The ever-growing slate of local fishing tournaments is winding down as the hottest months approach. Following the dozens of freshwater and saltwater events that have come and gone since February, last Saturday brought the first of the angling contests delivering the biggest fields, biggest paychecks, and the most meaningful bragging rights of the year.
Called for decades the “largest team bass tournament east of the Mississippi”, the 28th Annual Wolfson Children’s Hospital tourney went out of Palatka’s City Dock Saturday. The huge bassing contest lived up to its billing, drawing 430 teams that arrived with two objectives in mind…..to match wits with the largemouth bass of the St. John’s River system, and to support the beloved Jacksonville hospital that serves nearly 90,000 children every year.
Following the marathon weigh-in, the tallest-standing anglers were the team of Adam Newburn and John Mobley, who bagged a five-bass limit weighing 25.33 pounds while reportedly casting black and blue worms on Lake George.
Federal authorities made an announcement early this month that again angered the oft-maligned gulf sport fisher. The 2017 red snapper season, they said, would begin on June 1. And it would last all of three days—June 1-3. Not surprisingly, that is the shortest season ever for the private angler.
Unhappy offshore enthusiasts lament the misguided management and questionable science that have shortchanged the gulf snapper seeker.
In their news release, NOAA Fisheries partially blamed the short federal season on longer seasons in state waters within 9 nautical miles of shore. But, alas, red snapper only rarely venture that close to shore in the home gulf waters of the Gainesville-area angler. For us, “red snapper” and “state waters” don’t really go together, so the declaration effectively limits the window to three days locally. What’s more, for the last few years, offshore anglers have reported incredibly large numbers of red snapper in the spots where they have long targeted grouper. It has been rightly tough to convince these fishers who actually spend a lot of time out there that red snapper are in any kind of short supply.
The Builders Association of North Central Florida has long held an annual Family Fun Fishing Tournament. For a few years now, the saltwater fishing day has gone out of Crystal River’s Plantation Inn. Scheduled in early May, the event usually arrives to reasonably nice weather and sees impressive catches.
Once in a while, things don’t work out weather-wise.
Saturday, the 53rd annual get-together dawned to angry winds.
While saltwater catches dominate the fishing report this week, our warming (and shrinking) freshwaters are producing some fine results, as well.
The most impressive catches, without a doubt, were made on Saturday by anglers in the NEFAR bass tournament. The 183 participating teams scattered like the wind…some riding to fishing spots 50 miles to the north of their Palatka launch site, and some skimming for 50 miles to the south.
In the end, it was one of Florida’s best-known bassing teams that came out on top. Bobby and Judith Foxx Johnson were among the teams opting for the southward run. The Gainesville couple ran to the same spot near Lake George where, a week earlier, they had won a Fish Tales Team Trail event with a fine 26.19-pound limit. On the morning of the NEFAR, the Johnsons were pleased to see that their hotspot was still hot when their soft swimbaits and paddletail worms again drew big strikes. Not long after noon, Judith hooked the fish that would turn out to be the biggest of their five…a bass that would weigh in at 9.04 pounds. When the whopper joined four other stout fish—including a pair pushing 7-pounds apiece—Bobby and Judith knew it was time to ease back to the weigh in site. And, with five bass totaling 31.97-pounds, the accomplished bassing couple easily won the prestigious NEFAR event.