A beautiful weekend of weather brought out many of the area's best anglers last weekend for the seventh annual Fire Charity Fishing Tournament. The tournament is not only about fishing, it's about raising funds for charity and has done so since its inception.
"We raised $10,000 for Children's Burn Foundation of Florida," said event host Erik Nicholson, "our biggest yet in seven years!"
Calm seas all weekend helped the winning boats of both the inshore and offshore divisions make long runs to their winning fishing grounds.
Team SeaSaw and anglers BJ Grant, Jonthan Cannon, Lee Blenker, Chris Nuzum and Matt Purington won the offshore division. Grant's team traveled 200 miles southwest, ending up nearly 80 miles west of the Dry Tortugas.
"Our goal tournament fishing is to break even, letting us make these long runs," Grant said. "We fished depths between 500 and 900 feet for Warsaw grouper and queen snapper."
Grant's team accomplished both goals, bringing a 123-pound Warsaw to the scales along with a 23- and 12-pound queen snapper. The queen snapper is a rare sight for West coast fishing tournaments and helped secure the win. Their catch was rounded out with a 26-pound blackfin tuna, 22-pound kitty Mitchell grouper and 12-pound yellowedge grouper.
For Grant, the nice weather caused an unusual problem. "Without even a ripple on the water and no clouds in the sky, I had no bearings. I was getting off course on our trip down when I didn't pay attention. I guess you could call it 'good weather problems.'"
After refueling the 540-gallons of gas used to power the team's 33-foot Contender, each angler brought home a few hundred dollars for the victory.
The inshore title went home once again with 2013 and 2011 winners Rats On Da Cheese. Capt. Keith Stonestreet said fishing the recent Crosthwait tournament was an advantage.
"We prefish every tourament pretty hard. We only had a couple weeks between Crosthwait and this, so we had an idea where to look for fish."
After catching a pair of 31-inch redfish and a 24- and 23-inch trout Saturday morning, the crew of five experienced tough fishing during the day.
"We fished a few flats in the heat of the day and nothing was biting," Stonestreet said. "We decided to refuel as we make a long run to Boca Grande for our snook fishing at night."
After refueling but before the run, they fished one more flat on the evening incoming tide, where angler Matt Mangone landed a 28-inch trout, Jeremy Rzonca caught a 35-inch snook, and D.J. Schied hauled in a 1-pound flounder.
By 11 p.m., they had made it to Boca Grande, and experienced "the best snook bite any of us had ever seen." Stonestreet described it as 20 baits hitting the water, resulting in 20 snook caught between 37- and 39-inches.
"I didn't even get to fish as I was too busy netting, measuring and photographing. At one point, I told my guys not to throw another rod as the snook were piling up faster than I could measure and release them."
The spot, which Stonestreet described as lots of structure with good current flow, also produced a pair of 40-inch snook during last year's tournament.
As Sunday morning came around, the group felt it needed to improve its catch and wanted to get to 400 points; a tarpon was the target. After angler Mikey Howes lost the battle to a 200-pound fish, Rzonca handled and caught an easier-to-manage 100-pound tarpon in about 30 minutes.
During the award ceremony, every inch mattered, as Rats On Da Cheese beat Brian Peacock's team Precision Land Management by the narrow margin of four points with a final weigh-in of two 39-inch snook, a 31-inch redfish, a tarpon and 28- and 24-inch trout.