As it does every year, the Wolfson Children’s Hospital Bass Tournament drew a huge field of competitors. A total of 443 teams launched Saturday morning on the St. Johns River at Palatka, and following the long take-off sequence, scattered over a hundred miles of river system. When the last boat finally weighed its catch late in the day, it was official that Randy Hadden and Erik Fraser had topped the armada of casters. Reportedly fishing far north on the river, they put together a five-fish limit weighing 27.09 pounds. Mike Davis and Dennis Hernandez brought in the biggest bass of the day, a 9.82-pounder that anchored their 11th-place limit.
The highest-finishing Gainesville team, Jody Marriott and Mark Ruble, made the run to Rodman Reservoir to bag a 19.49-pound limit — good enough for the 13th-place check.
But the Wolfson wasn’t the only very large fishing contest in North Florida on Saturday.
There have certainly been lots of good catches along our stretch of Big Bend Coast. Early spring redfish, trout, and mackerel were taken in seemingly healthy numbers. But, while redfish have remained in good supply, the macks and trout have become harder to find than usual. Offshore fare is diminished, as well.
Recent saltwater tournaments, many of them long-running annual events, have offered evidence of the dearth of inshore mainstays. Some salty sages theorize that last fall’s spat of red tide has reduced the numbers of both near-shore and offshore species. They all say, too, that these always-productive waters will again soon fill up with fish.
We might be starting to see this prediction come true already.
During the spring and early summer seasons, the speckled trout, usually found best on nearshore grass flats, is the staple of the inshore gulf angler. So far this year, they’ve been harder than usual to find off one long stretch of coast.
Although the trout bite is generally off on the flats north of Suwannee, occasional good catches keep Steinhatchee trout fans hopeful that action is simply starting up late. Two Saturdays ago. Capt. Donald Campbell took a three-man party from Atlanta to the Steinhatchee grass flats. Fishing hyper-scented Gulp! lures under floats, the anglers bagged 18 nice trout that weighed 36 pounds in total. Then last week, Capt. Don’s party enjoyed fast trout action, pulling in and releasing scores of short fish. On just one drift, he recalled, the group hauled in 42 trout a bit too small to keep.
Catches remain fine out deep. Saturday, offshore Steinhatchee Capts. Brian Smith and Wiley Horton, got together to take the six-person Walker party from Georgia offshore aboard Horton’s “Tuner.” In water 90-feet deep, the salty captains located fish, and the party hauled in red and gag grouper (releasing the gags), beeliners (vermillion snappers) and amberjacks.
The 11th annual Shands Fishing for Kids saltwater trout tournament held out of Steinhatchee on Saturday overcame a whipping wind and unusually tough fishing to succeed in its fundraising mission.
A field of 77 teams took their best shots at the hard-to-find trout. Taylor County locals Ashley Mock and Robert Dice bagged five that would weigh in at 10 pounds, 2.5 ounces — plenty to win. Mark McKinney and Greg Hause finished second with 8 pounds, 15.75 ounces, and Shane Bergman was close behind in third with 8 pounds, 12.5 ounces.
Debra Evans caught the largest single trout, a fine specimen that weighed almost an ounce more than 5 pounds. The second-place trout team, Hause and McKinney, also caught the best redfish — a 6-pound, 7.25 ounce beauty.