When I returned home from the 36th annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament last Sunday night sleep deprived, sore and salty, my 4- and 6-year-old children asked me a simple question. “Daddy, did you win?”
“No, but we caught some big fish and had fun,” I replied.
“Who did win?”
“The same teams who always win, TJ and Brian,” I responded.
“Why don’t you join their team?”
I stopped and pondered at their brilliantly simple response, speechless.
TJ and Brian refer to Capt. TJ Stewart and Brian Turner.
With captains now allowed to compete in the Crosthwait, Capt. TJ Stewart’s squad came into the tournament as the team to beat. He had previously won the “Captain’s Division” of the Crosthwait, a separate one-day event.
“I probably fished this tournament when I was 15, in the juniors division,” Stewart said. “I got my captain’s license at 20 and couldn’t fish it after that.”
When the traditional Saturday morning shotgun start rang out, all the adrenaline kicked in for Stewart and Team Lester powered by Skeeter Boats. He headed north in Tampa Bay, and a pair of monster snook awaited them early.
“We caught the big fish first,” referring to their 44-inch snook. “We then got another good one to go with it. By 11 a.m. we were in a good place.”
Their next searches brought them up into Tampa Bay, where after losing one tarpon Stewart found himself on the rod and reel end of the next one.
“It was a bigger fish than I wanted,” Stewart said. “It was probably about 120 pounds. That was pretty stressful. As bad as the sharks have been, I wanted to get it in quick.”
After a lengthy fight, the tarpon was landed boat side and a picture was taken.
From there Stewart rode around the bay looking for cobia. It proved unsuccessful, and he decided to head back to the Skyway to get bait for the afternoon outgoing tide when he saw something out of the corner of his eye.
“I just happened to see a cobia while we were running toward the Skyway, it was pretty lucky.” Without hesitation they hooked up to and landed the 36-pound fish.
As the afternoon wore on, Stewart and team wade fished well into the full moon-lit night. By 1 a.m. they added trout after a grueling eight hours with the biggest at 22 inches. A quick break followed and they headed back out where a 35-inch redfish was added.
Before the sun came up Stewart’s team would upgrade their second snook to 43 inches.
“At that point we were all exhausted, and I said there’s no way we’re wading again. We fished from the boat and upgraded to a 24-inch trout Sunday morning,” Stewart said.
Last summer, Team Lester lost a tiebreaker in the Fire Charity tournament by weighing in after a boat with the same amount of points. Because of this, Stewart headed to the weigh-in early. It wasn’t needed. With a massive 445 points, Stewart’s team ran away with first place and collected $10,000.
In the offshore division, last year’s champion Haulin’ Grass and Capt. Brian Turner left the yacht club Friday afternoon with the dream of repeating. When they stopped more than 150 miles offshore, Turner noticed something was off.
“The current was hard against the wind, making it impossible to stay on the spot,” Turner said. “We were dropping baits to Warsaws and had four or five pickups, but nothing connected. The bait was probably drifting at three or four miles per hour past the fish. I said if we’re having trouble everyone else is probably struggling too. That’s when we decided to run back in shallower.”
A shallower run paid off. While fishing a wreck at night the team landed African pompano, mutton snapper and yellowtail snapper. They missed big fish that Turner said were cubera and black grouper.
“One bait came back in with fang marks in it.”
Turner had a feeling that big fish would be even closer to home, and in the morning the team came in even shallower based on his viewings of bluewater charters and hearing results from previous kingfish tournaments. While anchored for African pompano, the team saw something in their chumline.
“The water was crystal clear and we saw a huge wahoo in the chumline,” Turner said. “Ryan (Farner) fed him a chunk bait on 40-pound flourocarbon leader. He timed it right and hooked it right in the top of the lip.”
After getting their anchor rope out and a buoy on the line, they had to chase the fish as it dumped line from the 8000 Shimano Saragosa. After a tense 45-minute battle, an 82-pound wahoo was stuck nearly two miles away from where it was originally hooked.
As they slow trolled back to their original spot, a pair of 50-pound kingfish were added to their catch. At the weigh-in their diverse catch wowed the crowd with a 40-pound African pompano to go with the massive wahoo and huge kingfish.
With a total of 510 points, they did indeed repeat as offshore champions.
Both teams will be competing in the Fire Charity Fishing Tournament on June 7-9 out of the Bradenton Yacht Club. For more information visit firecharityfishing.com.
1. Haulin Grass Fishing Team, Brian Turner, 510 points -- 15-pound Mutton Snapper, 27- and 40-pound African Pompano, 49- and 50-pound kingfish, 82-pound wahoo
2. Jumbo Shrimp, Paul Christie, 420 points -- 6-pound snapper, 23- and 24-pound blackfin tuna, 20- and 22-pound grouper, 71-pound swordfish.
3. Land Escaper, Chris Witherington, 399 points -- 5-pound mahi, 8- and 8-pound mangrove snapper, 21-pound snowy grouper, 31-pound kitty mitchell, 85-pound Warsaw grouper.
1. Team Lester powered by Skeeter Boats, TJ Stewart, 445 points -- 36-pound cobia, 43- and 44-inch snook, tarpon, 35-inch redfish, 24-inch trout.
2. Swordfish Grill/Rats on da Cheese, Mikey Howes, 381 points -- 15- and 9-pound permit, 40- and 40-inch snook, tarpon, 21-inch trout.
3. Double Bounty, Peter Smith, 369 points -- 11-pound permit, 29-inch redfish, 22- and 23-inch trout, 45- and 40-inch snook.
Under 16 Division
1. Capt. Patrick Blenker, 276-points -- 40- and 40-inch snook 1- and 1-pound mangrove snapper, 18- and 17-inch trout.
Under 19 Division
1. Twin Vee, Joshua McCann, 292 points -- 1- and 1-pound flounder, tarpon, 22- and 21-inch trout, 38-inch snook.
1. Trident, Mike Jeanes, 394-points -- 14- and 10-pound red grouper, 12- and 13-pound permit, 38- and 31-pound African pompano.
1. The Tuna Box, Robert Bartholow, 299-points -- 4-pound yellowtail snapper, 12- and 6-pound red grouper, 20- and 15-pound tuna, 35-pound cobia.