CAPTIVA — Anglers battled heavy rains, harsh winds and rough water on Captiva Island this weekend, but none of it stopped them from scoring big fish.
Twenty-four teams competed at the 23rd annual Caloosa Catch and Release Tournament on Captiva for $10,000 in prize money in a field made up of both professional and amateurs, according to tournament director and founder Ronald Riley.
“It was tough out there. We’ve been through Hurricane Wilma, and other tropical storms in past years and this ranks right up there,” Riley said. “But guys that know how to fish can do it in any conditions, and on average, I think we caught more fish than in most years.”
The two-day tournament concluded on Saturday night with an awards dinner at the Celebration Center of Captiva, and local anglers definitely held their own.
With red drum as the target, the winner of the tournament was Team BrandWear out of Cape Coral/Naples, which reeled in 28.54 pounds of fish over the two days and took home a purse of $3,350. The team of Capt. George Patton, Mike Dykes, and Joe Bryan has been angling together for eight years, and Saturday was their first-ever win at the Caloosa tourney.
"We pre-fished Monday and took a look around and really ruled out more places than anything,” Patton said. “This is a great tournament, we’ve fished it many times and even though we compete in 15 or 20 tournaments a year, we tie in this one as often as we can.”
Team F.O.C.U.S. out of North Fort Myers finished in second place overall after tallying 24.75 pounds of fish and also won the heaviest snapper category with a 1.41 pounder. Combined, the team won $2,600 in prize money.
Capt. Richard Marano said the weather played into their hands.
“We like playing the rough weather better because it levels the field against guides,” Marano said. “When it’s really bad out there, it’s wide open. We fished every day until 4:45 p.m. in the rain, and no matter how bad it got, we just kept pushing.”
Team Bahama Breeze out of Tampa has been fishing the tournament for four years, and came in third place with 24 pounds of fish, but likely would have won the tourney had one of the red fish they scored been one-quarter of an inch shorter.
“We had a fish that was 27 inches and one quarter, and that would have won it for us,” said Bahama Breeze captain Ray Atwood. “But 27 inches is the top end of the slot for a red fish. It was less than my fingertip, but that’s the way it is, and we’re still feeling pretty good about where we ended up.”
The Caloosa Catch and Release is the second of the four tournaments, which make up the Caloosa Tournament Series.
“In the early years of this tournament it was all about camaraderie, friendship and the experience,” Riley said. “Then we went through a time frame where this tournament was all about money.”
“The pro tours got involved and greed came into play. But we’ve never change our core element, which was always trying to attract the best competitors,” Riley added. “Most of the pro tours are gone, most of the big money is gone, but we’re still paying out a really great purse, and the thing that’s never changed is everyone is welcome, whether you come every year, or have never fished in your life.”