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Casting call for women only

A charity fishing tournament has one rule: no men allowed (to help).

By LEANORA MINAI

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 8, 2001


I was en route to meet Cookie Diaz, the chain-smoking fishing guide who would introduce me to the flats off Fort De Soto Park.

photo
[Special to the Times]
Times crime reporter Leanora Minai proundly holds an 18-inch spotted sea trout caught near Fort De Soto Park.
Driving along 34th Street S in St. Petersburg, I was thinking about my assignment as the trout scout for the 13th Annual Ladies Fishing Tournament, a charity benefit on June 16 hosted by the Old Salt Fishing Club.

All of a sudden, I heard the chilling crunch of metal. I turned my head and saw a car had crashed head-on into an electric pole. Smoke and sparks shot from the wires like fireworks.

I usually cover car accidents, among my other duties as a crime reporter for the newspaper. So, I was torn. Do I stop or continue to my other assignment -- fishing?

I saw several people immediately come to her aid, so I kept driving. (I learned later that the driver was not seriously injured.)

Terry Tomalin, a former cops reporter himself, writes about the outdoors full-time. I am helping out with the tournament because Terry's wife just had a baby boy.

If you're a fisherwoman, enter this contest. It's going to be fun. It's for a good cause. And you can win up to $300. All proceeds from the event will go to the Suncoast Children's Dream Fund, a non-profit organization that makes wishes come true for sick and dying children.

"This year we have more sponsors, more prizes, more people involved," said Kim Hall, secretary of the Old Salt Fishing Club, whose motto is "fish long, fish hard, fish often and let's go catchin'!"

She's worked hard organizing the event and is hoping for 300 anglers.

Before you can fish, though, you must register between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday at Billy's Stone Crab Seafood on Tierra Verde. A $1 raffle during registration promises returns of rods and reels, cast nests, electronic fish finders and restaurant gift certificates.

The hunt for the big one (trout, sheepshead, flounder, grouper, Spanish mackerel or king mackerel) starts at 12:01 a.m. on June 16.

"The normal person gets up about 5 and tries to be out on the water between 5:30 and 6 o'clock," said Hall, the organizer.

You can wade or cast from land or a boat anywhere from Naples to Cedar Key, as long as you return to Tierra Verde to weigh your catch between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Remember, this is a woman's tournament. There are some key rules. One angler must hook, fight and bring the fish up to point of gaff. And, no men are allowed to fish for bait once the tournament starts.

"Everything's based on the honor system," said Hall, 33.

With all of this knowledge, I set out on a test run Wednesday morning with Diaz, the fishing guide from Minnows & Monsters Tackle in Tampa.

A novice angler who needs to work on patience, I boarded the 16-foot Hewes Bayfisher just after 8 a.m. at the Fort De Soto boat ramp. Diaz pointed the boat toward, well, the water. But he was really examining the water's texture and shades of color for fish.

Not me. I was ready to fling my line out there.

"Fishing is more of a study," Diaz, 45, told me. "You have to study it. Once you study all the ingredients, you'll pick up a pattern of where the fish will be at."

We used jigs in 3 to 6 feet of water. Diaz got the first bite, a small blue runner -- what kingfish like to eat.

Over the next hour, we hooked a few catfish (not good for eating, but they clean the bottom) and several jumping ladyfish. Yikes. If we were in the tournament, we'd be in bad shape at this point.

"Come on, fish," Diaz begged. "Sometimes, it takes some time. A lot of people think you can come out here and throw a line and that's all it takes."

Next for me on the multicolored line was a baby sea horse.

Then, at 9:15 a.m., FISH ON! A spotted sea trout flashed and wiggled at the end of my line. My adrenaline pumped. I had out-fished my guide.

"You fish better than Terry does," Diaz joked.

I held the 18-inch fish by the gills, slime and all. Then I released it back into the water.

I left some for you. Good luck.

At a glance

WHAT: 13th annual Ladies Fishing Tournament (Old Salt Fishing Club).

REGISTER: From 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Billy's Stone Crab Seafood, 1 Collany Road on Tierra Verde.

WHEN: Fishing starts at 12:01 a.m. June 16. Weigh-in between 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. at Billy's Stone Crab Seafood.

ENTRY FEE: Members of Old Salt Fishing Club, $30. Non-members, $35. Proceeds go to the Suncoast Children's Dream Fund.

SPECIES: Inshore -- trout, sheepshead, flounder. Offshore -- grouper, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel.

PRIZES: The winner is the one with the heaviest fish for each species. First place: $300. Second: $200. Third: $100.

FOR INFORMATION: Call Kim Hall (727) 328-7699, or check out the website: www.oldsaltfishingclub.com.

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