The Best Speckled Trout Fishing Tournament
The Winter Classic 2020 edition is in the books! Like always we had our share of ugly weather, lock jaw Mobile bay speckled trout, but most importantly eager anglers who all enter with the intent of holding a big check and plaque at the end of the weekend. How is this the best speckled trout fishing tournament? The weigh in process, the rules, and the live fish bonus! Conservation is the focus in this tournament. This year we are supporting the Mobile Bay speckled trout restocking program. Protecting and promoting the fish we enjoy to target and catch is a great way to spend a weekend.
I’m sitting here thinking that its hard to believe we have already completed six of these Winter Classic weekends. So far every year I set the date then stress over what the conditions will be that weekend. Thoughts like will a front hit that weekend, will the water be muddy, will fishing be tough, will guys be able to catch 5 keeper speckled trout, will I have enough teams to make a tournament. Well, so far I can answer, YES! To all of those questions. Yes, the weather will change, yes the water will likely be jacked up, yes some teams will struggle, yes many teams will catch 5 each day, and yes we have enough die hard anglers to commit.
The Winter Classic 2020 had a few new faces. Noel Riley and his partner Justin Hilderbrand made up team Ran Red Fishing. Another first year team was Get the Net. Team Get the Net is made up of Jamie Stevens and Austin Norton. Father son team Ottomatic comprised of Jim and James Ising were also new to the Winter Classic. Long time BOG anglers Kevin Olmstead and Shane Traylor finally were able to join the Winter Classic line up as TKO. Speaking of BOG, the previous week winners and runner up team split to form team T-N-T. Brothers Josh and Gabe Tidmore teamed up at the last second to enter this years Winter Classic as team T-N-T. Regardless of who wins or loses we hope to supply plenty of live fish toward the new Mobile bay speckled trout restocking program.
After six years of the best speckled trout fishing tournament we have four original teams in this years competition. Back to back and defending champions team Wrecking Crew made up of Captain Richard Rutland and Captain Bobby Abruscato was the third team to register. Also, in this years competition the 2016 Winter Classic champions John the “Hammer” Howard and David “Burl” Hare joined forces once again as team H&H. The always competitive, Trifecta comprised of Jeb Mann and Michael Nicholas, are also signed up. The last of the originals is two time winter classic champions Uglywood. Trevor Wood and myself, Captain Patric Garmeson have teamed up every year since the tournaments conception.
Some Old Some New
Every year we pick up some teams from previous years, or old teams break up and new team members are added. Team Bro N Law was the first team to register this year. Bro N Law is comprised of Shon Pipkin and David Skoglund, who are as the name suggests actually brothers in law. Second year team Mines Bigger made up of father son duo Ryan and Scott Stevens. Also, second year team mates Captain Wesley Hallman and Cory Quint adopted team name Little Big Debbie. Another, second year team is team S&B made up of Brandon McCart and Steve Lindsay. Long time participating team Just Fo Sho formed by two grub bouncing anglers, Kevin Chalk and Clay Dean. The 14th team to enter the competition was Jonas Alexander and Erik Nelson who joined forces to form Awe Skeet. The final team to mention is Ol Yella. My dad Marty Garmeson and my long time friend Doug Tierce paired up to become a certain dark horse for this years competition.
For the last few years Trevor Wood and I have met on Thursday night for some adult beverages, food, and to figure out who will weigh in when at Saturdays weigh in. Trevor has flown in from Chicago each year to specifically be my partner for the winter classic. Since he usually arrives Thursday afternoon we will get together to discuss prefishing strategies and to draw the order in which guys will weigh in on Saturday. This year like last year we met at Yinzers Brew and Grill in Daphne, Alabama. Doug Tierce joined us for dinner this year and was our official name puller for our Facebook Live video.
Many teams had anglers whom had the opportunity to do some prefishing prior to the Winter Classic 2020. I ran into numerous anglers throughout the week as we all seem to either be sand bagging or singing the same tune. Many anglers complained of not even catching five fish or not catching any size. The prefishing was almost a waste for many anglers. Many who all seem to settle in on each of his comfort zones for the best speckled trout fishing tournament. Anglers who worked all week without touching the water until Saturday seem to survive equally as well as some who fished nearly all week. Prefishing for a tournament can be tricky as Captain Bobby Abruscato explains in episode 98 of the Alabama Saltwater Fishing Report.
The water conditions
2019 was a year of high water and crap weather. 2019 finished how it started. Monster local and upstate rains prior to Christmas basically knocked a bunch of good fishing down into the mud and shut down the fish. Each day following the monster rains the local water conditions would slowly improve. Luckily the local rain events following the Christmas rain were all fairly light and very manageable for our water ways. However, upstate rains continued to fill and refill all the major rivers leading to Mobile Bay. The constant flow of fresh muddy water created tough fishing conditions throughout Mobile Bay.
