NAPLES — Editor's Note: Corrected spelling of Brossard's first name.
Drifting along with the incoming current in the channel near Rookery Bay, fifth-grader Rhys Brossard was learning the finer nuances to casting backhanded from guide Dave Barber.
“You got to keep it low to the water and just flick it,” Barber instructed.
Brossard’s next attempt sent a shrimp-tipped jig less than a foot from where the red mangrove branches met the water.
“There you go. Now you’re getting it,” Barber exclaimed as Brossard gave a big grin.
Brossard and Poinciana Elementary classmate Atilla Hepp were teammates aboard Barber’s boat for the Gene Doyle Fishing Tournament that began on Saturday.
Even though extreme differences in tides and windy weather made the fishing conditions less than ideal, those aboard the volunteer captain’s vessel considered it a success.
The day got off to a good start for the team, with Hepp boating two-thirds of a Gulf inshore slam, catching and releasing a snook and a sea trout, but the action tailed off as the day went on.
“It was a little slow and the clarity of the water didn’t help matters,” Barber said. “I tried some of my really good spots but they just weren’t hitting. Other than that, we had no misfortunes, we didn’t have to work and it was relaxing.”
“The fish were messing with us,” Hepp noted.
Fortunately, the tournament has an awards category for a “trash can slam” which consists of ladyfish, hardhead catfish and jack crevalle, which provided steady action throughout the day and fended off waning attention spans toward the end.
“You know why they call them ladyfish? It’s because they have such big mouths,” mused Brossard, 10, after partner Hepp landed a particularly feisty specimen. “That’s my dad’s favorite joke.”
Although Barber, now in his third year with the tournament, admits that being a volunteer guide for the children’s division can be a bit daunting at times and there is more time spent freeing errant casts from tree branches than in most tournaments, he still values the experience.
“I enjoy it. I think I showed them a few little tricks,” Barber said. “They did very well. They are both pretty good casters, which was great because sometime you get children who have never fished at all, but I these young gentleman will make good fishermen someday.”
“I think it’s awesome. Really fantastic,” Atilla’s mother Veronica, a secretary with the Collier County school system, said of her son’s opportunity to take part in the event. “He has always been a fisherman but he has never done a tournament so he was really excited.”
Brossard and Hepp will be back on the water with Barber and the rest of the Gene Doyle field beginning at 7 a.m. Sunday. An awards banquet will be held at the Pelican Bay Club in Naples at 6 p.m. to announce the winners.