Blessed with nice weather, a large field of angling contestants produced a record-setting weekend at Doug Johnson’s Annual Reeling for Kids fishing tournament at Steinhatchee. Of the 112 teams entered, 76 competed in inshore category while 36 chose to seek offshore species. A great variety of impressive fish was brought to the weigh scales each day, taken from water a foot deep all the way out to the Florida Middle Grounds.
In the tournament that the ex-Gator and NFL quarterback envisioned and created to benefit children, a couple of skilled young fishers showed their stuff. Chase Norwood whipped an 18.45-pound barracuda to take the top Junior Offshore Angler prize, and Troy Charles, Jr. pulled off the notable feat of boating a 4.5-pound trout and a 4.8-pound redfish over the two days of competition to earn the Junior Inshore Angler award.
A new Friday-only “Trout Stringer” prize went to the team of Cole Childers, R.J. Dick, and Ian Taylor. Casting large mullet-colored surface lures near the Pepperfish Keys area, the Gainesville trio boxed a 5-fish tourney trout limit that weighed 13.75-pounds. Given legal length restrictions and the event’s warm weather date, this winning weight could stand in the RFK record book for some time.
In their post-spawn state, individual winning trout were a bit less heavy than they had been a couple of months ago. Still, Chase Daniels’ first-place 5.1-pounder, Toby Griffis’ 4.95, and Ashley Mock’s 4.5 winners were all fine specimens.
Jake Colle’s 7.35-pound beauty was tops in the redfish division, followed by the spot-tails bagged by Chase Daniels (6.65) and Cody Goslinga (6.3). The “Spotted Redfish” category saw reds sporting 12, 10, and 9 spots caught by Rick Schmitz, Dewey Halloway, and George Dell.
Some real attention-getting Spanish mackerel were entered, topped by Andrew Delaney’s 6.85-pound whopper. Most years, Jason Carrington (5.7) and Team MTML (5.6) could have realistically expected their fish to have good shots at the top Spanish prize.
Only two cobia were weighed in. Steve Hacht’s 25.8-pound ling was the largest, and Andrew Greer’s 21.3 took the second-place prize.
Close races were the rule in the offshore categories, but Mike English did win in the Kingfish Division by a good margin with his 33.9-pound smoker. Russ Hedgecock had a nice 27.85-pounder, and Wiley Horton claimed third place with his 26.7.
Chris Newsome’s thick 14.55-pound red grouper edged Horton’s 14.4-pound entry, and Cephus Christian took third with a 10.75-pounder.
Winners in the Red Snapper division were: Russ Hedgecock (13.85), Jon Thomas (12.05), and Chris Williams (11.7).
The Masters Inshore and Masters Offshore awards are the most coveted and highest-paying prizes in the Reeling for Kids tournament. The inshore competitors weigh their largest single trout, redfish, and Spanish mackerel to make up their masters total; while offshore competitors combine the weights of their largest kingfish, red grouper, and red snapper.
With a total trout/red/mack weight of 16.75, the Chase Daniels team claimed this year’s top Masters Inshore prize. The Daniels team was followed by Team MTML (14.1) and the Jason Carrington team (13.35).
When the smoke cleared, the top three teams vying to be Masters Offshore champs finished with total weights close enough to cause considerable anguish. Wiley Horton and Team MTML finished with 48.95-pounds. Just ahead of them, Team English tallied 50.07. But, as they have in previous years, Team Hedgecock prevailed with a red snapper/red grouper/kingfish total of 51.35-pounds.
Best of all, Johnson’s fundraiser that has grown into the most prestigious of gulf coast angling events, succeeded in raising more than 100K for the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County.
Down the gulf coast another long-running contest, the Homosassa Cobia Big Fish Tournament, also attracted a large field last weekend. The 39.18-pound winning ling was worth $6800.00 to its captor, Gregg Norcross.
Just one more major gulf coast fishing challenge is coming up on the Big Bend radar, and that’s the Steinhatchee Ladies Tournament to be held out of The Estuary Saturday, June 18. This tourney features cash awards and a special prize for the largest ladyfish. The Steinhatchee River Chamber of Commerce will sponsor a fish fry at the weigh-in. Entry tickets are available at River Haven and Sea Hag Marinas, and at Steinhatchee’s Tackle Outlet