The 2020 Winter Classic Sponsors
We have been blessed with a really good group of sponsors. The first sponsor to join the Winter Classic 2020 is L&M Marine. L&M Marine has been with us every single year. Since Winter Classic 2016 we have awarded trophies and L&M Marine continues to sponsor those awards. L&M Marine is an industry leader in the sale and service of Yamaha, Mercury, and Suzuki outboard motors. As well as sale and service of some high quality boat brands like Blue Wave, Blazer Bay, Skeeter, Excel, Xpress, and several more great boat brands. Therefore, if you or anyone you know are looking to pick up a new boat, trading up, repowering or simply need some new accessories installed give the folks at L&M Marine a call at 251-937-1380. This year will be the best yet since we are helping with the Mobile Bay speckled trout restocking.
The First is another long standing sponsor of The Winter Classic. Since we added awards in 2016 we introduced the “big checks”. The big checks are presented by The First Bank. In order to have the best speckled trout fishing tournament you need to have the coolest awards. So we added big checks. Besides being sponsors of the Winter Classic 2020, The First is a local bank with a commitment to our community. If you are in the need of a new or refinance mortgage, personal, business or a boat loan give the folks at The First a call at 1-855-257-2265.
So I mentioned big checks earlier. Blue Water Graphics in Mobile, Alabama has handled printing our big checks, banner and decal needs over the years. As a fishing guide it seems I always need decals or signage made. So I rely on Michelle at Blue Water Graphics to fulfill those needs. Blue Water Graphics has been with us since the beginning. I hope if you need some decals, signage or screen printing done you will give them an opportunity. Call Blue Water Graphics at 251-472-7338 . Thank you Blue Water Graphics for your support of the best speckled trout fishing tournament.
One of the fastest growing lure brands in the Mobile Bay area is the Slick Lure. The Slick as many locals refer have adopted this lure as a premier big speckled trout catching lure. Since the slick lure is becoming one of the most popular baits for Mobile Bay speckled trout fishing. It only seemed fitting for them to become a sponsor. This is the second year we added the Slick lure package to the awards. This year we added the Slick Lure package as a prize for the team with the heaviest creel on Sunday. If you have any questions about the Sick Lure give them a call at (352)226-3226.
The final player in this tournament is Fishing Chaos. Who or what is Fishing Chaos? Fishing Chaos provides an online platform for various uses in the sport fishing industry. For instance they can host a live or virtual fishing tournament on the web based app. This is how all anglers registered for this years Winter Classic. In addition to anglers registering on this platform they also could see near instantly the standings as teams weighed in. Fishing Chaos has too many features to list so I insist on checking out the site for yourself. https://app.fishingchaos.com You can even book a fishing trip with me, Richard, or Wesley right on the app. At minimum get registered and start logging your catches anywhere in the world!
Day One Conditions
The first day of the best speckled trout fishing tournament weather wasn’t terrible. Easterly winds 10-20 depending on where you were around Mobile Bay. Air temperature started out at 60 degrees with a high of 65. While the water temp for Trevor and I was 66 degrees according to the Raymarine Axiom. Most anglers saw some rain late morning or early afternoon with another round of showers coming after dark. Overall Saturday fishing conditions around Mobile Bay were unseasonably warm with a cold front approaching Sunday morning. Day one tides were above predicted levels and had good movement throughout the day.
The Saturday weigh in
Talking with most anglers the bite seemed to be either okay or non-existent. Taylor Morrow was manning the measuring board to verify each speckled trout measured in the slot. This is the first year of the trout slot and increase of minimum size limit to 15″ and max of 22″. Each team is allowed up to 5 speckled trout with a max of 2 fish allowable to exceed 22″. Our official weighmaster John Burke called for each team to weigh, determined whether fish was alive or dead and called the official weight. This year we were able to utilize the live speckled trout for the new Mobile Bay speckled trout restocking program.
Mobile Bay Speckled trout Restocking
The Claude Peteet Mariculture center in Gulf Shores, Alabama started a new Mobile Bay speckled trout restocking program. The hatchery manager Max Westendorf and other state officials decided to pause the redfish restocking program and kick off a speckled trout restocking program. This program is coming in on the heels of the speckled trout regulation changes both in bag limit and size limit. The number one thing this program needs right now is brood stock or breeding size fish. Well what better use of the fish we bring to the scales than brood stock for a brand new program. So thats what we did with all live fish brought to the scales, we donated them to the hatchery. Each day a hatchery representative was on site with a custom sport trail trailer fitted with one giant tank for all our live speckled trout.
