The best speckled trout tournament
The Winter Classic. The best speckled trout tournament in the entire Mobile Bay area. This is a two day event where you can only use artificial lures and you get bonus points for bringing in live speckled trout. Our 2018 edition of The Winter Classic was the best event thus far. We added 2 additional teams to the fleet from 2017 and added 4 new sponsors. The payouts were the highest ever and the stakes are always high.
What is the classic?
The Winter Classic was born with the idea of strong competition, diversity of angler strengths, two days of strategy, and bringing your speckled trout in alive. One more thing that separates the classic from other tournaments is the fact that it is invite only and only those that have endured at least one tournament have the right to invite an additional team per year. Each team is made up of 2 anglers who think that they have what it takes to compete against all involved.
Why invitational? This tournament is not for the average fisherman who would stop fishing because they aren’t biting where they thought they would. This tournament is for the guys who are more stubborn than the fish we are after. The guy who woke up and the wind is blowing 25 and figures out where his best option to catch a fish. The very first invites were sent to those anglers. The invites sent out since the first event are to those that will fish all day for 5 bites. Each year the tournament will grow in participation from those that have fished the previous years classic.
This years anglers
Each year some anglers find new partners and make new teams but the challenge remains the same, to win. This year Al Mead paired with Scott Stevens to form team Aftershock. Seasoned Winter Classic vet Jonas Alexander teamed up with Luke Ojeda to form Awe Skeet. First time participants of the classic David Skoglund and Shon Pipkin tea
med up as Blazerbay. Team Crush Groove was made up of long time ACFA members Rick Tourne and his long time fishing partner Donald Garrettson. 2016 Winter Classic Champions Team H&H comprised of John Howard and David Hare. Team Irish Yella was made up of Jay O’Brien and Doug Tierce who have successfully competed in all of the Winter Classic events. Kevin Chalk and Clay Dean combined to create Just Fo Sho. Louisiana Legal was made up of long time winter classic angler Erik Nelson and first year participant Billy Howell. Brand new team to the classic scene was Team RedSky Fish Co. made up of Jason Gamble and Frank Foley. 2017 honorable mention team S&B (Last year Team Carla) Steve Lindsey and Brandon McCart were back for redemption. Winter Classic new comer Sean Gibbs teamed up with Lee Foxx to form team Shake and Bake. Seasoned Winter Classic Vets James Joullian and Grady Leblanc form Team Stinky Fingers. The ultra competitive and most consistent Winter Classic team to date The Wrecking Crew comprised of Bobby Abruscato and Richard Rutland are always looking for the win. 2017 2nd place Team Trifecta made up of long time ACFA members Jeb Mann and Micheal Nicholas. Newly formed Team Troutlaws included anglers Jeff Garmeson and Brad Gundersen. The last team is made up Trevor Wood and yours truly, Patric Garmeson to create the two time Winter Classic champion Team Uglywood.
Through the past three years of the winter classic we have experienced some really extreme weather. The first year was probably the most ideal, with morning lows in the 30’s highs in the 50’s and water temps in the low to mid 50’s. The second year we were faced with high river water, muddy conditions, and ridiculously strong winds and cold temperatures on day one and below freezing temps day two. The third was most interesting. Extremely warm temps leading up to the classic had the water temps hovering in the lower to mid 70’s. Day one started with tornado warnings and high winds to end under nearly calm conditions. Sunday began with perfectly
mirror calm conditions, which were rudely interrupted by winds in excess of 40MPH. This year were coming off of some sub freezing temperatures and water temps in the low to upper 40’s. The weather was pleasantly warm considering the previous 4 days. The Winter Classic will happen rain or shine.
The Winter Classic is viewed as the most challenging two days of fishing in the Mobile Area. All anglers leave the dock on Saturday with same goal. First, catch five keepers. Second, show up to the scales with five live fish. Last, bring in at least 15 pounds. The winter classic challenges each member of each team to grind all day long for the right bites and to figure out the pattern. The Winter Classic is literally all business. Its fun for those who have a love for competition and a desire to fish as hard as possible for two days. The main objective is to WIN!
The Field is set
All teams were payed and registered by January 18th via www.fishingchaos.com. This was the first year we had online registration and not only did we do online registration Fishing Chaos also did online tournament management, which was a great addition.
According to the rules all teams must not launch prior to 4:00am and must launch in Alabama waters on either of the mornings of the tournament. The tournament each morning does not begin until 5:00am and any angler casting a line prior to 5:00Am is subject to immediate disqualification form this and any other Winter Classic event. The first stop is critical to the team mojo. Anglers will be asking themselves each cast “did we make the right move?” “Did our fish leave?” or maybe the anglers are catching fish and they are thinking “these fish aren’t big enough to win” “will bigger fish bite later?” “should we leave?”. Fishing a tournament is as much a mind game as it is a contest to see who catches the biggest creel of fish for two days.
First day. Don’t mess up. Come in with a respectable creel. The weather was not an issue for any of the 16 teams. Water quality was great from the Delta to Dauphin Island and everywhere in between. Reports of sporadic fish kills had some anglers concerned but for the most part all participating anglers knew of somewhere to go and catch at least 5 legal speckled trout. For Trevor and I we found a school of hungry fish on Friday and they were equally as hungry on Sa
turday. Five keeper trout in the first couple hours had the pressure off. We slowly upgraded some of our fish throughout the day and time ran out with us feeling a little let down. All anglers except for one team arrived before 4pm which was the scheduled deadline to check in. The weigh in order was set based on a Thursday night random drawing to decided to weigh in order.
