Category Archives: Entertainment

Grand Slam Wins Custom Shootout

Grand Slam was on the move during the 2017 Shootout last weekend.

My story for on Skip’s Custom Shootout.

A shade of irony passed over the Bahamas last weekend.

The winning boat in the Custom Shootout pulled ahead of the field by releasing a grand slam. And the name of the winning boat?

Grand Slam.

Buoyed by a strong second day, the captain and crew aboard the New Smyrna Beach, Florida, vessel won the Custom Shootout, amassing 1,800 points in the three-day event, edging out Gina Lisa in a tiebreaker based on time.

The event, part of the Abaco Diamond Series, was restricted to 61 custom boats in an all-release billfish affair at the Abaco Beach Resort and Boat Harbour Marina.

It was Grand Slam’s second big win of the year. In January, Grand Slam owner Wallis Higginbotham and crew earned top honors in the Pelican Yacht Club Invitational in Fort Pierce, Florida.

“This one’s special when you consider the caliber of the teams and boats in this tournament,” Higginbotham said. “You had some of the best fishermen on the planet. It was a great group of fishermen to fish against. We were fortunate enough to come out on top and we’re extremely happy and pretty thrilled.”

Grand Slam was built by Forbes Boat Works based in Wanchese, North Carolina, a small town that is home to several of the world’s primere custom boat builders. The boat strung together back-to-back quality days in the Shootout, totaling five billfish releases, including three blues, one white and one sail. That output was enough offset a fishless effort on day three. The Gina Lisa logged more fish with a total of seven releases and tied for the top spot in points, but Grand Slam ultimately prevailed because it amassed its points first.Grand Slam’s grand slam proved to be the pivotal point in the tournament. The combo of the sailfish, white marlin and blue marlin generated 400 additional points, the equivalent of one blue marlin in the Custom Shootout’s scoring system.

Higginbotham caught the sailfish and the blue. Larry Gross caught the white. There were only three one-day grand slams generated among the 224 anglers.

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Glover Wins 45th Annual Bluewater

My story for on the 45th Annual Bluewater tournament in St. Augustine.

Ken Glover’s two loves are baseball and fishing.

Attributes from both of his passions came into perfect harmony last weekend at the 45th Annual Bluewater Tournament held in St. Augustine, Florida.

Using a blend of patience, perseverance and impeccable timing, Glover and the rest of the crew on Double Play III won the Billfish Division of the Bluewater Tournament, landing the only blue marlin of the three-day affair.

The blue marlin release earned them 500 points, well ahead of the second-place finisher, Miss Laddy, which tallied 250 points. In the Game Fish Division, ReelXcape II beat out Sea Genie by a narrow 25-point margin.

The tournament fleet endured mostly rough conditions with 20-mph winds on the final day of the event. But the crew on Double Play III took advantage of the calmest day of the tournament and Glover’s wife, Debbie, was the lucky angler to land the event’s only marlin.

“We’re not professional fishermen, we’re not professional tournament people,” said Glover, who owns Double Play III, a 61 Viking. “It’s fun when you can do something like this. We like to be competitive. We like to win.”

Glover, his captain Ryan Rodeffer, first mate Joey Nowicki and Debbie were on top of their game early. They boated a few mahi before running down their blue marlin after a 60-mile run, east/southeast of St. Augustine Inlet. Their strategy: Have a plan, but be flexible.

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Gombert Prepares to Defend Title in 45th Bluewater Tournament

Here’s my story on the 45th Annual Bluewater Tournament in St. Augustine.  I’m covering it for this weekend.

By Mike Hodge

One fish won it last year. That probably won’t happen again.

At least that’s the thought process of Mark Gombert as he prepares to defend his Billfish Division title in the 45th Annual Bluewater Tournament this weekend in St. Augustine.

Gombert braved high seas last May as an unexpected tropical storm grazed Northeast Florida and caught the tournament’s first sailfish, fortunate timing that allowed him to win a tiebreaker against several other competitors.

All told, the Billfish Division generated just four sailfish, an acceptable total given the lousy weather. However, this year Gombert expects tighter lines during the photo-release affair.

“We’re going in with the intention of trying to win it again, if we’re lucky enough and maybe upgrade a bit,” Gombert said earlier this week during a telephone interview. “Last year was a really tough year for everyone. The weather was really horrible. There were very few fish caught. This year will be a lot better, though.”

The forecast calls for a seasonable spring temperatures and wind for the April 28-30 event, a scenario that has left Gombert optimistic, so much so that the St. Augustine angler passed on an opportunity to compete in this week’s Offshore World Championships. The winner of the Bluewater qualifies for the Costa Rica tournament, but Gombert decided to compete close to home.