Who’s first to the scales
The first team to the scales on day one was 2016 Winter Classic Champions team H&H. David and John weighed in 5 speckled for a total weight of 8.14# and all fish were determined as being alive. Each live fish is awarded a .25#bonus to the overall total. This brought H&H’s final score to 9.39#. The second team called to the scale was defending Winter Classic champions Wrecking Crew. Richard and Bobby weighed in 5 live speckled trout with an official weight of 11.19# with a 1.25# bonus to bring their total weight to 12.44#. The third team to drop fish on the scale was Ol Yella. Marty and Doug can make a fish eat and they made that happen on day one. Weighing in 4 live and 1 dead fish they had an official weight of 13.24# with a 1# bonus to bring the official day one total to 14.24#. Marty and Doug also weigh in the first respectable size fish with a lunker of 3.68#. At this point Ol Yella is sitting on top of the leader board on day one. Lets see who else shows up with some fish.
Keep them coming
The fourth team to weigh in is team TKO. Which on Saturday was only Shane, his partner Kevin had other obligations but would be there on Sunday. Shane had a good day, 5 lively Mobile Bay speckled trout and one real good one that weighed in at 4.6#. With an official weigh of 12.88# and kick in the 1.25# bonus for a total of 14.13# good enough for second place on day one. The fifth team to carry a bag of speckled trout to scales is Little Big Debbie. Wes and Cory felt okay about the fish they had based on the previous teams scores. Little Big Debbie placed 5 live speckled trout in on the scale for an official weight of 12.27# and a nice kicker fish that weighed 4.14#. After tallying the bonus Wes and Cory walk away with a total of 13.52# good enough to put them in 3rd place. The sixth team to weigh in at the best speckled trout fishing tournament is Get the Net. Jamie and Austin found a respectable trout creel with 4 alive and 1 dead an official weight 11.88# and a 1# bonus to bring their total to 12.88#.
7 through 9
The seventh team to weigh in is Uglywood. Our day one creel consisted of 2 quality fish and 3 we would have loved to have culled. Nonetheless our official weight was 12.50# which was anchored by a 4.45# lunker. Add the 1.25# bonus to bring the total to 13.75# which moves us barely ahead of Little Big Debbie. The next team up was T-N-T, Josh and Gabe Tidmore. They dropped 5 lively speckled trout on the scales for an official weight of 7.7#, add the 1.25# bonus for a total weight of 8.95#. The ninth team to the scales is 2018 third place team Just Fo Sho, Kevin and Clay. Their day one official weight for Just Fo Sho 10.93#. All five fish were determined alive by weighmaster John Burke so they were awarded 1.25#. Just Fo Sho’s total day one weight was 12.18#.
The rest of the field
The final team to bring fish to the scales was Trifecta, Jeb and Micheal. They brought 4 live Mobile Bay speckled trout to the scale for an official weight of 6.44#. Add the 1# bonus and Jeb and Michael are headed into Sunday with 7.44# on the board. As I mentioned earlier, teams either did okay or nothing at all. The remaining 6 teams either choose not to weigh in fish or didn’t have any to weigh in. After speaking with some of the teams who did not weigh it was because many of them swung for the fence hoping to have a big day Saturday. Sunday’s forecast looked challenging to say the least so I don’t fault anyone for trying to hit a home run on Saturday. These winter tournaments can be challenging but its entirely possible to bring 20#-25# to the scales on any giving day. That’s a wrap on day one.
Saturday wrap up
The 2020 Winter Classic fishing tournament is already halfway complete. Saturday is in the books. The field is pretty dang tight from 1st through 7th and really anyone can win this thing 1st through 10th. Ol Yella is sitting 1st 14.24, TKO 2nd 14.13, Uglywood 3rd 13.75, Little Big Debbie 4th 13.52, Get The Net 5th 12.88, Wrecking Crew 6th 12.44, Just Fo Sho 7th 12.18, H&H 8th 9.39, T-N-T 9th 8.95, and Trifecta 10th 7.44. The weigh in site clears out pretty quick. Most of the anglers in the top 10 all seem to gather their things and start thinking about Sunday. One thing I noted while chatting with some of the guys during weigh in was that there was a rush to be the first boat in the water at a boat ramp or two. To my knowledge nobody had to fist fight or anything crazy like that. It was really cool to hear the guys referencing the rules about what time you could launch and fishing distances from one another. I was a proud tournament host to know that the guys were all holding each other accountable on the rules.
