The 425 anglers who fished in the 25th annual Big Bend Saltwater Classic battled rough seas.
Matt Lambert, chairman of the tournament, said several captains ended the day early on Saturday, with fewer fish weighed than last year.
“We still weighed a lot of fish though,” said Lambert.
Paul Osterbye, who fishes out of Carrabelle every weekend, said his team experienced six to eight foot waves for most of the day Saturday. Rough water didn’t dampen everyone’s enthusiasm. Osterbye’s 7-year-old granddaughter, Jaylyn Middleton, still managed to haul in more than 50 fish although none made it onto the leaderboard.
It was a real Father’s Day tournament this year.
Osterbye fished with his son Danny who is not quite as old as the venerable tourney. Danny Osterbye began competing in the Juniors Division some years ago. His weekend featured seasickness, and snagging his hair in his line while reeling in a king mackerel. Ouch! Danny caught the same mackerel twice. Having dropped it while offloading at the Moorings, he dove in the drink to retrieve the big bruiser and slashed his palm on barnacles in the process.
Also fishing as a team were Mike, Gage and Riley Runyan, of Crawfordville.
Daddy Mike was glowing with pride during the Junior Division awards as he watched both boys receive medals in their first tournament.. Nine-year-old Gage took first place for a 17.3 pound snapper that set a record for the juniors, the only record set in this year’s competition. Little brother Riley hauled in a snapper that weighed nearly 11 pounds to win third place.
Mateo La Sorsa, of Orlando, fishing in the Junior Division for the second time, maintained his first place status for grouper for the second year and took additional medals for snapper, king mackerel and Spanish mackerel.
Marilyn and Gary Lawhon of Carrabelle took first and third place respectively for flounder in the Recreational Division.
Team Bigfish SGI was fourth on the leaderboard for the Masters Division with 250 points and Capt. Clint Taylor took first place for snapper with a 21-pound beauty, and third for king mackerel with a fish that tipped the scales at 24.5 pounds.
This year, the tournament changed its venue for the first time since 2006. The competition was staged from the Moorings, the site of the original competition.
“The Moorings is where we started and, for our silver anniversary, we thought we would like to get back to our roots,” Lambert said. “. It’s a great space and a great staff.”
He said he plans to stage the competition at the Moorings again next year with very few changes.
On Sunday, the Franklin County All-stars AA baseball team passed the hat and helped out at the charity fish auction. Proceeds from the auction will help pay the boys’ way to Florida Dixie Youth Baseball State Tournament at Wildwood on June 29. Members of the Seahawks varsity football team also lent a hand in this year’s tourney working in shifts throughout the competition.
Lambert said in spite of having fewer fish to offer, the auction netted more than last year, and raised more than $1,000 for the young athletes.
Voice stress analysis employed
Another change in this year’s competition was the introduction of voice stress analysis to spot check anglers and prevent the propagation of fish tales.
According to Lambert, the tournament has used polygraph equipment for at least the four years he has served on the board. The voice stress analysis was used to screen potential polygraph subjects.
He said the tests are given over the phone and must be performed in a silent room. The time required for the process slowed the processing of winners slightly this year.
“We have always done spot checks and performed tests when the angler or fish was suspect. (Voice stress analysis) saves the tournament some money,” said Lambert. “Polygraph tests are more expensive. We just want to make sure the integrity of the tournament is intact. People will cheat if you let them. We try not to let them. “
Lambert said an angler who refuses a spot test will not receive his or her check but added that the tournament has never had to withhold payment.
As always, the Saltwater Classic benefited the Organization for Artificial Reefs (OAR). Founded in 1985, OAR serves the recreational saltwater fishing industry of Florida's Big Bend Gulf Coast by promoting the professional development of public artificial reefs.
Since 1987, OAR has created or enhanced over 30 named reefs in the Big Bend Gulf. OAR collaborates with cities and counties as well as state and federal governments to create and maintain artificial reefs.
OAR also collaborates with marine research agencies, other artificial reef groups, and the academic community.