“To be honest, going down there we wanted to have more of a solid win than just a one-fish win,” Gombert said. “One of the guys down there who fishes with me is down there fishing it. My normal crew is just starting to get out for billfish. We’ve been doing kingfish, wahoo, tuna-type stuff. We’re adding the billfish stuff to our profile, if you will.”

Last year’s Bluewater was driven as much by perseverance as skill.

“It shrinks the playing field when you’ve got bad weather,” Gombert said. “You limit the people who are willing to go out and be abused by the conditions in the boats that are able to handle those conditions safely. This tournament is traditionally a big-boat tournament. You’re dealing with guys who are willing to get beat up for two days in six, eight foot seas. Last year, unfortunately, the weather was really snotty.”

Gombert, who is from St. Augustine, enters the Bluewater with a smidge of momentum, finishing second in last weekend’s local Mahi Madness tournament on his boat, Preventive Maintenance, a 39-foot Yellowfin, which is powered by four 350 HP Mercury engines.

“You’re always pumped if you’re doing well,” Gombert said. “Any tournament series when you’re getting accolades, it always makes the morale better with the crew and team. You’re always striving to do the best you can, but if you’re winning tournaments or placing well in tournaments, you always have that feeling, whereas if you get out and get browbeat tournament after tournament, you get disheartened. It’s hard to keep everyone pumped up.”

Teamwork, as expected, is crucial to a boat’s success. Everyone has a role, the captain, the angler and crew. The first fish to the boat often is the tournament tiebreaker.

“It’s not as intense as NASCAR,” said Northeast Florida Marlin Association President Paul Raudenbush, whose club is hosting the Bluewater. “But it’s certainly a team sport.”

The format is captain’s choice, meaning anglers can pick two of the three days to fish. Points are awarded on a sliding scale. For instance, a blue marlin merits 500 points, a white marlin 200 and a sailfish 125 for the $35,000 event.

“It’s a catch twenty two,” Gombert said. “What do you do? Take a shot a blue marlin and get hooks in one. … I think it’s a 500-point fish. Sailfish is 125. Let’s say you catch six sailfish over one blue marlin, you’re actually higher in the points.”

Gombert prefers using ballyhoo on a circle hook for bait and big plastics when it comes to artificials.

“The weather was so bad last year, it was hard to pull big plastics trying to chase blue marlin, so we opted to go with smaller baits and go with sailfish,” Gombert said. “We’re hoping the conditions will be good enough to make a big run and pull some big plastics trying to find some blue marlin a little bit deeper, offshore.”

Guided by Simrad navigational technology, a run of 60 miles is the plan.

“What we’re looking for are hard edges, not so much water temperature,” Gombert said. “We’re looking for hard, defined temperature breaks, edges and color changes where you have higher nutrients. Clean water versus dirty water.”

Last weekend’s pre-fishing yielded additional insight for formulating a strategy.

“We covered a lot of water,” Gombert said. “We were fortunate enough to find a couple fish. We actually missed a couple marlin. Our game plan is to pick up where we left off and find the edges and get after them.”

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A Little Time Off the Water

Winter is here in Florida, which means more wind and less time for fly fishing. All you can do is fish between the fronts. The best-case scenario is one day a week to set up a trip. Needless to say, work, family responsibilities and short winter days yield a lot of time indoors.

A few restless anglers in Northeast Florida got a welcome break from cabin fever recently when Bruce Chard spoke at the First Coast Fly Fishers banquet at the Jacksonville Marriott.  A noted guide from Key West, Chard was gracious with his time and put on a first-class presentation where he spotlighted the top places in the world for shallow-water fly fishing. It was worth the hour drive from St. Augustine.

Chard is also a fantastic caster. Fittingly, he gave a morning casting seminar. I didn’t have time to go, but the man can flat out toss a razor-sharp loop. Here’s a clip of his technique.


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Get Ready for the Fly Fishing Film Tour

The Fly Fishing Film Tour is back.  The 2017 season is underway.   So far, Sarasota and Melbourne (Feb. 23, 26)  are the  only Florida venues.  Others are sure to follow.  New locations are often added through the spring and summer.  I saw the Tour in Tampa two years in a row a few years back.  It’s worth the wait and the price of admission. Stay tuned. Below is a link to basic info. Enjoy.

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Another Day, Another Job, Another Dollar

I’ve got a second job. I now work at Genung’s Fish Camp and Marina in Crescent Beach.  Genung’s is a local classic. It’s been around since 1948. For nearly seven decades, Genung’s has been a home for locals to get beer, bait and a little angling advice. The place was started by Jack Genung, a local legend, in 1948. Genung passed away 10 years ago or so, but his legacy lives on through the tackle shop, which is a roll cast away from the 206 bridge.

