IFA Redfish Tour – $30,000 Top Prize, in Charlotte County, Florida

Steven Phillips 2017 Redfish Winner

The Inshore Fishing Association (IFA) opened the 2017 Redfish powerboat competition year in Punta Gorda, Charlotte County, Florida, with 89 angler teams looking for the top prize. Steven Phillips cashes in on the $500 big fish prize with his 7.78 pound Redfish. Forrest Fisher Photo

• Brandon Buckner & Mark Sepe Win $30,000 Top Prize
• Micro-Power Pole was Key for Heavy Wind
• Schooled Fish: In Sandbar/Grassbed Potholes
• Scented Soft-Plastics and Topwater Baits Most Effective

By Forrest Fisher
The weather provided an extra challenge for competitive Redfish anglers as the 2017 Inshore Fish Association kicked off the Redfish powerboat tournament season on Saturday, March 4, 2017, in the surprisingly clear Gulf of Mexico waters near Punta Gorda, Florida.

The surprise factor for the day was the screaming northeast wind at 25 to 40 mph, unusual for this part of Florida, as it caused thunderous waves to crash the famed “West Wall” of Charlotte Harbor and farther south to Pine Island Sound. The breezy airstream forced the hardy redfish anglers to head for shelter and cover, but they had to run the surf to get there. Many took the time to battle the wave crests and power their rigs from Laishley Park in Punta Gorda to quieter Charlotte County waters near the small island paradise and discreet shoreline structure of Turtle Bay and Gasparilla Sound, near Placida.

Brandon Buckner and Mark Sepe took home the big prize with their two top fish tipping the scales at a whopping 14.57 pounds on the troublesome weather day when, unlike practice day, many anglers had trouble finding fish.

The top prize for the winners was impressive, cashing in their fish bag for a brand new RB190 Ranger boat, Mercury 4-Stroke motor, Minn Kota Trolling motor, Hummingbird Helix Sonar, cash and more, for a total purse of $29,530. The top five places also took home a $50 gift certificate from Boca Bearing. Because Buckner and Sepe had a boat equipped with a Power Pole and they won the tournament, they also won an additional $400 check from Power Pole. Both said they would not have been able to catch a fish on this day without it.

Brandon Buckner and Mark Sepe with their two top fish tipping the scales at a whopping 14.57 pounds, took home the top prize that included a brand new Ranger boat package and cash worth nearly $30,000. Forrest Fisher Photo

Buckner and Sepe methodically fished potholes they found on sandy bars and grass flats, using a Micro Power Pole to assure their boat-holding position, attributing a large part of their win to the efficiency of their Power Pole. Buckner said, “My partner was definitely the vacuum cleaner on the front of the boat, I was just the key net man. We used soft plastics and jig heads, casting and retrieving through the potholes and wind.” Mark Sepe added, “We especially want to thank Power Pole, Yamaha, Costa Del Mar and Bossman Boats.”

The Budweiser team of Chris Slattery and Dave Hutchinson took home 2nd Place with 14.23 pounds for a $4755 cash prize, catching nine Redfish through the day on gold color lures. They explained that several boats fished near them through the day, but that they had dry shore on one side and were able to control their fish zone very well that way.

The competitive field was comprised of 89 power boat teams vying for top honors. The weigh-in was exciting with a well-supported local crowd cheering on the hearty anglers, some with sore backs, as they came to the scales. Some fishermen travelled to compete from as far away as Houston, Texas.

Third place went to Matt Tramontana and T.R. Finney with 14.17 pounds good for $2141 cash prize, fourth place to Karl Butigan and Steven Phillips with 13.99 pounds, good for $2141 – and Phillips landed an extra $500 for the biggest redfish of the day; fifth place went to Ryan Rickard and Dustin Tillet with 13.66 pounds good for $2188 that included a payout from the Angler Advantage prize pool.

In all, some $49,134.24 was paid out to the top 17 teams in merchandise and prizes for this Punta Gorda event.

Redfish Tournament Weigh-in
All the redfish entered were checked for legal size prior to weigh-in, with all of the fish maintained alive and returned to the harbor waters to fight another day. Forrest Fisher Photo

Colorful tournament director, Eric Shelby, had the crowd ooh-ing, ah-ing and cheering, holding their attention with details as he introduced each angler team that entered the weigh station. Anglers placed their fish in a special live-fish bag, then into a life-sustaining aerator tank before they went to the length verification station and the official on-stage weighmaster scale. Many of the anglers shared an occasional humble fishing secret with local fishermen and onlookers.

All the fish entered were released back to the Peace River waters of Charlotte Harbor above the Route 41 bridges to live another day. Conservation is alive and well with IFA competitors and it is only proper in this case here, as Punta Gorda leads the state in developing juvenile fisheries habitat with their highly successful Reef Ball Project for public piers, private docks and open water. Proof that the county, the state and the fishermen are conservation-minded and work together to accomplish their goals in Punta Gorda and it’s working.
Fishing techniques and tactics were simple for many of the anglers. Gear was simple too, but the gear was top of the line that typically included 7-foot long fast-tip rods, open-face ball-bearing spinning reels, 12-20 pound test braided main line, fluorocarbon leaders of 10-20 pound test and strong knots.

Kyle Potts and Shane Erhardt Team Tito's
Team Tito powered by expert anglers, Kyle Potts and Shane Erhardt, who received family weigh-in support here, made a 20-mile one-way run to catch 12.90 pounds in waters protected from the nasty wind for a 9th place finish.. Forrest Fisher Photo

Kyle Potts and Shane Earhart, among top fish-catchers for the day, shared fishing day details that were common for many other anglers, as well. Potts says, “We made about a 20-mile run from port in the morning, first fishing the East Wall side before crossing the harbor, the harbor was pretty rough. We fished sandy and grass-bottom potholes in one to three feet of water.” When asked about their fishing gear, Potts added, “We like our Dan James custom rods with Shimano Stradic CI-4/4000FA reels and 10-pound test braid to throw Berkley Gulp 6-inch jerk baits.”

Brandon Spears Eddie Parrot
Brandon Spears and Eddie Parrot caught a large mixed bag of fish that included redfish, speckled trout and snook using Berkley Gulp jerkbaits with lightweight jigheads. Forrest Fisher Photo.

Eddie Parrot and Brandon Spears fished about 20 miles to the north and west, near Placida, weighing in 12.14 pounds for 13th place.  Parrot shared, “We used our Ranger 16-foot Phantom, Berkley Gulp plastics and top-water lures, 12-pound braided line with short one-foot fluorocarbon leaders of 20-pound test to catch fish.  We use a Bimini Twist for attaching the braid to the fluorocarbon, then a Palomar knot to attach the lure.  We caught a nice mixed bag of 6 redfish, 8 speckled trout and a nice snook.  One really important thing here, without our Power Pole, the day would have been lost in this wind.”  Spears added, “The 3-4 inch Berkley soft plastics with 1/8 ounce jig heads were effective, though we also used weighted hooks for some of the soft baits and had a nice day out there.”
Eric Shelby said, “The winning teams did well to score like they did.  This was a tough day for fishing.  During practice day, these guys caught hundreds and hundreds of fish, today the strong northeast winds have moved the water far offshore and has made getting into the backwaters a lot tougher.  Most of the guys ran north toward Gasparilla with the wind.  The boats are launched sequentially in the morning to avoid accidents and the anglers have a 15 minute grace period when they return before penalties are incurred.  It was nice to see the local crowd here to support the event.”

For more in the Inshore Fishing Association (IFA), visit: http://www.ifatours.com/.