Most Challenging year
The 2019 Winter Classic speckled trout tournament has come and gone and all anglers managed to survive again this year. This was by far the most challenging of all five years of the tournaments existence. Almost perfectly scripted to make it as difficult as possible. I for one love a challenge but this particular winter classic fishing tournament took first place.
The invitations sent
This fishing tournament unlike many others, is an invitation only fishing competition. Invitation only so I personally know everyone participating. We love new teams and anglers but we want to know they are trustworthy. The angler(s) who choose to stretch the rules or even break the rules of this or any other tournament will prevent them from fishing the winter classic. The initial round of invitations landed in e-mail boxes of 2018 winter classic participants on December 19, 2018.
The 2019 Winter Classic is near
Once the invites go out the anglers then go onto app.fishingchaos.com to register his team. Each team is encouraged to invite one other team to the tournament. This is how we grow a little each year, well that is the plan anyway. Chatter about the winter classic usually picks up rapidly once the invites have been sent.
Checking on the rivers
Well, normally the weather in late December and early January are not in play for a January 20th fishing contest. This fall and winter have had other plans for us here in southwest Alabama. Mother nature has pounded lower, mid and upper Alabama with 4-10 times our normal rainfall. This means that Mobile Bay is the recipient of all this excessive rainfall. We use a couple of ways to measure how much or how little the rain will affect us by monitoring the river stages on Tombigbee and Alabama rivers. On December 13, 2018 Tombigbee at Coffeeville the river crested at 30.64′. An average reading for mid December is around 12′ so we are 18′ above normal with this rise. Shortly after this historic we see the Tombigbee jump up to the 32nd highest reading ever of 40.48′.
One big ole mud puddle
As the upstate rivers are rising we continued to get pounded with local rain. Which was turning our local tidal rivers into sediment filled mud streams. Local rainfall is ok as long as the bay is nice and salty because the tide will pull out the mud and replace with cleaner saltier water. Well, too bad we have a major slug of fresh muddy water coming down the rivers and into the bay to wash most of the salt out of our bay. This has turned Mobile Bay into a giant mud puddle.
We are fishing hell or “high water”
As the time draws near we fill out the tournament roster with 15 teams in total which is one less than the 2018 Winter Classic. I figured to only lose one team with such poor water quality was very fair. I certainly would have loved to have seen 18-20 teams this year but I was excited to have 15. On the last week leading up to the 2019 winter classic the weather forecast is adding insult to an already injured Mobile Bay speckled trout fisherman. The weather forecast shows 18-23mph southern winds on Saturday. With 100% chance of rain Saturday. Followed by 20-30mph northern winds on Sunday and a high of 40. As a fisherman I say this makes it interesting. As a tournament director I cringe. I want all anglers to go out and smash the speckled trout and come back with heavy bags of fish.
With any fishing tournament I feel its best to involve some business’ that can benefit from the micro exposure to potential customers. This year we had some of the same sponsors we have had in years past and some new. Since the beginning we have had one brand behind the winter classic. Breakline Optics are premium polarized sunglasses that are ideal for all fishing situations. They have a smaller selection of frames then some brands but they have the best lenses and the absolute best warranty in the business. How about a one time “free replacement” for those who may lose a pair of glasses every year? Message me if your interested or purchase online http://breaklineoptics.com
L&M Marine LLC has sponsored us for four years. They have grown from a lot over the years. Now, selling 14′ boats all the way to 28′ Blue Wave Boats bay boats. They continue to provide exceptional service on all makes of outboard motors. Blue Water Graphics has contributed to the Winter Classic in various ways. From the banner creation to our oversized checks and decals. Blue Water graphics located in Mobile can help solve your signage needs. Bomber Lures brand has been a part of the Winter Classic for two years. Bomber along with sister companies Heddon and Yum provide some exceptional speckled trout lures. New comer Slick Lure was a participating sponsor. The Slick Lure has become a trophy speckled trout specialist dream lure. The Slick Lure not only sponsored this years event, the winners of the 2018 and 2019 Winter Classic’s were using the slick.
The First Bank also jumped in to help out with the 2019 Winter Classic speckled trout tournament. A regional bank with locations throughout Mobile and Baldwin counties Furthermore, The First Bank can help out with anything from checking accounts to buying a business. Give John Erwin a call at the Cottage Hill office to see how they can help. The fishing tournament was managed by the guys at Fishing Chaos. Their moto is “Fish Hate Us”. If you need help logging your catches or you need tournament management then check them out at http://app.fishingchaos.com. Tackle This Shoot That is a locally owned and operated tackle shop located in Tillmans Corner, Alabama. Therefore, If you want to know what lures are working stop by the shop and talk to the owner Jay.
