Amanda Gilbert and The Perfect Slam
As we drove down to O’Neills Marina at 4:30am, Capt. Jeff Hagaman said, “It is going to be rough today and we might get a little wet!” I responded, “It won’t be my first or last time, we’ve got this!” We left the marina in search for large bait before picking up the Flagler Group to fish the TAMCO Grand Slam Wounded Warrior Tournament. The wind was blowing fifteen to twenty knots and there were two to three foot seas. An occasional five footer crashed over the bow of the boat. He was not kidding, I definitely got wet! I sat on the backseat, faced the rear of the boat, and looked at the glowing green water as it splashed up and hit the motor. There was something about those glowing wake lights that was almost mesmerizing, and the combined beauty of the Skyway lights just sent a feeling of bliss through my body. “This is the life,” I thought to myself.
Capt. Jeff snapped me out of my daydreaming trance, handed the wheel over, and got prepped to cast the net. I have to admit, my heart was beating faster and harder the closer I drove to the bridge. The tide was ripping and the wind was blowing something fierce. He cast that net near one of the pilings and within seconds I heard him say, “I love it when the net shakes like this!” He casted a total of three times before we were loaded up on more than enough threadfins and whitebait! We drove back to the marina, rigged the rods, picked up the crew, and headed out!
Redfish was our first target. We pulled up next to two boats fishing the same tournament, and before I could bait the hooks for the crew, Capt. Jeff got a picture text from a competitor—it was a 32inch Snook! “Geeze, that was quick!!” The Flagler team quickly got to casting, but after an hour of no luck Capt. Jeff decided to go for trout instead. We pulled up to the next spot, put down the trolling motor, and stealthy snuck into where the mullet were popping out of the water. The team casted their lines in the middle of the commotion and within 20 minutes one of the lines was screaming from the drag pull. The fight was on! A stunning 27 ½ inch gator trout was fought back to the boat. Everyone’s faces lit up with excitement! That speckled sea trout was without a doubt a tournament winner.
We took another shot at the redfish… This time they were hungry!!After a few chum throws the reds were belly rolling right in front of the boat. The team caught a beautiful 31inch redfish. This brought us to a total of 58 ½ inches. We needed at least a 29inch snook to stay in the running for the Grand Slam!
The first snook spot was too rough to put the Power Pole down. The wind was practically blowing our hats off, and the waves were splashing into the boat. We moved onto the next spot, but there was a boat sitting right on top of where the fish would have been located. Everyone was getting a little anxious. We had about an hour and a half left to fish. The snook were not biting near the docks and they were not biting near the bridges. With only 45 minutes left Capt. Jeff decided to uncover his secret honey hole. We pulled up and immediately saw snook blasting bait on the surface. Everyone cast their lines out and the drags started pulling instantaneously. The snook were skyrocketing out of the water left and right. It was such an incredible site to see! The first fish brought into the boat was 30 ¼ inches. We now had a competitive total of 88 ¾ inches; the pressure was off.
The Flagler Team rushed back to the Westshore Yacht club to put in their entries.They won first place for largest trout and they won the 2013 Grand Slam by 1/4 inch! It was a very rewarding day on the water for everyone! I had an incredible time mating for Capt. Jeff and the Flagler Team!