A few weeks ago I was contacted by a gentleman who was planning on traveling to Tampa from Texas. He was coming to Tampa to visit his wife, who is doing her internship in St. Petersburg. He was interested in booking a charter targeting redfish. He told me he had recently started fishing in Port Aransas, Texas and wanted to learn some techniques for catching redfish. I checked my calendar, we choose July 28th, and we agreed to meet at the Gandy boat ramp at 8 A.M.
My day started off just like any other day I have a charter. Alarm goes off at 4am, dress, knock the funk off my teeth, eat a couple English Muffins with a cup of coffee and out the door by 5A.M. A quick stop at the ice machine and I am usually at the ramp by 6AM. I am usually the first or second person at the ramp in the morning. I have my routine to setting up my boat for a charter and I like to have plenty of time to do this. When I pull up at the Gandy boat ramp there are around 20 trucks and trailers in the parking lot! I pull off to the side of the entrance and begin to set up my boat. Within minutes a couple more trucks pull in and I realize that there is something going on today but I have no idea what it is. I launch my boat and park my truck. As I am walking back to my boat I stop and ask a guy who was loading his boat what was going on this morning. He told me that there was a Flatsmasters Redfish fishing tournament today. I immediately knew that this was going to change my plans on trying to fish exclusively for redfish today.
I made a run to a nearby flat that was holding bait and as I pull onto the flat I see where all those boats I saw the trailers for were at. There are around 15 boats on the flats trying to catch bait. I ease into my usual spot and begin to chum, hoping all the other boats will not make it hard for me to secure enough bait to fish for the day. After a bit of chumming, I see some baits start to flash in my chum slick, I get my net together and give it a quick toss. As I am pulling it in I can see it has some pretty good flashing in it. I do this a few more time and now have enough bait to fish for the day.
As I head back to the dock to await the arrival of my clients I start to come up with a Plan B. I know that most popular redfish spots will have a tournament boat on it and my clients wanted to target redfish. I start to think about all the areas I have caught redfish in over the last few years in July and would they be worth the run there only to find someone sitting on them. I know there is a productive redfish spot virtually right around the corner from the boat ramp, but what are the odds that everyone in the tournament will drive right by it?
I begin readying the rods for the day of fishing when my clients arrive fifteen minutes early! I introduce myself and welcome them aboard. As I get their stuff settled I begin to explain to them about the redfish tournament going on today. With apprehension I explain to them how there is a big redfish tournament and there may be a boat on every spot we check. I do not want them to think that I booked them knowing that there was a redfish tournament going on. I truly want to provide every charter I book with the exact trip they want. As we are motoring away from the dock, I tell them we will check a spot literally five minutes away and if there is a boat there we will go to plan B and target a few other species. They agree and tell me that more than anything they just want to have a fun day on the water. Wow, was I relieved to hear that!
I put the Ranger on plane and take a short five minute boat ride. I bring the boat off plane and use the trolling motor to get us into position. I send a bait out and hand the rod to my angler. As I am baiting up another rod my angler yells, "I got something!" I look up to see a big bronze flash and I know my angler has his first redfish. After what seemed like forever we boated a fat 29" redfish that weighed over 12lbs. on the Boga Grip. We snap a few pictures and I begin to revive the fish. Before I get the fish released I hear my other angler saying, "I think I got something." I send another bait out to the general area this fish was hooked and watch my angler fight her fish. After quite a long battle my angler says, "My arms are starting to hurt!" I tell her these fish are hard fighters and its gonna be a battle to land this fish. Another five minute of tug-a-war and she finally has this fish boat side. I put the Boga grip in the fish's mouth and bring it into the boat. This fish is the perfect tournament fish, 26 3/4 inches and over 7lbs on the Boga grip. Almost immediately the drag on my other angler's reel starts screaming. I see a big boil and I know he has another nice redfish. He battles this fish for a few minutes and we boat another nice tournament redfish. This one is 26 1/2 inches and also over 7 pounds on the Boga grip! We take a quick pic of these fishes and let them go. I rebait the rods and send them back out into the redfish school.
While we are waiting for our next bite I go over the basics of how a redfish tournament works. I explain to my anglers that if we were in a tournament today we would be doing well with over 14lbs. Only a few minutes pass and we are hooked up again. We boat a redfish over 26 inches and 7 pounds. My angler asks if that is a good tournament fish and I replied, "Oh yeah, anything over 7 pounds is a great start."
She looks over at her husband then at me and asks me, "Why didn't we fish in the Flatsmasters today?" I look at her speechless and immediately her and her husband bust out laughing. They proceed to tell me they could sense I felt pressure to get them on redfish and how relieved I looked when we started catching right away. Now I had to laugh too, as I did feel like the pressure was lifted from my shoulders.
We continued to catch redfish for the next few hours. We probably landed over 25 redfish before the tide stopped. We made a short move to an area recently holding snook and as soon as the tide started going out, the snook bite turned on. Before we headed back to the ramp, we boated over 10 snook, two being in the mid 30 inch range!
On the ride back I told them what an exceptional bite we had today and that they had landed a bull red and a trophy snook all in the same day.
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