Big fish. That was the expectation as a standing room only audience waited for the 29th annual Crosthwait Memorial fishing tournament offshore weigh-in Sunday afternoon at the Bradenton Yacht Club.
They were not disappointed.
As the 3 p.m. deadline neared, only two of the 10 offshore boats had weighed in.
Were the other boats jockeying for position, trying to be the last one to the scale and steal the show?
Then Jumbo Shrimp and Paul Christie ended the nearly 30 minute wait between boats.
Out of the fish box came a mangrove snapper at six pounds. Then a pair of blackfin tuna at 18- and 24-pounds entered the wheelbarrow. On top of them was placed a 75-pound warsaw grouper.
Needing help, committee members hopped aboard the Contender and pulled out not one, but two huge amberjack.
The first was 98-pounds. The second was an astonishing 109-pounds, garnering the loudest applause from the packed tent at the Bradenton Yacht Club.
"I've never caught one that big," said Capt. Christie, who fished out to 140 nautical miles from Bean Point. "There was a huge adrenaline rush getting that fish in the boat. We knew we had
to get a great catch to compete with these guys like Seaveeche, Haulin Grass and Gulf Coast Choppers."
Capt. Christie's catch withstood the competition. The 489-point total outlasted their competitors, and is the highest total since Team Galati's 578 points in 2006.
"We had a lot of ups and downs this tournament. The weather was calm Friday, then rough Saturday. We lost our anchor in 500 feet of water, but followed that up by catching both amberjack Saturday evening," said a happy Capt Christie. With no anchor, the crew decided to come home. "It was so rough on Saturday night we had to come in at 9 mph from 120 miles at 9 p.m. We made it back to the dock at 8 a.m. this morning."
This is the first Crosthwait victory for the Jumbo Shrimp crew, who took third last year in the Crosthwait before winning the DeSoto tournament. For their victory they won $5,000.
Last year's Crosthwait offshore champion, team Seaveeche and Capt. Brian Buekema ran 600 miles round trip on their way to second place with 363 points. Their catch included a 15-pound blackfin tuna, 10-pound mahi mahi, 37- and 76-pound amberjack, 5-pound scamp grouper, and 87-pound Warsaw grouper. The crew also caught a swordfish, but the tournament committee could not verify the picture. Even with the swordfish, they still would have placed second.
Third place went to Capt. Ryan Turner and Haulin' Grass with 279 points. Their catch included a two and three pound mangrove snapper, two 19-pound blackfin tuna, and a 37- and 41-pound amberjack.
Forth place was claimed by 2010 and 2007 winning boat Gulf Coast Choppers and Capt. Chris Cramer.
The inshore division saw a familiar name at the top of the leader board. Capt. Bryce Johnson and team Locomotive Breath fished around St. Petersburg Beach to land a 41- and 36-inch snook, 27- and 23-inch trout, and a pair of one pound snapper to compile 344 points, besting the field of 76 inshore boats.
After placing forth last year, Capt. Johnson was happy to take home the $5,000 paycheck. It was not the first time his family has held the big check.
"My dad, John, won this tournament in 1991," said Capt. Johnson, who's three-man crew spent the night on the boat, dodging storms Saturday evening.
"We caught probably 20 snook between 32- and 36-inches before landing the 41-incher right before sunset Saturday. At that point we had all six fish and went looking for big redfish."
Only one tarpon was caught in the inshore division. Last year's under-19 winners, Team Action Yamaha, took home 2nd place in their first, and possibly last, try in the inshore division. 18 year-old Capt. Chris Jensen plans to get his captain's license to run charters in the near future, which will make him ineligible to fish the amateur-only Crosthwait.
Their catch of a 39- and 34-inch snook, 22- and 21-inch trout, and 34- and 33-inch redfish, totaled 332 points.
Third place went to Team Godzilla and Capt. Jacob Ballans. Their catch included a 39- and 36-inch snook, a 31-inch redfish, two 21-inch trout, and a two pound flounder for 314 points.
In the under-19 division, team Garrett Richard took home first place, captained by Michael Wenzel. "We fished mainly in Sarasota Bay before coming home to sleep from 10 PM to 12:30 AM," said the 15 year-old Wenzel, who won last year's under-16 division. The crew of six will split $1,000 for their catch of a five pound flounder, two 28-inch snook, 26- and 21-inch trout, and 32-inch redfish, totaling 273 points.
Second place in the under-19 division went to team Bust-A-Knot and Capt. Spencer Heintz, with 260 points. Third place in the division went to team CFVA and capt. Kaset Nelson with 241 points. Nine of the 12 under-19 boats weighed in.
The under-16 division was won by 14-year old Capt. Evan Saudijn with 190 points. His team's catch included a two pound and a one pound flounder, a pair of one pound snapper, and a 20- and 18-inch trout. Six of the eight under-16 boats weighed in.
The fly fishing division was won by Roger William with 126 points. The largest trout caught was 29 inches.