The Crosthwait fishing tournament is the angling “major.” Anglers will put themselves through hell, all in the name of catching fish better than the competition.
A strong late-season cold front swept its way across the Gulf on Sunday, tossing around anglers both inshore and off. Howling winds, severe storms and relentless seas tested all participants. It made fishing hard, very hard. But as can be the case with changing weather, anglers found the fish were hungry.
I was most nervous for the offshore teams. At 4:30 a.m. Sunday, a severe squall line woke me and sent trees sideways and lightning cracking. You can’t prepare to fish in that weather, and most participants compete from center console boats. There is nowhere to hide when the weather turns. I hoped for the best for everyone, and luckily everyone made it home.
Team Seaveeche managed to stay afloat more than 120 miles from shore in their 29-foot Center Console SeeVea. “We had water break all of the Eisenglass on the console after going through (not over) a wave on the way home. There was lightning everywhere. We had life jackets on and were prepared for anything. That was the worst weather we have ever been in,” said captain Brian Beukema.
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Because of the weather, the team of Brian, Jay Travis, Danny Pool, and Justin Hey fished for only four hours. Saturday morning, they found a school of hungry tuna, eating everything in sight. “We could have caught them all day, it was a bite for the record books, but we needed other fish.”
Tournament rules said all boats can have two of any one species, so they targeted amberjack -- large amberjack. The first they caught was 50 pounds. The next would be a bit larger.
The fish was so large, its tail was touching the ground while on the scale. The crowd gasped in amazement, and it topped the scale at 99 pounds, drawing huge applause. Seaveeche rounded out their catch with a 2-pound snapper and 30- and 33-pound tuna, taking home first place.
Team Hooker withstood the offshore conditions in a 48-foot Viking, fishing 120 miles offshore at the steps. “The steps go from 800 feet to 8,000 feet and are known for billfish,” said Capt. Ken Cummins. “That was our target.”
Their plan worked, and it led to an unbelievable day. “We hooked a blue marlin Saturday morning, but lost it boat side. We then hooked another around 700 pounds, and landed it.”
Along with the first big blue, they would soon landed another. “I’ve been to the steps 70-80 times in my life, and three marlin is incredible.”
Their catch included a small kingfish, bonito, 8-pound dolphin, and 7-pound grouper to go with the marlin, taking home second place.
Team Jumbo Shrimp and Capt. Paul Christie took home third place. They managed a beautiful 14-pound mutton snapper, 5-pound yellowtail snapper, 17-pound yellow-edge grouper, 38- and 43-pound amberjack with a 23-pound tuna.
Last year’s offshore champion, Gulf Coast Choppers, took home fourth place.
Inshore anglers also dealt with horrible conditions. Team CK Andros and Capt. Steve Brownlee fished hard, spending the night on the boat and managed to bring home a total of 310 points winning the inshore division.
Along with anglers Ben Bradford, Mike Bermann and Andy Losada, the team managed to catch two 22-inch trout, two snook at 32- and 40-inches, and two redfish at 27 and 32 inches.
“We’ve never fished in conditions like that. We were running in the bay last night during the squall line, and the seas must have been 7 feet,” said Brownlee. “I didn’t even have any rain gear, it had blown out earlier in the day from the wind. The raindrops felt like beestings.”
“We caught a tournament fish every few hours, and landed the 40-inch snook during the night.” When asked where he was fishing, Brownlee only said “north.”
The second-place inshore boat, captained by Chad Blocheter, also took home the award for the largest trout and the inshore slam. The biggest trout measured at 28 inches to go along with a 23-inch trout, 26-inch snook and two redfish at 33 and 30 inches.
The third place inshore boat of Team Godzilla captained by Jeff Gentner took home the award for the largest snook at 41-inches. Along with the snook, they landed another at 31 inches, two trout at 19 inches and two redfish at 31 and 29 inches.
Once again, winning the under-19 division was team Action Yamaha captained by Chris Jensen. The anglers also braved out the storms and fished through the night. “We were in the Manatee River. It was pretty rough,” said Capt. Chris, “we fished through the night and caught a lot of fish.”
Fishing with Chris were anglers Jimmy Campbell and Ryan Cook, all seniors at Manatee High School.
Their winning catch was a 1-pound snapper, 3-pound flounder, 28- and 29-inch snook, and 23- and 25-inch trout.
The full results will be up soon at www.crosthwaitfishing.com.