Last weekend, a record number of 63 boats converged on the Bradenton Yacht Club for the Ninth Fire Charity Fishing Tournament, a favorite among those who fish it.
“It’s my favorite tournament,” said Capt. Billy Alstrom of team Suncoast Fishing Charters. “I love it and fish it every year.”
“I love to be able to support the charity and give something back to the community,” said Capt. BJ Grant of team Sea Saw. “They gave $15,000 back to the children’s burn camp this year.”
Alstrom and Grant have reasons to celebrate beyond the charity. Alstrom took home a victory in the inshore division, while Grant claimed the offshore title.
“This was one of the top three trips I’ve ever had offshore,” Grant said. “We came up with a plan, hoping it would come together, and it did.”
That plan involved targeting deepwater bottom fish while also trolling up a sailfish over the course of the three-day tournament.
When daylight rose over a calm Gulf of Mexico on Saturday morning, Grant’s crew was deep dropping for warsaw grouper, putting a 138-pound monster in the boat.
From there the 31-foot Contender pushed further southwest, about 200 miles away from Bradenton. A straight drive by boat to the Florida Keys is less than 200 miles for reference. His crew went after the deepwater queen snapper, dropping baits to 900 feet, landing a pair at 16 and 11 pounds.
After icing the queen snapper, they started trolling, landing a sailfish.
With another species down they went after black grouper, landing a 49-pounder that energized his crew.
“It was the same spot we fished during the Crosthwait,” Grant said. “If we caught that fish then we would have won, but better late then never.”
When adding in a tuna it would bring their total to 469 points, and a victory winning $4,500.
Finally breaking through for a win in the inshore division was local captain Billy Alstrom. “I’ve come in second three times as well as third and fourth in this tournament,” said Alstrom, who put together a spectacular catch including a 44- and 41-inch snook, 36- and 32-inch redfish, 22-inch trout and tarpon.
“We caught probably 15 snook over 38 inches. We got a bit lucky when we went to the trout spot and got a 36 and 32 redfish.”
Alstrom says the biggest snook was caught more for fun since they had caught bigger ones already.
“We already had big snook, and didn’t know if we wanted to try upgrading them. It’s fun fishing so we went anyway, and that’s when I caught the big one around 2 a.m.,” he said.
The key, Alstrom described, was to wait for the right tide, even if the fish aren’t biting, as well as big baits like pinfish and ladyfish. He was rightfully tight-lipped on the spot where the monsters were landed, saying it may have been Tampa Bay, the Manatee River or Sarasota Bay.
The win brought his team $5,000.
The junior division was won by team Ross Built and Capt. Grant Sesma.
Their catch included a 22- and 19-inch trout, 28- and 27-inch snook, 2-pound snapper and a tarpon.
Spearfish division winners team Trident and Capt. James Taylor weighed in a 23- and 17-pound grouper, 15-pound hogfish, 28- and 22-pound african pompano, and 3-pound mangrove snapper.
Second place in the offshore went to team Big Game and Capt. Kevin Warren. Their catch included a swordfish, 42-pound wahoo, 25- and 21-pound gag grouper, and 29- and 26-pound tuna.
Third place went to team Jumbo Shrimp and Capt. Paul Christie with a catch of 26- and 24-pound gag grouper, 29- and 26-pound tuna, 11-pound mangrove snapper and a swordfish.
Second place inshore went to team Godzilla and Capt. Jeff Gentner. Their team caught and released a 41- and 40-inch snook, 32-and 31-inch redfish, and pair of 25-inch trout.
Third place inshore was captured by Capt. TJ Stewart and Florida Fishing Team. They were able to catch a tarpon, 29-pound cobia, 41- and 39-inch snook, 32- and 31-inch redfish.
For more information and to learn how to donate, visit firecharityfishing.com
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory data