Manatee County fishing team takes home title at St. Petersburg tournament

Bradenton-based fishing team Swordfish Grill/Rats on da Cheese aren’t making any friends around St. Petersburg and Tampa.

“Those St. Pete boys don’t like us coming up,” said team captain Keith David Stonestreet with a laugh. “They know we can catch fish.”

Stonestreet, along with teammates Matt Mangone, Jeremy Rzonca and Rich Linkenhoker, took part in the Tighten the Drag Foundation fishing tournament last weekend out of St. Petersburg. The tournament featured teams fishing for the biggest combination (based on length) of a single redfish, snook and trout. By Saturday’s end, they had a handful of hardware headed back south across the bay.

“The tournament hours were from 12:01 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday, so it was kind of a short tournament for us, Stonestreet said. “We started out fishing near Rod and Reel trying to catch redfish.

“We sat there for about two hours and the wind was cranking from the east so it was rough. It wasn’t productive so we ran back up into the (Manatee) river and started to fish some docks.”

After a slow period of fishing, three rods bent over at once and mayhem commenced.

“It seemed like the fish were just cruising by and we had all the baits eaten at once,” Stonestreet said. “From that we got a 33.25-inch redfish around 6 a.m.”

With a decent sized redfish out of the way they changed tactics to target trout. Stonestreet said with the water still warm, trout fishing is tough in the middle of the day, so the early morning would be the best time to get a big fish. After catching fresh bait they were off to flats near Emerson Point.

“We got a bunch of 16- and 17-inch trout before eventually getting a 22.5-incher around 10 a.m. This left us the rest of the day to fish for snook,” Stonestreet said.

Their first shot at a snook produced a decent 32-inch line sider, but Stonestreet knew they needed more. Fishing back in the Manatee River in the middle of the day, they hooked into a larger snook.

“Most people think these big fish only eat at night. If you put the right bait in front of them they’ll eat. Sometimes you just have to wait them out.”

Their big snook this day was netted and put on the board. It measured a whopping 41.25 inches. The team exchanged high fives as this was the snook they needed to improve their tournament total.

“There were a lot of good fishermen in this tournament so we knew we needed big fish if we wanted to win. Our goal was 100 inches and we were at 97 inches at that point. We started to fish for redfish once again and ended up catching more at 32 and 31 inches.”

The 97-inch total was enough for the victory, taking home first place in the Fall tournament. Coming in second was Breakfast Beer with 91 inches and Nauticole Marine at 90.5 inches. Their snook was the largest of the tournament, while Breakfast Beer had the largest redfish at 38.75 inches and Team Slipknot had the largest trout at 24.75 inches.

Rats on da Cheese would also bring home the team of the year award after combining their two spring and fall tournament totals. Their winnings totaled around $1,900.

The Ladies division was won by Vanessa Slade with an 87.25-inch slam. The Kayak division was won by Alan Wise with a 75.75-inch slam. The Guided division was won by Capt. Gene Maxwell with a 63.25-inch slam. The Adaptive Division was won by Team Kolton captained by Mike Goodwine with 72.5-inches.