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Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Errata
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Big bluefin bite!


Coastal Conservation Association event — Texas style
Having fished the Aransas Bay Chapter of CCA Texas’ Babes on the Bay tournament with locals back in 2016, Izorline’s Wendy Tochihara went to work organizing California’s very first team to fish what is the largest 1-day fishing tournament in the US. It’s an all woman angler event held annually out of Rockport, Texas. This year it hosted 1,400 anglers, ranging from “Babe-ettes” — young ladies 16 and under, to tournament veterans, having fished the event since its inception 20 years ago.

The contest consisted of 5 divisions teams elected to participate in. There was pro guided and non-guided, crossed with any bait or artificial only, plus a separate fly fishing division. Babe-ettes could participate in any of the above as a team member and also compete in the individual Babe-ette only contest.


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THE VENUE — 1,400 women competed and were accompanied by their male staff (friends and family), Fulton Park, Rockport Texas.


Our first ever all California team, the SoCal Anglerettes, consisted of Wendy Tochihara (Izorline, Big Hammer, SKB, Rod and Reel Radio), Lori Mueller (Seeker, Izorline), Lori Heath (Anglerettes, Fishing Syndicate) and Sophia Huynh (Seeker, Blackwater). The SoCal Anglerettes’ team sponsors were AFTCO, Anglerettes, Xtratuf and Costa, providing the team with matching outfits and wade gear.


While the teams were all women, guides and skippers generally were guys, but banned from fishing. Guides were chartered professionals while skippers were most often husbands and boy friends.


There in Texas red drum and spotted weakfish — AKA spotted trout, seatrout, spotties, trout, were the targets. The state’s slot limits made the game a bit more interesting.


Trout have fangs and keepers range from 15 to 25 inches — with a 5-fish bag. The redfish slot limit is 20 to 28 inches with a 3-fish bag. But anglers get a tag with their annual license to keep one “bull” larger than 28 inches. Also on the table are flounder, tasty but not counted in the tournament.


For the tournament, teams were limited to 3 keeper trout and 1 keeper (20-28-inch) redfish at the weigh in. While a 25-inch trout is unusual, the top redfish contenders tended to be 28 inchers, so what was needed was a fat one. And there were side pots holding the big money in this primarily fun over glory tournament.


Tournament day was windy, southerly winds from high teens to twenties, 85 degrees, 100-percent humidity. Us landlocked guys accompanying our SoCal Anglerettes watched as we waded out to our elbows and flayed the brown water white while fishing hard baits to spoons to Gulp! Powerbait Ribshads.


Along as team support crew were Rob Tressler, Kevin Boyle, Jay Krist and Gary Quan from Tady Lures. We’d found a spot just east of the Aransas County Airport. Along the trail was posted “WARNING ALLIGATOR ZONE.”


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SOCAL ANGLERETTES FISHED the CCA’s Aransas Bay Chapter’s Babes on the Bay, all women’s fishing tournament. Here Wendy Tochihara shows a red drum or redfish, Lori Heath has a Gulf flounder and Sophia Hyunh and Lori Mueller have a spotted/speckled seatrout or speck dockside at the house.

So, not to be dissuaded, out we waded. I was wondering if that would be the last time I’d see my feet as they disappeared into the murky waters. As a matter of practice, standard Gulf Coast wading gear includes a 10- or 12-foot-long stringer with a float at the end, keeping the catch well away from the angler — just in case a bull shark, alligator or gar should take notice.


Boats loaded with all matched teams of ladies skated up and down our lee shore, stopping here and there. What we saw was just a tiny fraction of the fleet — scattered up and down through hundreds of square miles of neck to ankle deep inland waters tucked in behind the Texas Gulf Coast’s barrier islands.


By the time we were to wind up and meet the SoCal Anglerettes back at the house, we guys had amassed one keeper trout at about 18 inches, caught by yours truly. But our arms were sore and faces sun burnt.


Tressler had released a pair of smaller trout and had a nice flounder flip off right at the stringer. Early on Jay had been bit hard and fought in a nicer red with similar unfortunate results right at the stringer.


The Anglerettes had seen a tough day of wade fishing with their guide in the artificials only division as well. Tochihara landed a keeper red and 4 others under the mark. Heath had iced a flounder.


At the awards the crowd was immense, wall to wall women and their families. The vendor tents and trailers stretched for blocks. The main canopy covered 50 yards at Fulton Beach Park.


The teams all sported matching team shirts with their team names emblazoned across the back. With a best-dressed category, style points counted. And team names bespoke the fun, light-hearted spirit of the event.


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HEFTY STRINGER OF reds, a saltwater catfish and a sheepshead, (not our sheephead) fishing crab and shrimp at the end of the Port Aransas Jetty one morning.


There were the Reel Captains’ Wives of Rockport, Vitamin Sea and the Casting Cuties among the tamer titles. However, from there it got pretty cute with monikers like the Reel Ladies Hookin,’ the Shelfish Hookers, Reel Cranky, Beer Bait and Boobs, Tackle My Box, Trout Ticklers, Hookin Aint’ Easy, Salty Lips, Screamin Seaman, P.M.S. Packing Monster Stringers, Reel Filthy Oars, Dirty Oars, Reel Nauti Hookers, Bitches Wit Da Fishes, Goin’ Coastal Gals, Drunk Wives Matter, Reel Nauti Beaches, Boobs and Bobbers, The Salty Seastars, Heels and Reels, Saltwater Snacks, Tiaras and Tackle, Trophy Wives, Pink Snappers, Titty Deep, Ladies in Wading — and more.


Here’s a bit more on tackle. First, the beach fishing is crazy as to what one might hook. Mostly it was fish under 5 pounds on tap, yet we watched 50-pound jacks flash and slash through knee deep water one afternoon. Real bait — live shrimp, pinfish, croaker, or fresh crab is absolutely an advantage, while tossing artificials is hard to resist.


Most fished these waters with basically calico bass gear when boating or wading. Popular patterns in plastics are shrimp replicas, swimbaits, either white or copper with chartreuse paddle tails, gold spoons, heavy chrome as spoons or iron, jerk and crankbaits with pinks, white, red and metallic gold in the pattern.


High visibility bobbers over bait or shrimp replicas are key in the shallow brackish waters, with popping corks or clackers like the Cajun Thunder at the top of the list. Leaders are kept short, only a couple of feet, which is often half the water depth and sometimes puts the bait right on the bottom. A good long cast out away from your own wake is helpful.


I packed a single rod and reel inside my checked baggage for the trip, an 11-foot 4-piece travel surf rod paired with a fairly large spinning reel. The rod was Daiwa’s Ardito and the reel a Penn Spinfisher VI 5500 spooled with 50-pound braid.


For a single setup the easy packing system was perfect. Though I’m generally not a spinning gear guy, the outfit allowed for a wide range of effective casting and catching, from 16-ounce jigheads to 5-ounce irons. The 11-foot length launched it all, while providing enough backing to handle anything on up to those big jacks or the thigh diameter bull reds we occasionally saw roll on top in the muddy water.


* * *


Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he also works as a marine research scientist with the Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at: merit@wonews.com.


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BRAVING THE ELEMENTS — The author with a keeper speckled trout.


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