The top anglers of the series are invited to the NCC, and all must fish in a designated zone for the same species of fish. The NCC was a redfish, snook & trout slam tournament in which the contestants must catch, photograph, and release one fish of each species. Harder than it sounds, particularly on tournament day when the pressure is on. What is at stake? Over $10,000 in sponsor gear prizes, bragging rights for a year, plus a Diablo Paddlesports “Adios” kayak. National exposure and possible sponsorships are also involved.
Come tournament day, it is anyone’s game. The playing field is leveled, and all of the series points have been cleaned off the leader board. Everyone is at zero, the sun is coming up, and it is time to go catch fish - catch fish they did. In particular, the new champion had a field day and his best tournament ever.
Per his plan, Joe Lineberry launched his kayak and paddled out to his early fishing location. The 25-year U.S. Army veteran always has a plan. He made a couple of casts and connected with a fat 23” snook. He landed her, said “Cheese” for the photo, and released the beauty to fight another day. A few more casts, and Lineberry connected with a nice 23.9” trout that was also photographed and released. With two of the three species recorded Lineberry did not feel he would catch larger fish, so it was time for a two mile paddle to his redfish flats.
Using D.O.A. and MirrOlure baits, Joe began the hunt for reds. He caught a few, and had his slam by 7:30 a.m. He kept on searching, looking for an upgrade in size to help assure his victory. He had put a lot of pressure on himself. He really wanted to win this tournament as it would be his last; Lineberry is retiring from the Army and joining his wife in Canada, where they will run their family marina.
Lineberry kept searching - a hunt, if you will. Then he spotted a large bull red tailing on the flats. He picked up his Deep South rod with the D.O.A. “Shad Tail” soft plastic lure. He made the cast, landing the lure just in front of the hungry redfish. “Come on, take it,” said Joe under his breath, as all of us do. Then the flats erupted with an explosive strike that sent water and sand sparkling into the morning sky. The commotion of the battle could be heard across the flats. Lineberry had to be careful. This was the tournament-winning redfish he had been searching for, hoping for, and perhaps praying for. Joe had picked up his lightweight rod with only 6 lb. test line on the spool and a mere 15 lb. test fluorocarbon leader. That was the only thing that connected him to a day in the sun or a bitter defeat. The battle raged for several minutes. The bull fought like an experienced champion and was determined to retain his freedom of the flats. Finally outwitted, the powerful redfish was landed, photographed and released after a proper revival. The mighty red had tested the tackle to the limit and lost to the skill of a master angler. The redfish measured 27.4” and was fat - I’m talking three hamburgers a day fat. You could not get your hands around him, and he was one beautiful redfish.
As Joe watched the red swim away it saddened him. He knew that was it - he was through. No longer would he compete with his friends. No longer would he share in their happiness and laughter as he had done for so long. Soon it would be time to move on, as it is all too familiar in Army life.
Joe Lineberry made the paddle back to his launch, and drove to the photo weigh in at Whiskey Joe’s where his friends were waiting for him. He sat down at the scoring table and tried to conceal his excitement with his best poker face. He scored a total of 84.3” with the slam bonus, and that was more than good enough to claim his new throne.
Joe Lineberry became the Kayak Fishing ClassicS 2013 National Champion on that day. He saved the best for last in true champion fashion, and earned the respect and admiration of anglers everywhere. All of us at the ClassicS, Diablo Paddlesports, all of our sponsors, and all of your friends congratulate you, Joe, in your victory. This was a fitting end to this chapter of your life, and a wonderful new beginning to the next. We will all miss you!
Derick Burgos of Team Diablo finished in second place with a 74.1” slam, and Otis Coblentz scored 67” with his slam to capture third place. Jose Vidal, also of Team Diablo, scored 43.7”with a redfish and a trout. Jose also took the Bending Branches ‘Big Fish’ award with his 30.3” redfish and earned himself fourth place in the national. Michael Davidson also entered a redfish and a trout for 43.6” and fifth place. Series Champion Marty Meakin was in the game, but just could not connect with a redfish. He entered a nice snook and a trout measuring 43.3”, landing the Series Champ in a not too shabby sixth place in the national championship.