Going into Tournament 3 of the Emerald Coast Redfish Circuit on Saturday, Jake Wright and I were tied for second in team of the year and needed to fish conservatively. Of course we wanted to win, but if we went for broke and weighed nothing chasing unicorns, we would take a 10-point penalty and ultimately lose our standing. We never found a lot pre-fishing Choctaw and the forecast as of Thursday morning was calling for 4-mph winds at daybreak building to 15 mph by sundown. Jake and I decided we were going to make a run back to Panama City and fish familiar waters where we always find something to weigh.
We arrived at Thomas Pilcher Park for registration and launch. We bought into the calcuttas for biggest trout and most spots, launched the boat and waited for the horn. When we arrived, I noticed the palms bending and the shrubs shaking. The wind was already blowing 13 mph from the West/Southwest, meaning besides the intercoastal, it was going to be bumpy. The horn blew and everyone took off except one boat that wouldn’t start. We went over to him, threw him our jump pack, made sure he was running, and we both took off. The intercoastal was like glass and we were cruising, then we made it to West Bay. It was capping and felt like the wind had picked up, but we just bounced through it and and kept going to the areas we agreed upon to fish. What is normally a 1 hour and 15 minute run, was 1 hour and 30 minutes with the wind and waves.
We got to the first spot, set up the 5-foot sight tower on the bow, dropped the trolling motor, and began fishing. I threw a 4-inch saltwater assassin sea shad, and Jake threw a 5-inch saltwater assassin die dapper. We were at the first area for about 15 minutes and I hooked up a 20-inch red, but it had 5 spots. Being in the calcuttas and tied for second in team of the year, we decided to keep him and get the skunk out of the boat. That took the weight off our shoulders, knowing we were going to weigh and not take a 10-point penalty. Now all we had to do was find a unicorn and a gator trout, and we’d be in good shape. We continued around the flat, caught an 18-inch trout, released and decided to move.
The wind had to be blowing close to 20 mph, white capping and rough. We got to the second spot, deployed the trolling motor, climbed the tower and drifted with the wind, using the trolling motor to keep control down the flat. We saw big reds, but just couldn’t convince them to eat. I began fan casting while watching, felt a thump, set the hook, and the drag screamed. In my mind, I hooked an upper slot red, until it came by the boat and I saw grey and black, and realized I hooked a cobia. I couldn’t believe it — 2 feet of water on a flat I have fished for 25 years, throwing a paddle tail for reds during a tournament, and I caught a 28-inch cobia. Don’t get me wrong, it was awesome — just not at that time, it was frustrating. We finished that flat and moved to a more protected flat somewhat out of the wind.
We worked the third flat, extremely slow as we had good visibility. I threw, felt a thump, set the hook, felt head shakes and weight. I landed a 23-inch trout at 3.5 pounds. I normally wouldn’t put that in the live well being over 20 inches, but I needed it for the tournament. Jake hooked up, landed a 21.5-inch red, and we kept it as well. It was getting late, and we had about a 2-hour ride back with the wind blowing about 20 mph-plus. We had about 6 pounds, which was horrible, but we wouldn’t take a penalty for weighing in. We had a 5-spot red and a 3.5-pound trout, so we should win something.
We arrived back at Thomas Pilcher Park for weigh-in after a ride back that was so rough it sheared the bolt in the head unit of my trolling motor. There were 15 teams, and it appeared everyone had reds — and there was rumor of a 6-pound trout. We weighed in and placed 13th with 5.91 pounds. We came in second in trout, with another angler weighing a 5.9-pound trout, and we came in second in spots with another angler bringing in a 6-spot red. We literally lost in everything, but only dropped to third in team of the year.
We are 1 point behind second and 10 points behind first. The next ECRC tournament is July 21 at Leslie Porter Park by the Bailey Bridge in Lynn Haven