In the highly competitive world of high-stakes tournament fishing, anglers will sometimes do anything to get the edge. Fishermen have been known to cheat, lie, even steal each other spots. ¶ But every now and then, good guys win.
Forrest L. Wood Redfish Series anglers Geoffrey Page of Venice and Terry Brantley of Arcadia travel several times a month to fish against the best in the world. But Page was particularly excited when the tour's Eastern Division came close to his hometown earlier this month.
With a $20,000 first-place prize at stake, Page spent the better part of a week scouting Sarasota-area waters for redfish.
"On the first day, we got on some really good fish early on," Page said of the March 13-15 event. "The second day we did pretty well, too."
But that second evening, Page and his partner were shocked to learn that they moved from a tie for fifth to second and had made the five-boat cut for the third and final day.
"I was thinking to myself, 'Oh, no,' " Page said. "I had a prior commitment that I just didn't want to break."
A dilemma arises
Page, who works closely with reel manufacturer Shimano, had agreed to make an appearance at Dogfish Tackle, a Seminole tackle shop that caters to serious anglers.
The event had been publicized by the local media, including the St. Petersburg Times, and Page did not want to disappoint his friends and fans.
"I told them that I would be there months ago," he said. "I told my partner this going into the Sarasota tournament. It was a tough call, but what could I do?"
Page and Brantley had started the tournament in good shape. "We had our best weight ever — 14 pounds 11 ounces," Page said of Day 1.
But they doubted they would end up in the finals.
A solid plan
On the first day, Page and Brantley caught their fish in shallow water, less than 21/2 feet deep.
"We were sightfishing," Page said. "We couldn't see the actual reds, but we could see the wakes they pushed as they moved through the water."
They arrived at their spot at 7:45 a.m. and were done for the day by 8:30.
"It was pretty amazing," Page said. "I caught mine on a watermelon-colored Bass Assassin jerkbait, and (Brantley) caught his on an amber-colored Sebile floating stick shad."
But on Day 2, their luck seemed to run out. They returned to the spot, but the fish were nowhere to be found.
"Another angler said that right after we left the day before, a porpoise came in and cleaned the place out," Page said.
Change in tactics
Page guessed the fish had probably moved to deep water to escape the predator. "That meant we had to go to a different pattern," he said. "We got to my deep-water spot at noon, and we were done by 12:15."
At the weigh-in, he and Brantley showed their fish, but figured their 13 pounds 12 ounces for that day wouldn't be good enough. But then it was.
And then Page remembered the scheduled appearance at the tackle shop.
"What do you do? Go for the money and burn your friends?" he said. "Or do you do what you say you were going to do and forget the money?"
Then the proverbial light bulb went off in his head.
Page approached the tournament officials and told them of his dilemma. He asked if he could use a stand-in. If he found an angler that fit certain conditions, it was within the rules, tournament officials said.
So Brantley got on the phone. Mark Sepe, an angler from Deland, was halfway home, having finished the first two days in 27th place with his partner Andrew Bostick.
"The phone rings, and it was (Brantley)," Sepe said. "He asked if I was a guide. I said no. He asked if I lived within 100 miles of Sarasota. I said no. So he said, 'Turn around. You are fishing with me in the finals.' "
Early the next morning, Sepe met Page and Brantley at the boat ramp.
Page had the day planned out.
"I remember his exact words," Sepe said. "Fish the deep-water crustacean pattern bite."
Page hopped in his truck and took off for St. Petersburg to fulfill his commitment. Brantley and Sepe were left at the ramp wondering if they could pull it off.
Just a few casts
"I was stressed beyond belief," Brantley said. "I don't know Sarasota. We had fished the same spot the day before, but I didn't know if the fish would still be there."
But the anglers did exactly what Page had told them to do. On Brantley's first cast, he caught a fish that was over the size limit. His second cast, however, produced a 26½-inch fish, the ideal size for the catch-and-release tournament.
Before Brantley could launch a third cast, Sepe hooked up. His redfish was 27 inches long.
"We were done by 7:55," Brantley said. "But we still fished our hearts out the rest of the day, just in case."
When the anglers went to the weigh-in, they were still worried that their two fish totaling 13 pounds 7 ounces wouldn't be enough to move them into first place. They were wrong.
For a friend
When Page heard the news, he was not surprised.
"I knew that the wind was going to blow hard out of the south that day," he said. "I fish there all the time, and I knew that if they went where I said, positioned the boat like I told them to, they would catch fish."
The team's three-day total — six fish weighing 41 pounds 14 ounces — was the best showing by 1 pound 1 ounce. Their prize: $35,000, included $15,000 from engine manufacturer Yamaha because their boat used one of its motors.
Sepe didn't claim a piece of the prize.
"I did a favor for a friend," he said. "You can't ask for money for something like that."