A late-season cold front put a little chill in the air and breeze on the water, but it hasn't stopped 15 junior teams, 77 inshore teams and nine offshore teams from competing in this weekend's 31st annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament.
Winds out of the north gusted at more than 40 miles per hour in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday morning, kicking seas up to nearly 8 feet at buoys 100-miles offshore. With such rough seas, the Triple Crown Billfish Division was postponed. The anticipated Thursday departure would have been dangerous given those conditions.
As of Saturday afternoon, improved weather allowed the remaining offshore division boats to venture into the Gulf of Mexico and should once again provide crowd-pleasing catches at Sunday's weigh-in. Buoys now report 2- to 3-foot seas, which is about an average day in the Gulf.
Inshore is the most competitive division, with the area's best amateur anglers looking for the best six-fish catch. Two years ago, Bryce Johnson and team Locomotive Breath took home first place. Last year, the team brought home second. Having fished in the Crosthwait since 1991, Johnson knows this tournament is not for the faint of heart and being patient pays off.
"This year we haven't pressured our fish, and we trust our spots," Johnson said. "Our plan is to target quality trout and big snook." Last year, their catch included 42- and 41-inch snook, 32- and 28-inch redfish, and 27- and 25-inch trout for a total of 388 points, enough to win the Crosthwait.
"We hope for rough weather to get the big fish biting and expect around 380 points to win this year," Johnson said.
There are a few variables at play that will sway this year's tournament. The first is the high pressure that pushed in behind the cold front. That does not bode well for getting fish to eat. Bluebird skies could make for a slow fishing day, especially on the flats.
The second will be the "other" fish that get big points. This tournament is about more than just redfish, snook and trout. There have been many recent catches of large cobia and permit in the bays and artificial reefs, both of which bring big points for teams. A 50-pound cobia is worth 115 points, which easily surpasses any other possible catch. Any team bringing a few big cobia and permit to the dock will be in the running for first place.
Everything will be decided Sunday afternoon with the weigh-in at the Bradenton Yacht Club starting at 7 a.m. The majority of boats will fish up until the noon cutoff, hitting the scales shortly after. Look for a full report in Monday's editions of the Bradenton Herald.