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  • Rob Baker

First tournament - CCA STAR

From July 1 to October 4 in this incredible year of 2020 I participated in my first "catch, photo and release" fishing tournament. The State-wide Tournament Anglers Rodeo (“STAR”) event (ccaflstar.com) is managed every year by the Coastal Conservation Association (ccaflorida.org). There were many different categories, but the main goal of the event was to catch a tagged redfish, document doing so using their mobile app, pass a polygraph, and win a boat. Sounds simple, right?

 

“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions of hope.”

-John Buchan


banana river, cocoa

As of this writing, there were 18 tagged redfish catches reported to the app in the 2020 event. All of these were disqualified, mostly because the posting anglers were not registered to the tournament before they caught the redfish. In one case an angler was registered but was DQ'd for not using the required STAR measuring tape. Another angler caught a tagged redfish and followed all of the rules, but the tag was from 2018 and so didn't count (he received an Engle cooler for his efforts).


I left the house at 4am about a dozen times during the tournament period. I was skunked only once, which is a great record of achievement for me. Most of my catches were too small to qualify as entries, though, but I had a lot of fun trying out new fishing spots and techniques. I witnessed some really pretty early morning skies.

My only official entry was a seatrout measuring about 17.5 inches, just barely above the minimum of 15 inches and well below some of the larger entries at 25+ inches. Most of my larger seatrout were caught using hard plastic topwater lures, while the smaller ones were more likely to strike at soft plastics rigged on jig-heads twitched along the bottom in the weeds.

spotted seatrout

I caught my first snook! The minimum for snook was 28 inches, so I didn't bother to photograph this catch on the official measuring device (a tape that I attached to a small board). I saw plenty of these guys lurking near the mangroves in the Banana River, so was happy to get lucky and snag one.

snook, banana river, merritt island

On three occasions I caught the vaunted gafftopsail catfish, with it's long venomous spines and distinctive little bark. This was not an eligible species for the tournament, but was almost always my first catch of any given day, and by far the strongest fighter of any fish I've ever had on the line.

I did manage to catch a lovely little redfish in very shallow water near a line of mangroves. This was my second redfish (see post from April 28, 2020), and it occurred to me how amazing they look and feel. This was a perfect little 10 inch redfish. It ate the soft lure, but my offset hook came out easily and it was not harmed. The non-tagged redfish minimum for the tournament was 18 inches.

redfish

At the same spot where I caught the redfish I managed to catch a small mullet. This was very odd because they usually spook at passing lures and generally ignore them, but I'd seen this happen before (see post from Nov 1, 2017). This fish devoured a soft swimmer shad but managed to spit out the hook through the gills without getting snagged by it. I thought about hooking it on as is and using it as bait, but since it was unharmed I cut the line and let it go.

mullet

A few days are left in the tournament, but I will try again next summer. I'm refocusing my game plan for freshwater and bass from now until next year.

 

“Fishing tournaments seem a little like playing tennis with living balls...”

-Jim Harrison

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