With pros allowed to enter, Crosthwait fishing tournament will have whole new look in May

Team Haulin’ Grass during the weigh-in at the 35th Annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament.
Team Haulin’ Grass during the weigh-in at the 35th Annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament. Herald file photo

The Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament has always been billed as “the Suncoast’s premier amateur fishing tournament.”

That will change in 2019.

For 35 years, the feature that made the Crosthwait stand out from other tournaments was that only amateur anglers were allowed to compete. Anyone making a portion of their living as a charter captain or from commercial fishing was not eligible. The playing field was intended to be fair for those who spent less time on the water.

This week the long running tournament announced it will no longer be amateur only.

“We have modified our corporate charter and our mission to allow and include professional guides and fishermen to compete on an even basis with all other anglers,” board member Wade Thompson said in a news release. “There will be no exclusion to participation based on possession of a captain’s license, being a mate or guide, making any amount of money from the sale of finfish of any kind, or being a professional angler of any sort. If you want to fish, you can fish the tournament. The decision hasn’t been made lightly, and the effects will be dramatic.”

On Facebook, where the decision was announced, anglers from both sides of the fence let their opinions be known.

I know many guides who have not been eligible to compete in years and would love to compete once again. Many are part time or have acquired captain’s licenses with no intention of making a full time living off fishing.

Here is a sampling of some anonymous reactions from area anglers:

“I think it’s a great idea. Going to bring lots more competitors that have been sitting on the sideline saying they can do better.”

“I’m kind of on the fence on this one because I know a lot of the guys that fish in this who are not captains but can still kill it.”

The Crosthwait is an event where you’re supposed to enter feeling that anyone can win. But the same names appear at the top of the leaderboard year in and year out, amateur or not. The guys who win are winning for a reason. They get a game plan together to target big fish, stick to it, and luck falls in their favor.

While top guides have the advantage of being out on the water more often, it doesn’t mean it all comes together in a tournament. I’ve fished the tournament many years and never had the intention of winning -- it would just be a bonus.

The fun was in taking the sport we all love and putting it in a competitive environment. When the shotgun points skyward on a Saturday morning in May and nearly 100 boats scatter in different directions, there is no way to describe the feeling of adrenaline that rushes through your veins.

For 30 hours, you aren’t competing against other anglers, you are competing against the fish, and they don’t know if you’re an amateur or a professional. This year will be exciting to see just who comes out to fish and how they do. Oh, and by the way, the tournament is a great cause. I look forward to seeing many new and old faces once again in the middle of May.