The sun rose Saturday morning over what turned out to be a near perfect weather day – 80°F, no precipitation, 2 mph west winds with max 12 mph gusts, and 9 mi visibility.
Longest Redfish Winner Martha Ann Brunsink from Homosassa, FL, was about ready to call it quits for the day with only a catfish to enter in the “Mixed Bag”, when she decided to try something besides her usual gold spoon. Brunsink was fishing from a 13’ Hurricane “Phoenix” sit-on-top kayak, using a 7 ½’ Redbone medium action rod, a Fin-Nor “Lite S-300” reel, 10 lb test braid and a 20 lb fluorocarbon leader. Well into the incoming tide off an oyster bar in about 5’ of water, she tied on a 3/8 oz white-headed jig with a third of a blue crab for bait. “My anchor was dragging in the west wind, so I put my rod on the front rod holder to pull and reposition my anchor, leaving the bait out.” said Brunsink, “When the red (33.5”) took the bait, it ran so hard I couldn't get my rod back out of the holder! The wind, current, and waves pushed me into the oyster bar - quite the tense experience! I thought I had a shark, but was really happy and excited when I knew it was a big redfish! I spent extra time holding it in the water to revive it because it was such a beautiful, spectacular fish. I watched in awe as it swam away! What a great catch! I am so thankful to be able to have these experiences on the water - it gives me great joy.”
David Durrance from Gainesville, FL, fishing from a Freedom Hawk kayak, won the Longest Trout trophy with a 16.5” seatrout.
Redfish/Trout Slam winner Neil Bontrager, from Bartow, FL needed a little encouragement to enter the tournament. “My awesome wife Melanie told me if I didn’t register and go myself, she would register me and push me out the door,” said Bontrager. Bontrager and friends fishing the tournament could have given up when they realized their paddles were still in Bartow! With borrowed paddles, they proceeded as planned. Bontrager fished from a Heritage kayak using a Penn 7’ “Slammer” rod with a Penn “550ssg” reel, Power Pro braided line, a 20 lb Berkley “Vanish” leader, with a 1/8 oz Strike King jig head and Berkley “Gulp!®” 4” minnow in smelt. Neil brought in the winning combination of a 26” redfish and a 15.63” trout for a combined length of 41.63 inches. The seatrout was caught in open water, approximately an hour and a half after tide turn, drifting in water 3’ to 4’ deep, just north of an island with a mixed sand, rock, and grass bottom. The redfish was caught along the edge of a deep channel, in 4’ to 5’ foot of water, where less than half an hour before Bontrager had caught a 28” snook.
If the tournament had a prize for most fish, it would have gone home with Alice Trautman from Ocala, FL who caught fifteen redfish. Jason Wit from Panama City, FL, took home a blue ribbon. Jason has forever bragging rights as the first junior angler to ever fish the Nature Coast Challenge.
Angler John Everson from Inverness, FL returned to fish the Nature Coast Challenge for the second year and won the new “Mixed Bag” trophy. The “Mixed Bag” for this tournament was the highest number of unique species of fish caught and photographed. In case of a tie, total length was the tie breaker. Everson won with three species: black drum, jack, and catfish. Everson was fishing from a Hobie “Pro Angler 14”, using a Star Rod, Penn “Battle 4000” reel, 20 lb Power Pro Line, and 16” of Seaguar “Blue Label” 20 lb fluorocarbon leader. He caught a black drum and jack with MirrOLure bait, and a catfish using a shrimp under an egg clicker. Everson said, “The Nature Coast Challenge is an awesome tournament for all kayak fishing men and women. Anyone who owns or rents a kayak should come to the next challenge and try it - you will like it! Check out www.naturecoastchallenge.com.”
It’s truly as much about the experience as it is the fish. Next year’s tournament dates are April 17-18, 2015. Mark your calendars now! Until then – good luck and good fishing!