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Everyman redfish events flourish

Kurt Shader and Chris Morelli, with seatrout, handle insurance work during the week and form a redfish team on Saturdays.

Special to the Times

Kurt Shader and Chris Morelli, with seatrout, handle insurance work during the week and form a redfish team on Saturdays.

PINELLAS POINT — Most anglers would be tickled to catch a 20-inch spotted sea- trout. Not Chris Morelli.

"That is not what we are looking for," the 34-year-old tournament angler said. "There have to be some redfish here somewhere."

Morelli and Kurt Shader, his partner on Team Pro Marine, had a big tournament coming up in a couple of days.

"We try to get out and prefish before every tournament," Morelli said. "It gives us an idea of where to start on Saturday."

The Inshore Fishing Association Redfish Tour attracts anglers such as these two insurance professionals: recreational anglers who have regular jobs but who look forward to Saturday tournaments where they can show off their angling skills.

While the big-money tours often seen on television take a multiday approach, the Redfish Tour, which holds its third and final event on Florida's west coast Saturday in Ruskin, has a proven format for two-angler teams: one day, catch-and-release, artificial lures only.

"We love it," said Shader, 52, from Valrico. "We're not professional fishermen. We are just out here to have fun."

Fishing friends

Shader learned to fish on the freshwater lakes, rivers and streams of his native Michigan. But when he moved to Florida in 1981 he quickly caught the saltwater bug.

"My first day fishing on Tampa Bay I caught nine different species of fish," he said. "It was like coming to Shangri-La. I was hooked."

Morelli, a Clearwater native, grew up on the water.

"Every chance I got I would go fishing," he said.

Like many local anglers, Morelli and Shader were both fans of Florida's Sportsman magazine's angler forum on the website. The two struck up a friendship and started fishing together.

"I was primarily a live bait fisherman," Shader said. "So when we started fishing tournaments, I had to learn how to use artificials. That is what makes this so exciting. … I am always learning something new."

Morelli, who spent 13 years as a boat mechanic before entering the insurance industry, was a veteran jig and plug fishermen.

"You are always moving, constantly casting," Morelli said of tournament fishing. "You never get bored."

Lessons learned

After some initial success, Morelli and Shader landed a limited sponsorship with a Pro Marine, a Palmetto-based marine engine parts distributor.

"That made it a little easier to enter some of the tournaments," Morelli said.

Dunedin's Fish on Lures helps keep the anglers in hooks and other terminal tackle. The team's addition to the Power Pole pro staff also gave them a badly needed boost in equipment.

"It can be hard for teams like us … the regular guys," Morelli added.

The Pro Marine team fishes out of a 10-year-old bay boat that Morelli helped rebuild in his garage.

The anglers, who work in the claims department at Progressive Insurance, are both budget conscious; Morelli has three school-age sons; Shader has two children in college.

"Every time you lose one of these it costs a buck," Shader said, holding up a scented, soft-body bait. "It adds up."

But two heavy slot-size redfish on Saturday could earn them a second victory on tour and as much as $1,500, which is more than enough to cover the cost of several events. That is why they take a day the week before to scout for fish.

"Not another trout," Shader said as he reeled in. "We have got to find some redfish."

fast facts

Ruskin tour stop

The Inshore Fishing Association Redfish Tour hosts a series of one-day, catch-and-release, artificial lures only tournaments for two-angler teams around the Southeast. Saturday's event in Ruskin is the third and final event for the Florida West Coast Division. To learn more, go to Redfish

tour.com. Anglers can register beginning at 5 p.m. today at Pirate's Point Resort, 1800 Kofresi Court, Ruskin. The mandatory captains' meeting begins at 7 p.m. Entry fee is $400 per team. Information: Redfishtour.com.

More ahead

The West Coast Pro Redfish Series hold its fourth tournament of the year Sept. 25 out of MacRae's in Homosassa. West Coast Pro is a nonprofit organization that promotes fun, competitive fishing for reds for the average angler. The tournaments, which are run by volunteers and tournament anglers, are 100 percent cash payback. It costs $20 a year to join the series, and $100 per team for each tournament. The series continues Oct. 16 in Ruskin's Simmons Park with the two-day championship scheduled for Nov. 20-21 at a location to be announced. Information: Westcoastpro.org.

Terry Tomalin,

Times Outdoors Editor

Everyman redfish events flourish 09/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 6:51pm]
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