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Spectators watch records fall at DeSoto Tournament

PALMETTO — It wasn’t your ordinary weigh in. As fish after fish hit the scales of the DeSoto Fishing Tournament Sunday afternoon, word was slowly spreading throughout the audience there was something better, something historical that was about to happen. No matter what fish came up, there was still one boat everyone was gunning for, and one boat everyone was waiting to see.

Anticipation is always a mystery at these weigh-ins. With the calm winds and deep field of fish catchers, it was only a matter of time before one of these talented captains had something great to show off. With offshore boats able to leave following Friday night’s captains meeting, most boats made long runs south to avoid the no fishing zones covering pristine fishing locations.

The weigh-in started off with many large amberjack, American red snapper, kingfish and even the most mutton snapper I can remember seeing at a local weigh in, but there was going to be more.

There is a pride and showmanship in being the last to the scales. If you have a good catch, you try to be last at these events, and leave the crowd happy.

Team SeaVeeChe started the big fish show with a large west coast dolphin at 33 pounds. Along with two large tuna, the crowd started getting louder as a 65-pound and 78-pound amberjack rounded out their catch. But on this day, that would be good for second place.

After a weigh in highlighted by two large mutton snapper at 21 and 17 pounds, something unusual happened. The tournament committee adjusted the scale 18 inches higher off the ground to make more room, and announcer Glen Pla (aka the Average Angler) mentioned rumor of “a 7-foot fish.”

Two more boats, Buggin’ Out and Jumbo Shrimp, weighed in, and despite the wahoo, tuna and amberjack these boats brought in, all eyes were still focused on the 31-foot Contender doing laps in the Snead Island cut.

Three weeks ago during the local Charity Firefighters tournament, Capt. Tommy Butler and boat owner Steve Betran landed a “prehistoric mammoth,” a 218-pound Warsaw grouper. Could they possibly get it better? As Capt. Butler pulled up to the dock, there was no room to move. All eyes focused on the fish boxes. A large black (Carbo) grouper was slung into a wheelbarrow, and weighing 55 pounds it garnered little attention. A large amberjack and Gag at 28 pounds, also ignored by the gallery. The only thing missing was a black curtain and spotlights to build the drama.

Then the head appeared. Its mouth was larger than a five gallon bucket and the blue rope they used to slowly free it from the front fish box strained under stress as the fish slowly made its way to the scale. It was indeed a prehistoric mammoth, and six members of the DeSoto committee strained to lift it up on the now heightened scale.

The crowd soon erupted, as everyone with a camera made their way to get a picture. Capt. Tommy Butler knew it was big, and he was right. It was a new Yacht Club record at 260 pounds. The catch was awesome, and everyone who waited for the show was more than entertained.

It ended up sealing victory for Team Braggin’ Rights.

“We set out for another big Warsaw first thing and we got it,” said Capt. Butler. “There is a lot of coaching that goes into these fish. We’ve lost so many of them over the years, we’re finally getting it down. A fish like that is really a team effort.”

Timing was everything as the fish was caught on the first and only bait dropped to a depth of 380 feet.

“There were probably 20 more of them down there. We could only keep one, so we left them for another day,” Capt. Butler said.

After making a 130 nautical mile run, they worked their way home before making a last stop in 200 feet of water around 8:30 at night.

“We wanted to stop and get one more point fish. It was lucky as the third bait down caught the 55-pound Carbo, and we were able to come home after that,” Capt. Butler said.

For their victory Braggin’ Rights took home $5,000.

Inshore anglers were able to fish from Saturday following a shotgun start until Sunday at noon. The winning team inshore, Suncoast Metals, was also able to rest easy Saturday night. So satisfied with their catch, they came home at midnight when most boats were losing sleep fishing for another 12 hours. Capt. Scott Howell lead his team to a 41- and 40-inch snook, 33- and 32-inch redfish and 27- and 23-inch trout fishing in St. Petersburg around the Gulf and beaches.

“We had all but one of our fish before sundown Saturday night, so went in search of one more redfish to upgrade. When we caught that last 32-inch red we were thrilled, and called it a tournament. This was a first for us, being able to sleep at night,” said Capt. Howell. “We didn’t prefish at all, just knew the fish would be there and it all came together.”

Second place inshore was taken home by team Hazy Days and third was captured by team Island Rats.

Perhaps the hardest working boat of the weekend came from the Juniors division. Team Action Yamaha with teammates Jimmy Campbell and Chris Jensen swept the awards for the younger anglers. Not only did they take home the winnings for first place, their catch landed them the prizes for largest snook and redfish in the juniors division.

“We fished from north of the Skyway to south of Longbar, and everywhere in between,” says Capt. Campbell. “We didn’t sleep at night, so this feels good and we’re very happy. It’s been a long two days.” Their winning catch was compiled of a 39-and 28-inch snook, 32- and 31-inch redfish, 21-inch trout and 2-pound flounder.

The Manatee High School students not only took home those awards, but wanted more. They captured the “Trash Can Slam” for another $100 with the largest ladyfish, jack and catfish combination among Junior boats. Not the most glorious title, but only another item for them to add to a great DeSoto Tournament.