Sunday Funday Winter Classic 2020
Fun, some might call it that. The wind was having a ton of fun! I woke up at 3am. The wind sounded like a hurricane outside my window. I always say that if the wind is blowing at my house its gonna be a bumpy ride. I was right I pulled up the wind alert app on my phone and the winds were stroking. 26-30mph depending on which anemometer I was inspecting. Well, Trevor and I had discussed launching on the causeway and running the boat down to Dog River where we planned to fish for Sunday. These plans immediately changed to lets launch on Dog, too rough to run in the dark. The wind was the main weather factor for Sunday. It really wasn’t too cold. Low temp was approximately 50 degrees but the winds obviously made it feel colder. So Sunday was fun for all!
Day 2 Winter Classic Weigh in
The Claude Peteet Mariculture Center truck and trailer is on site when Trevor and I arrive at the scales. We arrived second approximately 15 minutes prior to weigh in beginning. The Winter Classic 2020 rules state that all teams must be checked in with weigh master John Burke by 2:59pm each day and first team up should be ready to weigh no later than 3:05. On Sunday the first to weigh in will be any of the 6 teams that didn’t weigh on Saturday and then move from 10th place towards 1st place. So first up is Awe Skeet.
Lets get it started
Mobile Bay speckled trout can be unforgiving following a cold front. Awe Skeet choose not to weigh in on Saturday but did bring fish on Sunday. Erik and Jonas had a nice 4.22# lunker trout, a total of 3 live trout good for .75# bonus and a total weight of 8.07#. Ran Red Fishing was the second team that didn’t weigh in on Saturday but brought some fish to the scale on Sunday. Noel and Justin brought in an official total weight of 3.72#. Trifecta is the third team to weigh in on Sunday, Jeb and Micheal brought a couple of live trout to add to the speckled trout restocking program. T-N-T, H&H, and Just Fo Sho all fell short of rebounding into contention on Sunday but all brought fish to donate to the Claude Peteet Mariculture Center.
Its getting tight at the top
The best speckled trout fishing tournament is about to come to close. The seventh team to weigh in on day 2 of the Winter Classic is the defending champions, Wrecking Crew. Richard peacocks his way to the scale and pulls out 4 fish, one of which will be the longest and heaviest fish so far in the tournament. Richard and Bobby have a 4 fish stringer 12.67 before the 1# bonus to bring the creel total to 13.67# and the lunker official weight was 5.51# which was rewarded .25# bonus for being alive. Just like that Wrecking crew moved from 6th on Saturday to 1st on Sunday and they have the lunker at 5.76#. At this point Wrecking Crew is first with 26.11 and 6 teams remain to weigh in. Wrecking crew just made everyone tighten up a little bit.
Next team to weigh is Get the Net. Jamie and Austin brought 3 live Mobile bay speckled trout, one lunker a little over 5#. Team Get the Net now sits in second place with 23.99#. Next in line is Little Big Debbie. Cory and Wes learned how extremely important it is to bring your fish in alive. Unfortunately for them they had a really high quality 5.51# speckled trout but was dead on arrival. Wrecking Crew also had a 5.51# speckled trout yet they received the .25# bonus for bringing the fish in alive. The Winter Classic 2020 rules would apply. “18. In the event of a tie for the LUNKER trout. If there is a tie for the largest fish for the weekend the winner will be decided by a coin toss. The weigh master will present a coin and instruct of which side is heads or tails. The anglers will do a best of three rock paper scissors to decide who will call heads or tails.”
Uglywood is up next. Trevor and I landed our 5 Mobile bay speckled trout and all are alive. 9.06# plus 1.25# bonus puts us in 2nd place with a two day total including bonuses 24.06#. TKO is second to last to weigh in. Shane and Kevin fell short of holding one of the top three spots. However, on the positive note they did contribute to the speckled trout restocking program. The last team to weigh in on Sunday is Ol Yella. Marty and Doug had the best day on Saturday and needed 11.88# to remain in the top spot. Unfortunately, for Ol Yella they fell short of placing top 5 with a day two total including bonus with 5.68#.
2020 Winter Classic winners
The 6th edition of The Winter Classic is all over! Third place goes to first timers Get the Net. Jamie and Austin did what it took to hold down a top three position. Second place goes to Uglywood. Trevor and I were happy to place but pissed we didn’t win because we always want the win. First place and for the third year in a row we award Wrecking Crew the Champion trophy and 1st place big check! Not only did the Wrecking Crew take the top spot overall, they also landed the lunker and the Sunday Slick Lure Heavy Bag award! Congrats to Captain Richard Rutland and Captain Bobby Abruscato on one hell of a come back and overall tournament performance! Till next year my friends.