The 20th annual De Soto Fishing Tournament came to a conclusion July 17, and a pair of familiar names topped the leaderboards.
In the offshore division, 2016 Crosthwait winners team Jumbo Shrimp took home the first-place check to make it two of their last three after placing third in the Fire Charity Fishing Tournament in early June. Capt. T.J. Stewart’s team, the 2015 De Soto inshore winner, followed up its recent third place in the inshore division at the Fire Charity Fishing Tournament, returning to the top as winners during last weekend’s event. Both teams lost big-point fish, but overcame it to win.
“Fishing was good, but we had more than a few mishaps,” said Jumbo Shrimp Capt. Paul Christie “We had battery issues before the tournament. When we went to leave after the captain’s meeting, the starboard engine wouldn’t start. We worked on it and got it running but lost a few hours.”
After getting the late start, Jumbo Shrimp ended up fishing for swordfish 130 miles offshore Friday night. They would hook five, landing only one. As Christie explains, that’s part of sword fishing.
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“Right off the bat, we lost a keeper. It was right behind the boat and made some quick moves and came off. They can turn the fight in their favor in a hurry. We kept fishing and eventually got one ”
On Saturday morning, the team turned to trolling, hoping to get another billfish. That paid off when a sailfish was hooked and landed. Trolling also helped add a pair of tuna at 25 and 24 pounds, respectively, to their catc.h Saturday night, they went back to where the swordfish was landed the night before, landing another. With a 25-pound snowy grouper in the box, they had a six-fish total of 589 points that would bring them first place and a check for $7,500
Stewart’s Team Lester, powered by Skeeter Boats, brought home one of the best catches ever in a six-fish slam tournament format. They had a pair of snook at 44 and 41 inches, respectively; a pair of redfish at 43 and 41 inches, respectively; a tarpon; and a 3-pound flounder. It was almost even better.
“I caught the 44-inch snook and 43-inch redfish,” Stewart said “They were both the biggest I had ever personally caught, but that 44-inch snook was nothing. I lost one that was an absolute beast. It was an unbelievable sight. After I hooked it, it looked like marlin. The fish came out of the water and instantly broke me off. It was easily the biggest snook I’ve ever hooked, and it absolutely tore me up. It’s still vivid in my mind and was probably the biggest one I had ever seen.”
What’s even crazier is the size of the tarpon they landed. As a photo release fish, tarpon need to be at least 3-feet long with a picture. On charters, most of Stewart’s tarpon have been averaging 60- to 100-pounds, which would make them about 5- to 6-feet long
“Early in the morning we caught a 40-inch snook, and then we hooked this little tarpon fishing in the bay. I’m looking at it like “there’s no way that thing is going to measure” but we put it next to the board and it was 38 inches. It was perfect for the tournament.”
Huge redfish really set Team Lester apart. The first one at 43 inches was landed Saturday afternoon, while the second was landed in the same hole nearly 10 hours later
“After we upgraded the snook, we went back to the same hole and caught the big redfish at 10 p.m. It was amazing. They ended up being the only two redfish we caught in the entire tournament,” Stewart said
With a point total of 373, Team Lester brought home $5,000.
“These tournaments are all about teamwork, and I couldn’t do it without the group of guys I’ve got.”
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data