As the alarm rang at 3:33 in the morning Saturday, I rolled out of bed feeling like I never went to sleep. The previous night, I lay awake as my mind raced about things I might need to bring with me for the Sticken Pigz tournament.
While I drove to the Kingfish boat ramp, I debated my sanity, as I was one of the few cars on the road so early in the morning. A fishing addiction can make us all a little crazy sometimes.
I met Josh Bibler and his teammate, Kyle Dawson, at 5 a.m. Coffee wasn't needed to wake up, because the adrenaline kicked in when Bibler's 23-foot Pathfinder was going 60-plus mph through the darkness on the way to the Skyway for bait. The weather was perfect, the bait was thick, and the fish were hungry.
This was going to be my first time fishing the Sticken Pigz tournament based out of the Palma Sola boat ramp. The team with the largest redfish and largest trout by combined weight would be the champion.
We were ready, and soon after the 7:15 a.m. start, the speed of Bibler's 300 Yamaha had us in front of other boats, headed south to Sarasota Bay. We hopped out of the boat on a sandbar, armed with loaded bait buckets, and approached the schools of mullet jumping around the knee-deep water.
Immediately we started catching fish. On the second cast, I landed a large jack. On the third, it was a 23-inch trout. A good start, but we knew it would take a bit larger fish to be in the money.
For the next four hours, we landed fish after fish wading along the flat. It was perhaps the best big trout bite I've experienced, easily landing 20 fish between 20 and 23 inches, but not the real stud of around 26 to 28 inches we were looking for.
When it wasn't a trout we were catching, a school of redfish kept us busy as nearly every cast resulted in a hook-up. At one point, Bibler was removing redfish after redfish and measuring to find the biggest slot fish we could get. With three in the well between 26.5 and 27 inches, we knew it was time to look for a bigger trout.
We ran north, closer to Palma Sola Bay, and picked through more snook and redfish when Bibler landed a 26-inch trout with 15 minutes of fishing time left. This fish was what we were looking for, and our confidence was high.
Back at the weigh-in, the catches proved it was a great day to be fishing. So many large redfish and trout were hitting the scales. When it was all said and done, our redfish weighed in at 6.97 pounds and our trout at 5.43 pounds for a total of 12.4 pounds. That landed us in seventh place, good for a cash prize that covered the entry fee for the tournament and gas for the day.
Second place went to Team Action Yamaha and Capt. Jimmy Campbell. Their 8-pound redfish and 7.58-pound, 28-inch trout seemed like it would take first, until the team of Reel Life put their redfish on the scale, taking first by .11 pounds.
The fat 26-inch redfish weighed 8.59 pounds to go with a trout of 7.1 pounds and a total of 15.69 pounds. While my team caught fish all day -- probably 40 redfish, 50 trout and 10 snook -- Andrew Purcell of team Reel Life had a much different story.
"That was the only redfish and only trout we caught all day," Purcell said. "We caught the trout early in the morning, then tried to get a red the rest of the day. I landed that one; it was 26.5 inches and a perfect tournament fish."
For the win, the team took home more than $1,600.