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After an unheard of three-way tiebreaker decided first place in the inshore division in last year’s Fire Charity Fishing Tournament, Capt. TJ Stewart was going to take no chances this year.
Luckily for Stewart and Team Lester, his team’s amazing catch this year was in no danger of being challenged for the title. For much of the tournament, Stewart found himself dodging storms that lingered throughout the weekend.
“We were running away from the weather, stopping here and stopping there,” Stewart said. “We started kind of cobia fishing and caught a 27-pounder. We also ended up getting a tarpon up near St. Pete. From there we went trout fishing but kept getting cut off by mackerel.”
Stewart stayed with it and caught a 21-inch trout. A little while later, his team added a 26-inch trout to go with it.
“We then got more bait and ended up getting into a spot where we found some nice snook,” Stewart said. “We pretty much put a bait in the water and caught a nice fish, then immediately caught the bigger fish right after. It was pretty much unheard of.”
The pair of snook he landed were a whopping 44 and 45 inches. Since they were caught at the same time, Stewart took a video to show they were different fish.
“People don’t believe you can do that,” Stewart said. “I can’t say I’ve done that before, I’ve never caught a 45-inch. Any snook over 40 inches is awesome.”
It was still Saturday afternoon with plenty of fishing time left, but Stewart and Team Lester had six good fish. From there they went in search of redfish to upgrade points. Stewart wanted to take no chances knowing every point might matter. They found one 36-inch redfish up north before running way south near Venice in search of their second. They would eventually find another 36-inch redfish to go with it.
The cobia and 21-inch trout were no longer needed in their six-fish total.
As storms rolled through late Saturday night, Stewart and crew were able to take cover and get some sleep. They went back out Sunday and couldn’t add anything, but their Saturday catch put them at a massive 463 points, good enough for first place by 101 points over the second-place team, Rats on Da Cheese. MyCo Trailers took third place with 334 points.
In the offshore division, most teams ran southwest to avoid rougher seas and stormy weather. But Capt. Paul Christie ran north and west where he figured bigger fish would be waiting.
“It was more of a job; our team pushed about 180 miles north,” Christie said. “At times it was a good 4- to 6-foot seas and had some bigger stuff coming through. There were some storms as well that seemed to roll through in the middle of the night when you’re trying to relax.”
Christie’s team Jumbo Shrimp was able to work its way to a mixture of grouper, including a 34-pound Warsaw, 35-pound gag and 35-pound kitty mitchell. It was at night they put their memorable catch on board.
“We were fishing in about 250 feet of water for Cubera snapper,” Christie said. “We knew they were there, and it worked out. Once you hook one it’s all luck at that point. It was a lot of back and forth with a lot of drag being pulled. Aaron Bishop was on the rod and he did a great job. After about 10 minutes we got the fish up and it was the biggest Cubera we had ever seen.”
On the scale, the Cubera weighed a massive 98 pounds. Along with a nice kingfish and tuna, Jumbo Shrimp ended up with 396 points, taking home the offshore title.
“My team did a great job and we had to deal with a lot of tough fishing in that miserable weather,” Christie said.
Second place went to team Seaveeche with 351 points while third would go to Haulin’ Grass with 303 points.
Winners of the inshore and offshore division each brought home $5,000. The junior division was won by Capt. Lucas Engel with 318 points, and the spearfishing division was won by Capt. Russ Kitching with 275 points.
The Fire Charity tournament was able to donate $10,000 to the Children’s Burn Camp with the help of sponsors and anglers while also donating a six-seat golf cart to the Foundation of Dreams Dream Oak Camp courtesy of Neal Communities. In the history of the tournament they have raised over $120,000 for charities.