As the crew of the Sea Saw huddled on the Bradenton Yacht Club stage around their trophy for winning the offshore division of the 34th Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament, a baby, less than four weeks old, was lifted high above the crowd as cameras flashed and the tournament’s committee members hauled out a giant check.
B.J. Grant, who typically drives the boat when he and the rest of the crew go out together, wasn’t sure he would be able to come out for the Crosthwait this year with a newborn baby at home, especially because his wife is usually part of the team.
Grant’s spot as the driver for the team is an important one, though, so Magalie, B.J.’s wife, said she’d stay home with baby River. During a particularly windy weekend, Grant’s contribution was perhaps more important than ever.
“We’re not the best at any single thing, but we do a lot good,” said Grant, cradling his newborn beneath a tent at the yacht club. “I thought we had about a 5 percent chance and apparently everybody else hated the weather more than I did.”
Grant usually isn’t doing any fishing, but with high seas and rough conditions there was always an angler or two incapacitated by a bout of seasickness. This year, Grant decided to just drop anchor and pick up a rod.
With Grant’s help, Sea Saw pulled in two of the most impressive catches of the weekend, reeling in an 81-pound Warsaw Grouper and a 50-pound black grouper, which wound up as the team’s highest-scoring fish. The team of Grant, Lee Blenker, Danny Burton, Jeremy Rzonca, Joe Sicking and Matt Purington finished with 429 points to edge back-to-back defending champion Jumbo Shrimp’s 416. The Florida Fishing Team won the inshore division with 419 points, General Lee won the 16U division with 198 and an unnamed team captained by Grant Setsma won 19U with 311.
The offshore competition was most affected by the weather, forcing boats to stay closer to Palmetto rather than sailing way out into the Gulf of Mexico. The team that ventured farthest blew out an engine. Sea Saw won by ditching its original plan to head down to the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Key West.
“The Crosthwait’s strategy,” tournament chairman Bob Gause said, “and luck.”
The latter was Grant’s best explanation for this year’s breakthrough to the top of the standings. He’s competed in the Crosthwait since 1996, first in the inshore tournament and then the offshore starting in 2006.
“We kind of stayed close to home. It was pretty rough this weekend,” Grant said. “Honestly, we kind of got lucky.”
Jumbo Shrimp has had a monopoly on the top spot the past few springs, even hauling in a 300-pound Grouper last year. With the top two spots this year only separated by a handful of points, a catch like Sea Saw’s 81-pound grouper was enough to push the team over the top.
Even with the weather, the Crosthwait managed to pull in somewhere between 140 and 150 boats with enough money to pay out prizes as deep as 10th place in the more crowded inshore division.
Some of the new additions, such as the inaugural river masters division for professionals and the first On the Wall Children’s Fishing Tournament, also saw enough interest for the committee to plan on a return for both in 2018.
“Considering the weather this weekend,” Gause said, “we were pretty excited.”
1. Sea Saw (Lee Blenker, Matt Purington, Jeremy Rzonca, Joe Sicking, Danny Burton, B.J. Grant)
2. Jumbo Shrimp (Paul Christie, Nathan Dahlman, Greg Brown, Anthony Panipinto, Brian Bower)
3. Danny Rose, Jay travis, Scott Brown, Andy Denick, Wyatt Swante
1. Florida Fishing Team (Vinny DeCarlo, Joe Medred, Chris Cucci, Janus Kitchens, Ruben Castillo)
2. Myco Trailers (Beau Bell, Joey Caputo, Jake Murnane)
3. Pool Works Construction (Justin Teachey, Brett Reeder, Jordan Littlefield, Nate Hansen, Tyler Hoopingardner)
1. General Lee (Lee Mathews, Matt Wyatt, Jacob Steel)
1. Grant Setsma, Carter Recmelin, Alex Unladie, Josh Ramsey, Seth Miller, Jordan Lamb