The 18th annual DeSoto Fishing Tournament presented by Tarpon Pointe Marina came to a conclusion Sunday afternoon with the anglers grinding through the heat for big catches. Thirty-three inshore teams, 12 offshore teams, three junior teams and three kayak anglers comprised the divisions of one of the most competitive fishing tournaments the Gulf Coast has to offer.
Conditions were not ideal for anglers, as the weekend full moon left daytime fishing slow. Combined with the heat of a July sun, anglers really had to work for the fish they caught. Showing how tough fishing was, only six of the 12 offshore boats weighed in, but the winners certainly earned it with a big catch despite thinking otherwise.
"I thought we got maybe fifth place," said Paul Christie of Jumbo Shrimp. "The bite was tough at times, we had a hard time with the full moon daytime bite."
Judging by what they brought to the scale, Christie's team had a full fishbox with a catch that included an 83-pound wahoo and 77-pound Warsaw grouper. The wahoo was so large the DeSoto weigh-in committee had to open a hatch below the weighing scale so the tails of fish don't hit the ground.
"It made run after run, and we thought it might be a shark," said Paul Christie of winning team Jumbo Shrimp. "It wasn't until we got it up to the boat we realized it was a wahoo." Team captain Nathan Dahlman worked the wahoo in on mono leader, a lucky feat given their razor sharp teeth.
After traveling nearly 150 miles offshore, they stopped in 600 feet of water where they landed the 77-pound warsaw grouper. Along with the wahoo and warsaw, the team brought home a 27-pound blackfin tuna, 23-pound gag grouper, 18-pound kitty Mitchell grouper, and 9-pound mangrove snapper for 407.5 points. Six different species of fish is something rarely seen in a tournament with this format where two of the same species can be weighed in.
Christie, who was sick Thursday, didn't know if he was going to be able to even fish the tournament. "I got an antibiotics shot on Thursday, and slowly started to feel better as the weekend went on. Even when I tried to sleep I couldn't."
For first place, team Jumbo Shrimp took home $7,500 thanks to a sponsorship from Mariner Insurance, which will help to refill the 400-gallons of gas used.
In the inshore division, Capt. TJ Stewart's team Tim Lester International Realty brought home an impressive 326 points for first place. After running from Tampa Bay to Boca Grande, the team consisting of Ryan Taylor, Joe Medred, Vinny Decarbo, Chris Cucci and James Kitches used 90 gallons of gas in Stewart's customized 24 Skeeter powered by a 300 Yamaha.
"We worked hard for it," Stewart said. "We caught fish sporadically, fishing through the night for snook. Luckily we kept upgrading our fish."
Stewart, who had been down in Boca Grande tarpon fishing earlier this summer, led his team to a catch that included a 37-pound cobia, 5-pound flounder, 36- and 35-inch redfish, and a pair of large snook at 43 and 41 inches.
"We caught the snook in the middle of the night. The fishing was never great, but we got the fish we needed and it was enough." For first place the team took home $5,000.
Second place in the inshore division went to Fish Hawk Charters - Dream Team and Capt. Steve Brownlee. Their catch included a 54-pound cobia, 4-pound flounder, 34- and 32-inch redfish, and a 37- and 36-inch snook for 302 points.
Sandhoff Construction Mullet Roost and Capt. Brian Peacock took third place inshore with 284 points. They caught and released a pair of 33-inch redfish, a 41- and 39-inch snook, and a 25- and 24-inch trout.
Fire Charity winning team Sea Saw with Capt. BJ Grant took home second place in the offshore division. Their catch included a 43-pound kingfish, 28-pound wahoo, 24- and 19- pound gag grouper, and a 21- and 17- pound blackfin tuna for 342 points.
Capt. Andy Proctor and team Odie Feelin with 232 points captured third place offshore. They weighed in two snapper at 5 and 4 pounds, a pair of permit at 17 and 6 pounds, and a 22 and 6 pound gag grouper.
Capt. Wyatt Walker and team Big Johnson Bail Bonds won the junior division. The team completed the sweep landing the largest redfish, snook, trout and flounder each for bonus prize money in the junior division. Their 205 points was made up of a catch that included a 22-inch trout, 1-pound flounder, 30- and 27-inch snook, and a 27- and 18-inch trout.
Second place in the junior division went to Team Popi's and Capt. Grant Setsma with 174 points.
The newly formed kayak division saw Chris Jenson take home first place with 105 points, while the ladies division was won by Breanna Jones.