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Crosthwait remains a Manatee County tradition

When it comes to amateur fishing tournaments that bring the community together for banquets, awards, fish tales and an all-out party on the sun-baked docks at the Bradenton Yacht Club, this one’s a doozy.

The 26th annual Sam Crosthwait Memorial Tournament is this weekend, and in case there are some anglers unfamiliar with this tradition (not likely), it is the biggest amateur fishing tournament on the west coast of Florida.

The tournament, like any fishing tournament, really, has undergone rule changes from the first tourney to last year’s. The biggest changes this year include eliminating Warsaw grouper, cubera snapper, marlin and swordfish from the competition.

Like almost anything in life, some will like it, some won’t.

I admit it is a shame that we won’t see 300-pound Warsaws sliding from a wheelbarrow into the arms of massive weigh-in officials who hoist the grouper onto a large metal hook for weighing, a hook that has been known to actually bend under the pressure.

We’ll likely miss the video of marlin and swordfish. But catch-and-release sailfish will still be worth 100 points.

The changes were implemented by tournament officials to encourage more “regular” anglers to participate, in hopes that they will be able to compete with anglers who have the means for equipment able to get the big boys. And this isn’t to take away from the feat of catching an eye-popping fish such as a Warsaw grouper — any anglers who go hundreds of miles offshore and actually find these Jabba the Hut fish and manage to rip them from their foundations deserve unique recognition, if not the biggest fried grouper sandwich known to man.

But this cannot be about rules and changes and what’s fair and what’s not.

Is it even about money? To some, yes, it absolutely is. But ask other anglers why they participate, and they’ll look you right in the eye and say it’s about the fish tales, the memories. It’s about being able to, decades from now, look back at the 26th Crosthwait and remember how, for example, at 3:30 a.m. near a bridge on the Manatee River, with a pinfish tight to the pilings, as they were almost ready to fall asleep, the buzz of a cranking drag popped them out of their slumber. And they got that 43-inch snook.

Finally, this tournament is about the community and a tradition that is Manatee County fishing.

Sunday’s 3 p.m. banquet and entertainment is always a draw, as the community gathers under the BYC tent for food, drinks, fish tales and glorious winners who hold Warsaw-grouper-sized checks.

For more information, visit Registration is 6:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, followed by the captain’s meeting and a send-off into the Gulf for offshore fishermen.

For a real taste of Manatee County tradition, just show up Sunday.

Nick Walter, outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.