First day weigh in
You could see the nervousness in the eyes of most of the anglers. It was time to weigh in. Saturdays weighmaster Joey Gates instructed Team Aftershock that they were on the clock first. AL and Scott weighed in five fish with a total weight of 7.58# with a .25# bonus per all five fish for an official total of 8.83#. Third team to weigh was team Stinky Fingers. James and Grady dropped a respectable 12.54# on the scale with five live fish to bring their total weight to 13.79# which put them in the lead. Eighth team to weigh in was The Wrecking Crew. Bobby and Richard showed up with a very respectable 16.67 and five live fish to give them a day one total of 17.92#
which put them way in the lead above Stinky Fingers.
Our lucky 13th team to weigh in was Team BlazerBay. Shon and David lost most of the water in the livewell on the way to the weigh station and smart thinking they backed the boat in the ramp to suck up the much needed water for the fish to remain alive. That was the only unlucky part because they brought a near 3# average to the scales with 14.65# and all five fish remained alive to give them a day one total of 15.90#, which put them comfortably in second place. Team Uglywood was close behind 3rd place with 13.70 and team Awe Skeet just behind them with 13.60.
Most of the fisherman are talking with his competitors and carefully discussing patterns, the recap of the day or just flat out lying. Some of the do
ck talk I personally heard was one team left them biting to locate other fish for Sunday. Some teams only caught 5 fish that they brought to the scales. Several teams were asking about where were other teams seen fishing. If its your first tournament and you try to decipher a day one dock talk session then you may need a see your therapist.
Most anglers would agree that the Sunday warm up will be a huge relief from the prior days cold weather. However, how would the fish respond? Will they move toward shallow water? Will they remain right where they were on Saturday? Although warming trends feel nice to us as the anglers they can often affect the fishes behavior. The most consistent of anglers can often be left clueless as to where the fish went where as some guys the fishing actually will improve.
Day Two Strategy
Could it actually already be day two? Prefishing and day one are a blur and now its time to work some magic. Trevor and I are constantly discussing potential scenarios for how the tournament will end. We basically assume that Richard and Bobby will bring a similar weight which would require us to to bring a 21# bag for day two. So no big deal. We have brought 20# bags to the scales before whats one more pound. The fish we were on had the potential to give up five 4# fish. So our strategy was stay with bigger baits and don’t get distracted with little fish.
Thats it, times up and its time to weigh in for the final day of the 2018 Winter Classic. Day two weigh in order was based on Saturdays results. The first to weigh in would be the team in last place and follow in order from last to first. The first team to bring fish to the scales was Team Crush Groove. They mentioned to me that they went after the Sunday biggest bag prize donated by Swampwater Fabrications. Rick and Donald did not disappoi
nt. They put a very respectable 14.43# with 5 alive trout to give them a total of 15.68#. Soon after Crush Groove weighed in the 13-14# stringers started coming in steady. Team H&H dropped 14.05#. Just Fo Sho showed up with 16.05# to put them in the lead. Followed by S&B with 15.36# which put them in Second and then Awe Skeet put a very respectable 14.85#.
Last team to the scales
Richard and Bobby have a strong reputation in the trout fishing community and are very well respected among fellow anglers. Richard and Bobby have never won a Winter Classic. They place 2nd twice and 3rd once. Both Richard and Bobby carry themselves with confidence to the scales but little did anyone know that they did not hit a homerun with a repeat 17# bag
as many had assumed would happen. Bobby and Richard assist one another loading fish after flopping fish in to the basket. Most anglers started mumbling about the lack of size and wondering if they would win. Weighmaster John Burke made the official weight call of 10.54# and FIVE ALIVE which gave Richard and Bobby a day two total of 11.79#.
And the winner is…
With the addition of fishing chaos to The Winter Classic we actually had a digital online live leader board and after the weights and totals were reconciled the winners would be announced. In third place with a total weight of 28.47# S&B Steve Lindsey and Brandon McCart. In second place with 28.79# Just Fo Sho Kevin Chalk and Clay Dean. Kevin and Clay also won the Sunday heaviest bag contest with a 16.05# creel. The heaviest fish weighed in for the two day tournament went to The Wrecking Crew with a 4.68# speckled trout. The 2018 L&M Marine, First Community Bank Winter Classic winning team was The Wrecking Crew with a two day total of 29.71#.
That’s a wrap
As the host and participant of The Winter Classic I can not thank everyone enough for wanting to brave the elements and give up an entire weekend to fish this tournament. Second, my wife Autumn created all the shirts and plaques for this years event and they were the best ever. Next, Blue Gill for allowing us to us their place as the weigh in site. Saltwater Finatics for proving the awesome fish tank for us to display our fish. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab for sending a crew down to put tags in many of our fish. Fishing Chaos for the online portion of the tournament. Finally, L&M Marine, First Community Bank, BomberLures, Breakline Sunglasses, Swampwater fabrications, Bluewater Graphics, Ugly Fishing, Tackle this Shoot That and all the guys who helped to put the event on.