The $4,000 trout has been found.
Somewhere in the backwaters of Ozello, where oysters peek from under brown water and the sea grass grows bright green, Clay Parker found it. A classic speckled trout with silver sides giving way to a pinkish brown back peppered with black spots. The fat-belly fish with the bright yellow mouth was looking for a bite to eat around 1:30 p.m. Sunday when it mistook the Ocala angler's 7M MirrOlure for a free lunch.
Minutes later, Parker's partner, Larry Craggs, netted the fish and with it the top prize of the 10th Annual Crystal River Rotary Club Trout Tournament.
"I lost a bigger one earlier," Parker said, smiling as he held the winning fish. "And right when Larry netted this one, the hooks fell out."
But the fish story doesn't end yet.
When weighmaster Capt. Stan Moore of the Florida Marine Patrol Auxiliary, put the fish on the electronic scale, it weighed 69.8 ounces. The 4.362-pound fish was just eight-tenths of an ounce heavier than a 4.31-pound fish caught by second place finisher Mark Redwine of Jacksonville on Saturday.
Eight-tenths of an ounce.
Next time you've got out your state licensed digital scale with the thousandth of an ounce increments, weigh a nickel. Hold it in your hand. It might weigh eight-tenths of an ounce.
Redwine, who finished ninth in last year's tournament, took home $2,000 for his second place effort. In third place was David Jefford of Crystal River whose 3.97 pound trout was worth $1,000. Tom Lewis and Don Frey earned $250 each for finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
In the winner-take-all, biggest legal redfish contest, Crystal River angler Bernie McCray took the honors with a 27-inch fish that weighed 8.71 pounds.
According to Moore, typical to fall fishing conditions, most of the bigger fish were caught in backwater areas. The trout, he says, are just starting to move inland as the water temperature drops.
"It was typical fall fishing _ almost all the large trout came out of the backwaters," said the Citrus County native. "You can tell by the color. When the fish get inside the creeks, the tannic acid from the rain runoff gives them a darker color. The fish you catch in the gulf will be silver on the back."
Over the two-day tournament, a total of 224 anglers participated, weighing in more than 700 trout. Moore said the average trout weighed in was about 2.5 pounds.