Outdoors | Live bait key to biggest catches at Desoto Fishing Tournament

Special to the HeraldJuly 13, 2014 

Capt. Steve Brownlee of Fish Hawk Charters shows off a cobia caught Saturday during the DeSoto Fishing Tournament. PROVIDED PHOTO

This weekend's 18th annual Hernando Desoto Fishing Tournament will have many of the area's best anglers in search of six big fish for big prizes.

Teams will not only be competing with each other, but with summer conditions that can make fishing tough. Despite the conditions, the DeSoto tournament is known for big catches, making it one of the most difficult to win.

With bay and inland waters in the upper 80s and possibly warming to more than 90 degrees in the afternoon, this becomes a tournament of endurance. The heat of the day and radiant sun will wear out anglers both inshore and off, and keeping bait alive will be a difficult task.

Top anglers will tell you bait is key in these tournaments. Live and healthy sardines, pinfish, grunts, ladyfish or other secret baits may be the winning ticket for big snook, redfish and trout. It takes a lot of work to catch bait, and the lack of oxygen with bath-like water temperatures can turn a live well into a death well quickly when pulling up to a sun-baked flat.

"The hardest part of this tournament is catching bait and keeping it alive," said Jimmy Campbell, winner of the past three inshore division DeSoto fishing tournaments. "This tournament is by far where our most elite group of fishermen come to compete against each other. I love every last bit of it."

This year, Campbell is finishing final exams and will be a spectator at the weigh-in, leaving the crown up for grabs for the first time in years.

Other contenders will be looking to cash in on this vacancy. Names like Brian Peacock, Steve Brownlee, Keith Stonestreet and Josh Bibler, each of whom has seen success in recent tournaments, could be near or at the top of the leaderboard following Sunday afternoon's weigh-in.

"The most difficult part is going to be heat and googans," said Capt. Steve Brownlee of Fish Hawk Fishing Charters and winner of the 2013, 2011, 2009, 2008 and 2007 Crosthwait. Googans is a term made infamous by the show "Big Tuna," referring to boaters who unknowingly interfere with fishermen, something most participants can relate to.

Beside the heat, a few strong storms popped up Saturday evening, and they are scary with nowhere to hide on a boat."The rain and lightning can be a factor, but hopefully storms are spread out enough you can run around them or they pass quickly," Bibler said.

Storms are what Campbell said helped him win last year. Where the rain fell, the fish chewed. The evening showers Saturday night may help the fish bite, and I expect to hear some big fish were caught in the evening and overnight.

A few changes are in store for this year's tournament as well, including the introduction of cobia to the inshore lineup of fish eligible for the catching.

The offshore division, which left for blue waters Friday afternoon following the noon captain's meeting, will weigh-in following the other divisions. Those interested in seeing the events unfold can go to Tarpon Pointe Marina at 215 Eighth St. E. The weigh-ins begin at 11 a.m. and conclude with the offshore boats starting around 2 p.m. Look for a full recap in Monday's Bradenton Herald.

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