Harold Castleberry at Academy Sports in Jacksonville, after verifying the first winning tag in the STAR Tagged Redfish Division.

A welder from a small town in northeast Florida has won the first of the 5 major prizes up for grabs in the 2016 STAR Tagged Redfish Division. Harold Castleberry, of Macclenny, will soon take the wheel of a brand-new GMC 4-door pickup, donated by Conley Buick GMC of Bradenton.

Castleberry caught and reported the first of the CCA-FLSTAR tagged redfish on Sunday, May 29, in the Guana River near St. Augustine. He was fishing with a friend, Donald Brickle, on Brickle’s 16-foot Stottcraft.

“We usually fish the ICW where the Guana River comes out, but there was a lot of boat traffic and rough water, so we moved up the river a ways,” said Castleberry. The two had fresh mullet for bait, and they anchored in a bend in the river. “We put out a few live mullet and some chunks. Right away, I hooked a fish but it broke off on our motor. Then Brick had a few bites but he was snoozin’ back there and missed them.”

At about 2:00 p.m., Castleberry got another bite on a chunk of mullet behind a 1-ounce sliding sinker rig. “That was on the pole we call ‘Old Lucky’,” he said, referring to an Ugly Stick with a 6500 Abu Garcia baitcast reel. “When Brick netted the fish, he was more excited than I was—he saw the tag before I did.”

Fortunately, the two had already registered for the STAR tournament—Castleberry only one day before, on Saturday morning. They measured the fish—25 inches—on the special STAR measuring stick, photographed it, snipped the tag and released the fish. “It swam away fine,” Castleberry said. He began to enter the catch into the cellphone STAR app, but found his phone had a dead battery. “We ran back to the ramp, charged my phone for a few minutes, and called Andrea [Gillespie, the tournament assistant].”

Tournament staff quickly reached Castleberry to confirm the catch, and he later passed the obligatory polygraph test with flying colors. Castleberry says he’s been told by STAR staff that he’ll be awarded the GMC truck following the October awards banquet. Currently, Castleberry, who commutes to Jaxport Shipyard, says he’s driving a 2008 Nissan Titan. The new GMC, says Castleberry, “sounds a lot better!”

Castleberry also says he’s hooked on redfishing. “I was born and raised in Macclenny, and I love fishing,” he said. “I’ve been a bass fisherman for a while, but my buddy Brick got me turned on to redfish. I’ve been doing it about a year now.”

This is the first year that there has been a Tagged Redfish Division on Florida’s Atlantic coast. Last year’s tournament was strictly limited to the Gulf side. STAR stands for Statewide Tournament and Angler’s Rodeo, and it’s modeled after successful Coastal Conservation Association events in Texas and Louisiana. Earlier this spring, Florida STAR staffers planted 150 tagged redfish at widely distributed, confidential points around the Florida coastline. This year’s STAR tag is red. Printed on the tag is a special number beginning with FL followed by CCA Florida STAR and the phone number 844-387-STAR (7827). Winners are determined by time of catch, and must have been registered both as a CCA FL member ($30 for standard membership) and a STAR participant ($35).

The next prize up in the Tagged Redfish Division is a 22 Contender Sport, or, for youth anglers, a $25,000 scholarship. And of course there are all sorts of prizes and awards up in the many categories of the 101-day STAR tournament. See ccaflstar.com for registration or call 844-387-STAR (7827).

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