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Florida Tournament Insider: Redfish on the Run

Anglers head in all directions targeting big red drum from coast-to-coast.

Florida Tournament Insider: Redfish on the Run

Parker Rabow, pictured, and Capt. Dustin Pack took first place in the RedFly No.18 with two redfish totaling 60.5 inches.

On the surface, there aren’t many parallels between bar games and sportfishing. But for Vince Stegura, a blossoming foosball competitor and long-time fly fisherman, the cerebral skills necessary to excel in table tennis may have helped him place in the RedFly No. 18, an Apollo Beach-based fly tournament.

“After messing around with foosball at a 2016 New Years Eve party, I jokingly told my wife I’d be a pro one day,” said Stegura, founder of Skinny Water Culture fishing apparel. “It’s actually a very mental game, more like chess than other table games. It’s been difficult to learn.”

Stegura and his RedFly teammate, Alec Bevilaqua, faced a relentless trifecta of challenges: weather conditions, formidable opponents, and the demanding task of maintaining a positive mental attitude throughout the one-day tournament with boundaries from Pine Island (Hernando County) south to Gasparilla Pass. The winners are determined by the two largest redfish, totaling to the nearest ¼ inch. There is a 100-percent payback of the $50 team entry fee, distributed across three places with a split of 60/30/10.

“It was really windy from the north, so I wasn’t sure exactly where we’d fish,” Stegura said. “I knew of a popular spot that’s protected from north winds, but I hadn’t fished there in five years and was sure there’d be a ton of boats fishing there because everyone knows about it.”

Approaching the area, Stegura was relieved to find less boats pressuring the fish. “It was a big low tide and there was almost no water on the flat. We saw some birds diving at the mouth of a small creek and really lucked out.”

Stegura reports that Tampa Bay redfish are typically extremely spooky and hard to approach, oftentimes spooking before an angler’s lure even touches the water. These fish, however, were off their guard and more aggressive than any he’s ever encountered. “They were crushing glass minnows in three feet of water. We were watching them roll on the schools of bait, just lazily eating them.”

Bevilaqua’s first cast resulted in an instant hookup to an unusually large Tampa Bay redfish, almost a 40-inch fish. Unfortunately, the fish made a frantic run toward their boat’s trim tabs and broke off.

“We felt really dejected, we just sat there in disbelief for a few moments. But we pressed on. Alec told me to get on the bow and three minutes later I was hooked up to our second fish, a nice 27-incher, then we landed another at 29 inches.”

As the tide marched in, the feeding reds dispersed, and the bite shut off. A while later, the duo came across another school of fish around a creekmouth. “The water erupted all around the creek and we were certain the fish had spooked, but they were actually just really fired up chasing bait.”

They were able to land another 29-inch fish, rounding out their 3-fish max. Back at the weigh-in, their released catches measured a total of 59 inches, good enough for a third-place finish.

Stegura said he still feels like a rookie, both in fly fishing and foosball, but he values the chance to see himself improve at both. “I’ve fished so many of these tournaments and never even caught a fish,” he said. “So, I was happy to place. It’s such a fun tournament, it’s got such a great hometown feel to it.”

Coming in first place were Captain Dustin Pack and angler Parker Rabow with a 2-fish aggregate length of 60.5 inches. Pack, a fly guide and board member of the Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, considers the skittish Tampa Bay redfish the hardest reds in the country to catch on a fly rod. “These fish are pressured from all angles—dolphins, boats, anglers, birds—you’ve got to be a great angler and able to make long casts,” said Pack. “Forty- to 70-foot casts are necessary.”

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With bright sun on the tournament day, Pack and Rabow scaled their tippets down to 12 pound to fool fish in the clear water. They landed two reds early and broke off a large red after it ran beneath the boat. “Parker jumped in the water in a moment of panic trying to keep the red from breaking the leader,” said Pack.“We felt pretty low and didn’t talk for a few minutes after.”

They caught a lucky break in the final minutes of their day. With less than a half-hour to fish, Rabow landed a 32-inch red, sealing their first-place position for the second year in a row. The biggest red of the tournament was 33.25 inches, caught by Tim Metcalf and Marlon Marshall.

Capt. Jon Bull was the brainchild behind RedFly. Initially a small tournament held at Cockroach Bay in 2008, it has evolved into the longest-running flyfishing tournament exclusively targeting redfish. At the 2024 event, the prize raffle generated $23,000 in support of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

fishing crew
Team Fat Racks secured victory at the Battle in the Bay tournament hosted at Marina Jack in Sarasota by landing the ideal upper-slot redfish.
Battle in the Bay

The Warriors on the Water tournaments are more than competitive angling events. As fundraisers to place veterans on fishing charters, these tournaments hosted by the Sarasota-based nonprofit are a celebration of the value that fishing brings to us all, especially veterans and military service members.

After forming tight bonds amongst fellow service members, veterans often suffer an extreme sense of loss and isolation when returning to civilian life and detaching from such close ties with people they shared intense life experiences with.

The organization offers veterans a chance to meet others from all branches and occupations to network and team build with a sense of camaraderie—through fishing.

Ryan Pawelkoski and team Fat Racks made the most of a rainy day to secure first place in the snook, redfish, and trout tournament, the Battle in the Bay, held on December 16, 2023.

“It was definitely a downpour on and off all day and a slow bite starting out,” said Pawelkoski, a high schooler born and raised in Bradenton. His teammates included Aiden Behringer, 23, and Dylan Engel, 16. “We saw a lot of snook, but couldn’t connect with a slot.”

Snook—big ones—are Pawelkoski’s favorite fish to target. Being it was the off-season for good snook fishing, the trio of anglers shifted their focus to redfish. Having pre-fished the week before, they discovered areas where reds would bite exclusively on a falling tide near dead low.

Using cut ladyfish, they caught several reds in the pouring rain as the water level dropped with the ebbing tide. They landed a total of seven. The largest was a perfect tournament fish, an upper-slot, near 27-incher, caught by Engel.

“I tip my hat to these kids, making it happen in the kind of weather we had,” said tournament director, Marine Corps veteran, and founder of Warriors on the Water, Evan Fernandez of Sarasota.


  • This was article was featured in the April 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine. Subscribe now.



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