Who is in?
The Winter Classic is an invitational speckled trout fishing tournament. Therefore, we have many returning anglers. This year like last year we decided to draw all the teams on Thursday night to decide the order in which they weigh in on Saturday. The first team drawn was Stinky Fingers, with team members James Joullian and Grady Leblanc. James has fished all five years in the classic and Grady has now competed four of five years. Second team drawn was newly formed, Mines Bigger created by father and son team Ryan and Scott Stevens. This is Scott’s second winter classic and Ryan’s first shot. The third team drawn was Troutlaw made up by Jeff Garmeson and Brad Gundersen. 2018 winter classic champions Wrecking Crew was drawn to weigh in fourth. The Wrecking Crew is comprised of Richard Rutland and Bobby Abruscato.
Newcomers Daryl Johnson and Tyler Vanthoff formed the team Bayou Boyz and they would weigh in fifth. Two time champions Uglywood was drawn sixth. Shon Pippin and David Skoglund aka Blazer bay was drawn to weigh seventh. The Rookies and first time winter classic anglers Cory Quint and Wesley Hallman landed in the eighth spot. 2016 winter classic champions H&H drew ninth. The tenth spot was awarded to Jeb Mann and Micheal Nicholas aka Trifecta. First time Winter Classic participants Bobby McElroy and Barry Keith drew the eleventh spot for team B&B. 2018 second place team Just Fo Sho drew the twelfth spot. The thirteenth spot was assigned to Jay O’Brien and Theo Atkinson. Jonas Alexander and Luke Ojeda, team Awe Skeet and they would be second to last to weigh. The final team scheduled to weigh in was Underdog, which was formed by Jason Gamble and Billy Howell.
Hitting the scales
As I stated before the water conditions and projected weather would have a huge impact on the success of the anglers. Therefore, our day one weights were the lowest we have ever experienced during a Winter Classic. Speckled trout were almost non-existent for many anglers. Only twelve of the fifteen teams actually weighed in a speckled trout. Of those twelve only eight teams weighed more than one speckled trout. The top performing teams after day one were as follows; fifth place Underdog 4.87#, fourth place Uglywood 8.60#, third place H&H 11.35#, second place Bayou Boyz 14.07# and sitting in first place Wrecking Crew with a more than respectable weight of 16.03#.
How is the weather?
Saturdays weather turned out to be very fish-able in the morning. However, this did not last long. The winds picked up rapidly as the morning progressed which later turned into some major wind gusts. Therefore, the winds were making conditions near impossible to make a cast let alone feel a strike. Early afternoon most every angler was feeling the wrath of the wind and was likely experiencing down-pouring rain. Fortunately, the rain was minimal. Once we all arrived at the Blue Gill Restaurant the rain was gone and the wind had subsided. However, this would not last. Sunday morning 3:45am, I checked the winds and temperature. Middle Bay Lighthouse anemometer was reporting west/northwest winds at 36mph. This was not the forecasted wind. The air temperature was 36-40 depending on where you were getting the information. The cloudy, cold and extremely windy conditions did not make fishing easy.
The weigh in rules require the team that is in last place to weigh in first and the team sitting in first to weigh in last. Sunday, we technically had 3 teams tied for dead last place due to them not weighing on Saturday. My brother and Brad weighed in first. They went from zero to hero with a one day total of 13.34# that moved them from last to fourth place. Another notable second day was Stinky Fingers when they moved from ninth to sixth place for a total weight of 11.64#. Third place remained in the hands of John Howard and David Hare aka H&H with a two day total of 16.51#. Bayou Boyz held their second place position with a two day total weight of 26.94#.
2019 Winter Classic Champions
Richard Rutland and Bobby Abruscato the Wrecking Crew came into this tournament like they do every tournament. They prepare every day as the tournament draws near. Richard and Bobby won the 2018 Winter Classic speckled trout tournament with a total weight of 29.71#. The amazing thing is this year the conditions were more challenging and the Wrecking Crew pulled off the back to back championships with a 31.65# two day total. Congratulations to Richard and Bobby for pulling off a victory in such horrible conditions.