Each year from May's Crosthwait through July's DeSoto, the area's best anglers come together for three multi-species fishing tournaments in Bradenton. The middle tourney, last weekend's Fire Charity Fishing Tournament, helps raise funds for the Children's Burn Camp while also testing anglers' resolve through summertime conditions.
This year's tournament raised $12,000 with the help of the community, sponsors, anglers and volunteers. The two-day, six-fish format attracts anglers from around the bay, including Brandon-based team Godzilla and Captain Jeff Gentner.
"I love the two-day format of these tournaments. We've fished the Crosthwait for six years now as well as the Fire Charity," Gentner says. "They're a lot of fun, and when you can go out and have a good time for a good cause, it's even better."
For the first 21 hours of the 30-hour tournament, Gentner wasn't having such a good time. Until early Sunday morning, fishing had been slow and the team had little to show for their efforts.
"There was a huge lull in the action from Saturday morning until Sunday morning. Then everything turned around."
Sticking near Gentner's home waters, the team targeted big snook around rocky shorelines in upper Tampa Bay. Between 4-5 a.m., they would land their two biggest of the tournament, a 39-inch snook caught by Mark Scheikert and a 38-inch snook caught by Darek Timoszuk. "Big bait, big tackle, big fish," Gentner described. "We target them in deeper water in areas they stage before spawning."
With the large snook added to their catch, morale turned around, and the four man crew that also included Shannon Thieme headed to the southern end of Tampa Bay for redfish and big trout.
"We were on a big school of redfish and weeded through a lot of fish to get the two bigger ones. There were slot sized and over slot sized fish. The two biggest were 33 inches.
"For trout we went to an area where we've caught big ones before. We used the biggest bait we had. It was honestly really lucky, and we caught a 27-inch and a 25-incher."
With a solid six-fish catch the team still didn't think they would have enough to top the nearly 40 other competing boats. "We knew we had high points, but with the catches we've been seeing lately we were thinking it might be a top five," Gentner said.
At the weigh in, as each boat was called to the podium, team Godzilla inched closer to the top prize of $4,000 with their 392-point total. "We didn't realize we had won until they called second place. In the end it all came together and we were excited to win," Getner exclaimed.
Second place went to team Rats Onda Cheese with 384 points, while third went to team Wilbers Boat with 382.
In the upcoming weeks, anglers will have more chances to partake in local tournaments.
The highly competitve De Soto Fishing Tournament will take place July 10-12. For more information, visit desotohq.com/events/de-soto-fishing-tournament/.
On July 18, the West Florida Scuba Club Gene Cloud Memorial Spearfishing Tournament will take place. For more information, visit westfloridascubaclub.com