Capt. Jeremy Rzonca is no stranger to winning fishing tournaments. As a member of team SeaSaw, every tournament the competitors enter comes with a chance at victory.
“BJ (Grant) is a magician behind the wheel offshore. I just listen to him and when he says drop I drop and get ready to start cranking,” Rzonca said. “He’s the offshore guy and I’m pretty much the inshore guy on our team since I charter inshore full-time.”
Fishing with a crew of Grant, Matt Purington and Joe Sicking, Rzonca had the task of putting together a game plan for the second annual Art Shriver Memorial Fishing Tournament last weekend. The crew normally fishes offshore out to thousands of feet, but this time around would be fishing in the shallows of Tampa Bay for snook.
“After charters I would scout. I usually would go way south to Venice or Boca Grande but wanted to avoid the bad water down there. Eventually I found a decent amount of fish way north, about 30 miles north of the Skyway,” Rzonca said.
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When teams took off Friday afternoon, Rzonca and crew planned on a slow bite. They targeted only big fish as the tournament winner would be the one who caught and released the biggest combination in inches of four snook.
“We knew we weren’t going to get many bites. We were using big baits, big tackle and heavy rods, 150-pound gear in structure,” Rzonca explained. “It was either going to be break them off or get them in the boat, it’s pretty brutal.”
But there was a problem. In the 24-hour fishing format the team didn’t have the first bite by midnight. Rzonca called around to see if friends were having any luck.
“We were all second guessing ourselves. The other guys I talked to said it was bad for them too, so that kind of kept us in place even though we wanted to leave. I knew there were big fish where we were,” Rzonca said.
The patience paid off over an hour later, when the first snook, 39 inches, would take a bait. Another hit 90 minutes later turned into a caught 41-inch fish. Their third would bite another 90 minutes after that, a huge linesider at 43 inches.
Around 6 a.m. they would have their fourth fish, another 43-incher. The four fish total would come to 166 inches. Those four were the only fish they caught the entire tournament after missing a few more big fish early Saturday.
“We were pretty confident after hearing how slow the bite was for everyone else. If someone beat us, more power to them,” Rzonca said.
The total was easily enough to take the crown when the results came down Saturday afternoon. Rzonca and team SeaSaw swept the categories, including biggest total and biggest fish, taking a total of $3,500.
In second place was team Tide Tables with 156.5 inches, while third was taken by team MyCo Trailers at 152.5 inches. There were 19 inshore teams, five junior teams and five women’s teams, who helped raise more than $12,000 in donations.