While the southwest coast of Florida routinely hosts first-class events for die-hard anglers looking to test their skills, the 1st Annual Gulf Coast Open offered more than ever before. Sporting a unique format with entry categories covering a wide variety of species and habitats, the Gulf Coast Open was an incredible success. For over 25 years, host and promoter NBOA Marine Insurance has been attending and contributing to fishing tournaments throughout the country. Their goal with the Gulf Coast Open was to go above and beyond previous events with incredible fishing, exceptional prizes and wonderful entertainment.
Held at the Ramada Waterfront Hotel and Sara Bay Marina in Sarasota Florida, this two-day testament of skill brought together hundreds of spectators, close to 400 skilled anglers, and a plethora of industry leaders. Sanctioned by the Southern Kingfish Association with proceeds benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida, teams competed in this rodeo style tournament vying for a host of awards, including a Yamaha powered Contender and $60,000 in additional cash and prizes.
While die-hard king crews were searching for a smoker, inshore anglers were stalking area grass flats for trout and redfish… and others were hunting for toothy Spanish mackerel.
With five divisions to choose from, there was certainly no shortage of opportunities. However, the main event of the weekend was the king mackerel division that attracted SKA anglers from around the Southeast United States. With a 21-foot Contender outfitted with a Yamaha motor and Loadmaster trailer with electronics installed by Best Buy’s Geek Squad on the line, most teams were focused on catching the largest king mackerel of the event.
The inaugural NBOA Gulf Coast open was the first event of the 2011 SKA Yamaha Pro Tour and one of five stops along the Division 6 Tournament Trail. “For a first time tournament accepting a Pro event to correspond to their Gulf Coast Open, the team at NBOA Marine Insurance, a sponsor of the SKA and the official insurance carrier of the association, put forth a stellar effort,” said Jack Holmes, President of the SKA.
While the weather wasn’t perfect, ideal water temperatures and seasonal migrations indicated teams would have a red hot spring king bite for this late April event. When it came time to soak baits teams were racing north and south looking for the bite. While some teams found decent action, it was a tough battle for others.
John Smith’s Mama Said was fishing a popular spot out front and saw action early on, but lost their first fish. “Ryan was on the rod and was really bummed when she got off. We were letting out another big blue runner and another big king crushed the bait at 8:30,” said Smith.
Fishing on a brand new Contender 39, they were only equipped with a 6-foot gaff, but knowing it was a money fish on the line they took their time. The king was subdued and later that afternoon pushed the electronic scale to 48.58 pounds. While they held top position on the leaderboard, their king would eventually fall to 2nd Place worth $5,000.
Team Seconds 2 Spare fished a familiar area off Boca Grande in 110 feet of water and saw action first thing in the morning. “A big king ate a blue runner at eight o’clock, but before we could get her in the boat the biggest barracuda we’ve ever seen struck her near the tail and we knew she would never make the scale,” said Scott Rush.
Depressed but not devastated, the skilled crew stuck it out and at 12:30 they got another opportunity, reeling in a 53.06-pound king. Their mackerel was good enough to take home the tricked-out Contender.
Fishing a Mercury powered Yellowfin, Trevor Tilton’s Mind Eraser was fishing near Mama Said on Saturday morning. “We had a mid-30s right away,” explained Tilton. “Then we hooked up to a good fish.”
Their fish went 46.56 pounds on the tournament scale, which was good for 3rd Place and $2,600—not to mention a jump on the SKA Division 6 title.
Although teams were eager to head offshore in search of pelagic predators, rough seas prevented most from running too far off. While die-hard king crews were searching for a smoker, inshore anglers were stalking area grass flats for trout and redfish, sinker bouncers were probing natural and artificial reefs for grouper and AJ, and others were hunting for toothy Spanish mackerel.
Jacob Carter caught the winning grouper, a 14.8-pounder worth $1,000, while David Albritton reeled in a 31.8-pound amberjack good for 1st Place and a cool $1,000. Daniel Johnson brought in 3.15-pound seatrout and Brian Ormsby weighed a 3.7-pound Spanish mackerel, both good for $1,000. Team Rippin Lips secured 1st Place Redfish with a combined weight of 7.5 pounds.
While there were incredible prizes awarded, the real beneficiary of the event was Make-A-Wish Foundation. “This event was a perfect combination of community and cause,” says Iceseas Farrell, NBOA’s Tournament Director.
The event raised just under $10,000 in charitable contributions for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida. “In addition to the positive buzz we’ve been hearing from the anglers and sponsors, to turn around and be able to support such an amazing foundation like Make-A-Wish is the icing on the cake for us.”
If you missed out on the action, don’t fret. “We were planning the 2012 Gulf Coast Open before the 2011 event began, but receiving such a positive response from the anglers and guests of the tournament really validated our efforts and encourages us to make next year’s event even greater,” said Jeffrey Berndt, Vice President of NBOA Marine Insurance. “We can handle the challenge. We’re looking forward to more boats, more prizes and more big fish.”
Visit gulfcoastopen.com for complete results and info on how to participate in next year’s event.