Although technically a river, the Banana River looks more like a huge lagoon kept under the watchful eye of NASA and KARS Park. Contestants were allowed to fish the No Motor Zone (NMZ in local lingo). Many of the anglers headed toward the far north end of the NMZ to fish the Buck Creek area. Anglers are not allowed into the creek, but the big fish hang around just outside its mouth. The wind had pushed the baitfish toward the western shoreline, and that played into the plans of many contestants. On the other hand, some decided to head across the open spans of water to the eastern shore and try a completely different strategy.
A good number of the contestants camped out at KARS Park and pre-fished the day before the tournament, in an effort to locate wind-scattered target species (redfish and trout). Some were successful, and others were struggling. As tournament day went on and the winds continued to build, some anglers threw in the towel and came ashore to enjoy a warm cup of coffee and share their fish tales with those of us at the campsites.
Vickie Sallee figured out where some big East Coast reds should be, and she was right. She came across a school of bruisers, only to be snubbed and ignored every cast. That seemed to be the story of the day. Few of the fish that were found would bite.
Chuck Statham, who has won three tournaments in a row by fishing and winning both divisions, was having a tough time locating biting fish. This is unusual for Chuck, and it goes to show that it can happen to anyone. Chuck landed a 21.3” trout that proved to be good enough for third place on a top water lure.
Otis Coblentz landed an 11.1” trout and fourth place, followed by Blake Beltz who captured fifth place with a 10.8” trout. Considering the conditions, they were all glad to have a fish to enter at the photo weigh in.
Andrew Mixon was one of the anglers that used “Plan B”, and scored very well using a MirrOlure lure. The anglers were fishing for two redfish and one trout, and that is exactly what Mixon entered at the weigh in - the only angler to do so. Mixon entered two reds measuring 22.1” and 22.5”, as well as a nice 27.5” trout, for a total of 72.1” and first place.
Andrew Mixon takes first place
Jose ‘Pepi’ Vidal went with “Plan A” and headed to the Buck Creek area with his good friend “Redfish Chuck” Levi. Pepi landed a nice 23.4” redfish; not huge by Banana River standards, but appreciated nonetheless. The day pressed on, and still no more fish for the highly experienced pair. As time was running out, Pepi spotted the submarine-like push of a giant redfish on the prowl for something to munch Vidal made his cast, and the hungry giant charged the lure, slammed it, and took Pepi for an East Coast sleigh ride. After a considerable battle on his BlackDog Rod, Vidal subdued the big redfish and brought it alongside his kayak. It was all he could do to lift the fish into the kayak for a quick photo, nearly flipping over as he struggled. Redfish Chuck arrived on the scene to help with revival, and assured the beautiful fish would live to fight another day.
The redfish measured 39”, which combined with the not-so-small other redfish to give Pepi a total of 62.4” and a very solid second place. With his combined score for the day and the previous tournament score Jose Vidal took control of the East Coast Series division and is now in first place overall. Chuck Statham is in second place. The Top Five anglers in the Banana River Classic shared the $10,000in sponsor prizes.
It is also notable to share something that shows just what these anglers are made of. Andrew Mixon usually fishes tournaments with his son, Micha, who had entered the Banana River Classic but then had to withdraw. We asked Andrew if all was well, and he told us a story that warmed my heart and made me proud to know the father and son.
It seems that Micha has a good friend who had been trying to save for a kayak, so that he could learn kayak fishing and join Micha and his father in the tournaments. As we all know, saving money can be hard to do. Well, Micha had won a kayak in a recent tournament and decided to give it to his friend. The two buddies were going kayak fishing for the first time together the same day as our tournament, and Micha had to withdraw. In my mind, that kid is a real winner and so are his parents for teaching him such great values. That’s what kayak fishing is all about…