One by one, fish were pulled from wet buckets and weighed Sunday at the 20th annual DeSoto Fishing Tournament. The event, which took place at the Tarpon Pointe Marina in Bradenton, was a joyous gathering of local fish lovers hosted by the Hernando DeSoto Historical Society Inc.
Scott Toedman, co-chairman of the DeSoto Fishing Tournament, said this year there was an increase in participation from last year: 12 offshore boats, 28 inshore boats, eight juniors, two lady anglers in the offshore category, and two lady anglers in the inshore category.
“We’re ecstatic,” Toedman said.
Winners were announced Sunday at a special ceremony at the tail end of the weigh-ins, which drew a large crowd. John Parker, the fishing tournament’s other co-chairman, said the event has had a great turnout this year.
It takes us to the limit. We learn something new every time we go out in the water during the tournament.
Douglas Deck, participant in 20th annual DeSoto Fishing Tournament
“Got a little wet yesterday, but Saturday’s event was a new thing for us,” Parker said, in reference to youngsters partaking in the tournament Saturday. Those who participated also got to take new fishing poles home with them.
Over at the weighing station under a large white tent, Christina Atkinson stood barefoot on a wooden stage. The 21-year-old Parrish resident was tasked with weighing the incoming fish.
“My dad has been with the Society since I was 4 and so I pretty much grew up with the Society and every year I like coming down here just to help him,” she said, adding that weighing participants’ fish has been cool. “I’m a big fisher myself so getting to see all the different fish is really cool.”
Atkinson said once the bigger offshore fish come in later Sunday afternoon, she would get to see a lot of bigger fish.
That moment came when a massive Warsaw grouper was weighed in at 113 pounds. The crowd cheered as the grouper was cranked high on the stage for all to see. Many pulled out cell phones to snap photos of it.
“It was exciting,” said Lee Blenker, 27, captain of the Seasaw/Blenker Boatworks, the crew who caught the grouper Saturday afternoon. “We thought we’d get a lot bigger one, but we had to settle for this one.”
Blenker said they’ve caught much bigger fish in the past, but the grouper was “still a nice fish.”
Buka Harris, 25, and his longtime friend Douglas Deck, 25, had two flounders weighed Sunday. Each weighed 2 pounds.
It was exciting. We thought we’d get a lot bigger one, but we had to settle for this one.
Lee Blenker, captain of the Seasaw/Blenker Boatworks, the crew that caught a 113-pound Warsaw grouper
“What time did you guys get here?” Toedman asked the friends by the stage, his voice booming through a microphone. They answered 10 a.m. and said it was easy to get bait.
Deck and Harris walked over to the side of the tent after the weigh-in. The sun bore on the men, who looked weathered after fishing since 5 a.m. Saturday. Aside from thw two flounders, the friends caught a 34-inch snook, 35-inch snook, a 23-inch red fish, and an 18-inch trout. Deck, who lives in Kenneth City, said he and Harris have probably competed in close to 15 fishing tournaments together in the last two years.
“It takes us to the limit,” Deck said. “We learn something new every time we go out in the water during the tournament.”
Harris, a St. Petersburg resident, cracked a smile and jumped in.
“We fish all night and, if we don’t catch any fish, we catch a buzz when we get back to the land,” Harris said with a laugh.
Winners at 20th annual DeSoto Fishing Tournament
Ladies Offshore Division
1) Magalie Grant
2) Allie Spires
1) Jumbo Shrimp
2) No Escape
3) Fat Bottom Girl
1) Team Lester
2) Suncoast Fishing Charters
3) Rats On Da Cheese
1) Team Coastal Orthopedics
3) Sunshine’s Bait & Tackle — Just Till’n
Largest Flounder Junior Division
Sunshine’s Bait & Tackle — Nate Costello
Largest Trout Junior Division
Team Coastal Orthopedics — Grant Setsma
Largest Snook Junior Division
Team Coastal Orthopedics — Grant Setsma