Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

The hook to one conservation group's fishing tournament? Artificial lures only, please

Fishermen love to debate live vs. artificial bait.

Purists, such as Richard Seward, will cast all day with their plugs and jigs, even when the fish aren't biting and the livewell is brimming with succulent scaled sardines.

"The fish are here … the trick is getting them to bite," Seward said as he tossed a jig off the stern.

"That's what you said last time …" Mike Mahoney quipped. But before Mahoney could finish his sentence, a trout that was not much bigger than the minnows in the bait well grabbed the soft-plastic jig and started pulling line.

"Now it's your turn," Mahoney said as he reeled in the fish. His friends, Seward, a fishing guide, and Richard Moore, president of the Tampa Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association, were getting ready for the organization's annual catch-and-release tournament this weekend. Now in its 27th year, the CCA Tampa Chapter's Digital Photo All-Release Challenge usually draws Tampa Bay's top guides and recreational anglers.

The rules are simple. Each angler is given a tackle bag filled with an assortment of artificial lures. Once the fishing starts Saturday, the angler can only use what's in that bag. If they lose the shiny new MirrOlure or D.O.A. shrimp on the first cast, tough luck. They must fish on with another lure.

"People wonder, why enter a tournament to fish against a bunch of guides? They think they can't possibly win," Seward said. "But I will let you in on a little secret. Most guides don't know how to use artificial lures. They all fish with live bait."

And to prove his point, Seward made everybody on his boat fish with the lures that would be available to the tournament anglers. He swore we would catch fish. I believed him. He didn't earn the nickname "Mr. Trout" by snagging sail cats.

In the 1980s, when sportfish were killed by the thousands in gill nets, Seward and fellow members of the Florida Conservation Association (the name was later changed to the Coastal Conservation Association) worked tirelessly to protect and rebuild the dwindling trout, redfish and snook populations. The CCA eventually helped pass a constitutional amendment that banned the nets from inshore waters, which took the pressure off the state's mullet stocks and, in turn, helped all of the major inshore fisheries, including seatrout.

Today, 71 years old and still fishing, Seward isn't much for sharing his battle stories, but he is still as stubborn as ever, even when all he's catching is puny 12-inch trout.

"Now how many is that now, Richard?" Mahoney asked. "I think I've caught five and you've caught one?"

Though Mahoney likes to joke around with this elder statesman of inshore fishing, the Tampa native has nothing but respect for Seward and his contemporaries who launched the modern fisheries conservation movement. "I'm not much for politics," Mahoney said. "But you've got to give those guys a lot of credit."

Mahoney grew up fishing the waters of Tampa Bay. His family has owned and operated Tampa's T.A. Mahoney Co. Inc. Marine Hardware since 1946, the area's longest running marine and tackle supply store.

So it is only fitting that a store that survived five wars and nearly a dozen recessions would get behind a tournament that benefits an organization whose sole purpose is to see that fish stocks survive long after our current economic crisis is just a distant memory.

"We try to help where we can," Mahoney said as he reeled in another fish. "Now, is that my nine to your two?"

Seward didn't answer. I could tell the veteran guide wanted to tell the whippersnapper that he was catching yellow-mouth gator trout when Mahoney, 45, was still crawling around in diapers. But Seward stuck to the game plan, even when it was clear that the artificial lures hadn't caught anything bigger than a baby trout. The tournament rules call for plugs and jigs, and by golly, that is what he would use.

But outdoors writers are a notoriously impatient bunch. A day on the water isn't "good" — strike that, "productive" — unless there is a photo of a big fish to prove it. A good outdoors writer usually resists the urge to pick up a rod until that "photo fish" has been caught, documented and released.

However, after three hours of tiny trout, it was time to call an audible. "I'll take a rod and one of those scaled sardines," I told Seward. That first free-lined baitfish was gobbled up in an instant. "How about a float?" I asked, hooking on another whitebait. One twitch of the bobber to attract the trout's attention and wham! Photo fish right on cue.

"Now we could have done that right away," Seward said. "But I wanted to show you how competitive this tournament is going to be. Only the very best fishermen will have a chance to win."

To register for the CCA Tampa Chapter All-Release Challenge, call (813) 238-2220 or go to To book a trip with Richard Seward, call (813) 361-8161.

The hook to one conservation group's fishing tournament? Artificial lures only, please 09/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2011 7:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, with Cobb pitching with a purpose


    UPDATE, 11:06: Here is the Rays lineup, with Sucre catching and Martinez at 2b:

  2. St. Petersburg's Sebastien Bourdais vows to return for IndyCar finale

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Sebastien Bourdais was in one of the best race cars he'd ever had, so fast that most of his competitors thought he would win the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

    Sebastien Bourdais does physical therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana in Indianapolis. Bourdais broke his pelvis, hip and two ribs in an accident during qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on May 20. He plans to return home to St. Petersburg soon to continue therapy. [Associated Press]
  3. Yellow cards stall Rowdies offense in tie with St. Louis


    ST. PETERSBURG — It's not the result they wanted, but it certainly could have been worse. Neill Collins' 87th-minute header off a corner kick was the reward the Rowdies settled for Saturday night during a 1-1 draw with St. Louis before an announced 6,068 at Al Lang Stadium.

  4. Calvary Christian routs Pensacola Catholic to win state baseball title


    FORT MYERS — Calvary Christian left no doubt as to which baseball team in Class 4A was the best in Florida this season. The Warriors defeated Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium to claim the school's first state championship in any team sport. It also solidified a 30-0 season. …

    Matheu Nelson celebrates after scoring on a wild pitch during the first inning, when Calvary Christian took a 6-0 lead.
  5. Numerous lapses add up to frustrating Rays loss to Twins

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — While the Rays made some good defensive plays, threw a couple of big pitches when they needed to and got a few, and just a few, key hits, there were some obvious things they did wrong that led to them losing Saturday's game to the Twins 5-3:

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter says the Twins’ tiebreaking homer came on a pitch that was “close to where I wanted it.”