As Capt. TJ Stewart held the first-place trophy at last weekend's Yerrid Foundation Grand Slam Fishing Tournament presented by Bonefish Grill, it took a last-minute catch after a weekend of heartbreak to secure the victory.
After losing many big snook, overcoming slow tides and burning 90 gallons of gas, his anglers had surely earned it.
The tournament began for Stewart early on the morning of Oct. 18, trailering his new Skeeter over the Sunshine Skyway to St. Petersburg for the launch. His anglers -- Steve Yerrid, Frank Perri and Hall of Fame baseball player Wade Boggs -- were in search of the largest snook, redfish and trout combination.
After leaving with the area's best captains from St, Petersburg's Vinoy for the two-day charity tournament, Stewart pointed his Skeeter southward in the calm winds and light seas to fish closer to his Bradenton home.
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"We started fishing for redfish and fortunately got the big one early: 31.25 inches. The redfishing was tough on Saturday. We only landed three. We also landed a nice trout at 24.5 inches, which was about as big as I've seen so far this year."
With two of the big three caught at decent sizes, Stewart focused on snook.
"We were fishing around docks when Wade hooked a big fish. I saw it as it came up and went away from the structure. I pulled anchor to get space from the dock and then it turned around and ran right for the structure. Before we could do anything, he was broken off; it was heartbreaking. It was a 40-inch fish, and there was nothing we could do."
They finished Day 1 in second place after adding a 25-inch snook to the catch.
Day 2 began even earlier for Stewart. With so much adrenaline and unable to sleep, he was back on the water at 3 a.m.
"I wanted to catch bigger baits and look around for bigger snook before the start," Stewart explained. "I looked around the skyway and found fish that I knew could win the tournament."
As fishing time for Day 2 started, Stewart headed back to fish that school. "Within 15 minutes we lost another 40-inch snook after it came up and threw the bait. Nothing happened there after that."
To get his team's morale back up, Stewart ran back south and found a school of redfish, hoping to improve the largest from Day 1. "Every fish we caught seemed to be 28, 29 or 30 inches, even throwing out big baits like pinfish."
Making another move, the team headed to south Sarasota Bay, only to find another boat on its spot. Not lacking effort, they ran back north to the dock where the heartbreak of Day 1 occurred. In a case of déjà vu, "we hooked another 38- to 40-inch fish and lost it," Stewart said.
With about 30 minutes of fishing time remaining, Stewart made a move to another dock and threw out big baits hoping for big fish. Boggs' big pinfish was eaten, and the team pulled out a 35.5-inch snook.
"I didn't think we had enough. Our trout ended up being the difference," Stewart said
The team total for Team Yerrid Foundation 1 was a 91.25-inch redfish, snook and trout combination, good enough for first place.