The crowd is small but tight-knit and influential along the water by the tiki bar at Bradenton Yacht Club on Thursday evening.
The captains of the four professional boats entered in this year’s Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament have gathered along with Crosthwait volunteers and some of the other anglers the captains will have on their boats to run through one of tournament’s newest — and highest-profile — features.
It has been, perhaps, 20 years — not even the longest-tenured volunteers can recall exactly — when the Crosthwait Fishing Tournament last had a division for professionals. The Crosthwait officials will be happy this year even if the four boats are all they wind up with, although they’re already talking about ways to expand the field in future years. Volunteers pass out measuring boards and each captain gets two in the hopes that they will give one to another captain that would be interested in competing Friday.
“We know to grow the tournament we need to make it something that the pros are part of,” said Bob Gause, the chair of this year’s tournament. “Some of these guys — they used to fish the Crosthwait, and when they went pro they had to stop fishing the Crosthwait.”
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In a year full of smaller changes for the 34th annual event, adding a professional competition could be the most important. The move would open the potential for sponsorship opportunities and, perhaps, create wider-ranging interest for the oldest amateur tournament on Florida’s west coast.
This year, Crosthwait officials made a concerted effort to expand the area from which it the tournament draws amateurs by letting boats start in St. Petersburg or in Sarasota in addition to the yacht club in Palmetto. To avoid scheduling conflicts, the tournament is also allowing boats to make substitutions throughout the weekend, provided the teams clear the changes with the Crosthwait’s committee ahead of time.
“We’re always looking for ways to change,” board member Joe Kennedy said.
By reaching back into the professional ranks, the Crosthwait is trying to include as much of the fishing community as possible.
For local captains such as T.J. Stewart, involvement in the Crosthwait once he became a charter captain was limited to pitching in as a volunteer on the Sundays when boats came in and trophies were handed out. This year, he was one of the captains of the four boats to stop by Wednesday’s meeting.
“We want that relationship,” Gause said.
The small field and single-day format — the shotgun start is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. and fishing ends at 4:30 p.m. — also make the pro competition an apt testing ground for potential future tweaks to the larger amateur competitions. The Crosthwait is testing out iAngler Tournament, a mobile application, to serve as a management tool for this year’s professional competition. The Crosthwait staff hopes by next year they’ll be able to move management of the entire weekend over to iAngler.
Even if the professional competition grows, the Crosthwait has always been about the amateur experience. Officials insist the addition of another event will not change that.
“We don’t want the Crosthwait to become something that’s a pro tournament,” Gause said. “We want it to stay, ‘Who's the best amateur?’”
Trash for snacks
The Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament includes a two events for teenage anglers this year, and chair Bob Gause wants to encourage them to develop good habits regarding trash. The tournament is teaming with Anna Maria Oyster Bar, Tide Tables and Riverhouse Reef and Grill for a weekend program that incentivizes young anglers to be more cautious.
Junior division anglers who bring their bags of trash to one of the restaurants between 3-5 p.m. will receive a free meal.
“How often do people let trash to fly out of their boat?” Gause asked. “And we want the youth to understand, ‘No, keep the trash.’”
34TH CROSTHWAIT TOURNAMENT
What: Offshore, inshore, junior and children’s tournaments
Where: Bradenton Yacht Club
Weigh-ins: River Master tournament, 4:30 p.m. (Friday); children’s tournament, 11 a.m. (Saturday); junior and inshore divisions, 7 a.m.-1 p.m. (Sunday); 7 a.m.-3 p.m. (Sunday).