There have been some memorable tournaments over the 26 year history of the O.C.A.R.C. fishing tournament, but I cannot recall one that ran any smoother or drew larger crowds than last Saturday’s. Center Director, John Thomas, decided to move the weigh-in to the City Public Boat launch and everyone involved lauded the move.

It just couldn’t have been any better. The weather was perfect, the fish decided to do their thing and you could have fed the entire family for a $10 bill. The massive parking lot not only afforded spectators easy access to the tented areas provided by Granger Chevrolet and Gopher industries, but also enabled the contestants to launch and park their rigs within walking distance of the scales.

Mother Nature played the most hospitable role, however, as what had been a very tough bite all summer gave way to some very user-friendly fishing across the weekend. Both the trout and redfish decided to school under the gulls and the live bait bite continued strong. It took a heck of a good fish to win every single category.

Even the Appaloosa Red (the redfish with the most spots) was a show-stopper as Sammy Hall’s winning fish had more spots than a leopard, much less an Appaloosa. The thirty-one spots basically ran down either side of the back of the fish which was unusual in itself.

Jesse Connor led off the parade of $100 first place winners with a 12.59 pound black drum. Cade Baker won the sun perch division with 5.6 pound fish and Ethan Read won the grinnel division with a solid 7.24 pounder. Matthew Lambert won the croaker division with a beautiful 2.43 pound fish.

Jagger McCullogh just blew away the field in the catfish division with a thick shouldered 21.59 pound fish. Matthew Pruyne took white perch honors with a .98 pound fish and Eddie Forgey took home the $50 check for winning the coveted “Don Hubbard Mudcat” with a 2.45 pound specimen.

All of the winners in the four categories worth $250 posted better than average fish. Beaux Hebert weighed in a 3.19 pound bass, Bryan Sandlin’s winning flounder weighed 3.99 pounds and Nancy Nichols winning speck weighed in at a very respectable 6.32 pounds.

Garrett Granger’s winning redfish weighing 7.33 pounds was a very good fish considering the fact that eligible reds had to be less than 27 inches in length. Never in the history of the tournament have they ever had so many redfish weighed in according to weigh-master, Joe Persohn.

The live bait fishermen as well as those fishing the back lakes in the surrounding marshes were already catching good numbers of redfish, but right on cue the redfish decided to school in the open lake as well. Seemingly every contestant arrived at the weigh-in line with at least one redfish in their box!

Every youngster that fished the event left with a smile on their face and a trophy in hand. Many of them left with a grab bag and new fishing rod as well. There were raffle winners galore and the center handed out everything from fishing caps to t-shirts throughout the weigh-in.

The easier bite in the lake ignited, as predicted, as soon as the wind started taking a break in the middle of the day. Ladyfish and gafftop were hammering away at shrimp and massive schools of shad from one end of the lake to the other and both the reds and trout decided to join in on the buffet by the end of the week.

The largest of the trout are still coming out of the deeper water in the ICW. Both live bait and tails are fooling specks up to seven pounds, but the best fish last weekend was a 30-inch 9 pound 4 ounce trout that gave it up to a topwater. That fish also came out of the ICW. The fish is now at the taxidermist, but sadly enough it was taken by an angler that had not signed up for the STAR tournament. That mistake cost him some big bucks!

For the first time in a while our most productive lure was not a Vudu shrimp fished under a cork. We switched over to the four inch Sea Shad and Flats Minnow when the reds showed up and the trout approved of the switch as well. Easily our two best colors were Texas Roach and any translucent color as long as the tail was chartreuse!

When the trout start doing their thing on the surface and I am forced to deal with ladyfish as well, I take advantage of the topwater action by replacing the stock treble hooks with single hooks. I hook just as many fish, don’t have to deal with the extra barbs when extricating a fish and do far less damage to the fish to be released. Treble hooks can literally be a pain when dealing with schooling fish.

It was late in arriving, but it looks like the numbers game is on and it should only get better. Don’t forget how hard the fishing has been over the past few weeks and take the time to handle any fish to be released with care. Minimum length regulations cannot help future fishing if you kill the smaller fish anyway!