was close but not enough for the individual prize, losing by a half inch to a 28 incher. Every time I look at the pic I wonder….could have been 28 with a pinched tail? Anyway, it was a nice fish and I had a great time. Not surprisingly, the winning team was Martin County, with the big redfish and big trout (a 27.5 incher) provided by Jerry Mcbride and Mark Nichols from DOA. Not that they didn’t have help….this is the entire chapter with their trophy (with Mark third in from the right in the back, and Drew with his thumb up in the front row).
The weekend finished off with a live auction and raffle items on Saturday. We left the boat in the water and actually went out for an hour or so Sunday morning but found only some large bluefish and jacks, although I had a large trout on that managed to escape. It was a great weekend. I would encourage anyone who wants to help with conservation of marine resources in Florida to join the CCA. Along with many other benefits, you’ll get a beautiful magazine, Tide, every month. I’ve included some additional pictures from the weekend, including Ron Pressley with the Mystery Fish Award for a large (but still juvenile) goliath grouper (he put the ruler in the water to take the pic as it is illegal to put them in the boat….way to go, Ron) and some pictures of next year’s state president, Jeff Miller and his wife Susan (Jeff is also the owner of Miller’s Marine in Ocala, where I have bought every boat I have owned since returning to Florida almost thirty years ago), and some random shots to give you an idea of the event, including a truly committed inshore fisherwoman, and a picture of Steve Furman from Tampa, who also fishes out of Steinhatchee, with a nice Indian River snook,. It was my first time but I look forward to many more.