Hurricane Matthew sucker punched Genung’s in early October, but the owner/manager, Walter Coker, has done a nice job of rebuilding. We’re now open 7 a.m. til 5 Thursday-Sunday during the winter.  We sell frozen shrimp, clams and mullet along with basic tackle, beer and soft drinks. Kayak/boat rental and storage are also available.

The pace is, even by beach standards, laid back. You can’t beat the view and the setting is pristine. The water of south of 206 to Flagler County is safe to harvest oysters and shellfish, one of the few places in this neck of the woods you can do that. The reason: Much of the land on the west side of the ICW is state owned, which means there’s little runoff from development, a rarity in Florida, a state that’s been punished by overpopulation.

There’s a few slivers of Old Florida still left. This is one of them, a big reason I’m proud to work here.

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Back In the Saddle With a Boat

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. I’ve gone through a number of changes during the past year or so — a separation, a divorce, a move and a new job. I live in St. Augustine now.

After years of fishing on foot and out of a kayak/canoe, I finally have a boat — a 13-foot Riverhawk. This little skiff will fish two and runs on a 5HP Tohatsu. At first, I was elated about the concept of going farther and skinnier.

Then the learning curve set in.

With boats and new owners, the learning curve is super steep. First, I had to get a hitch on my jeep. That took several trips to the mechanic and the dealership. Memo to all Jeep owners: If you get a non-Jeep hitch installed, you need to get the electronics calibrated — at the Jeep dealership, which means more money for the local Jeep dealer. Then there was the adapter for the hitch, to ensure a proper hookup with the trailer’s wiring. Needless to say, neither of these two nuggets of info are in the manual.

As long as we’re on wiring, I had to get the tail lights to fixed. Neither worked. Fortunately a fairly handy friend helped me with this. Still, this took several weeks of trial and error, mostly error.

So, the boat was ready to go. But there was one problem. I didn’t know how to trailer the damn thing. My first couple attempts at backing up were absolutely brutal. It was a like a kid learning how to parallel park when he can barely turn the ignition key.

It took a half dozen or so lessons, but eventually I got better. The key moment came when I took a solo trip to the local police station to practice backing up and parking. I thought I had it all figured out because I had been earlier in the summer and the place was vacant. I went in early November and the parking lot was packed on a weekday and weekend due to early election voting.

I turned down a side street to find relief, but that option reached an abrupt dead end when I realized there was no place to turn around. With a car, turning around is no biggie. With a trailer, even a small one, it’s a big, big deal. You better plan it out. Stop at a gas station? You better stop at a place with enough room. But I digress…. I was forced to back down a long stretch of pavement and back the trailer in to a yard to right myself and get back home. I did it twice, on separate trips.

But I was not done with obstacles. I live on the beach, which means I have a great view of the ocean, but a lousy dirt driveway. It’s not just any dirt driveway. It’s a soft, sandy dirt driveway, courtesy of the dunes. Hell, I live in the dunes.

After backing down the long straightaway near the police station, I was feeling confident when I returned home. That optimism was short lived, however, when I tried to back up over soft sand and got stuck — twice. This was not the first time. It’s been a ongoing problem all summer. Backing up my driveway is an invitation to call your local Triple AAA.

I figured I had the problem licked with two loads of gravel and rock. That helped, but under that layer of stone is soft ground. The rock buys time, but not much. I can power the Jeep up the narrow curves that lead to my cottage, but going slow ensures bogging down. But go too fast and you can’t get the trailer where you want. My driveway, shall we say, is tight. I’m learning — the hard way. Below is a pic of the boat — before I made a few fixes.




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Working in a Fly Shop


Editor’s Note: I apologize for the lack of content over the last few months. I’m in the last stages of a of divorce and have moved from S. Florida to St. Augustine, where I work in the local fly shop, Oyster Creek Outfitters at Saltwater Flytyers.

Here’s some info on our open house on May 21.

New store. New Name. New location. But the commitment to quality service remains.

SWFT at Oyster Creek Outfitters will celebrate its past, present and future Saturday, May 21 with an open house. The day-long event (9 a.m. until 6 p.m.) will feature experts from Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Whitney Laboratory Marine Science Center to talk about the area’s unique environment, along with an assortment of demonstrations, including dressing for the area’s outdoor activities, fly-casting, fly tying and a cookout.

Much of the hands-on instruction will take place on the banks of the Oyster Creek pond, adjacent to the new shop at 314 S. Ponce De Leon Boulevard US 1, 32084 in St. Augustine.

The new store is nearly three times bigger than the old Saltwater Flytyers. Yes, we’re expanding. Our goal is serve the community and visitors with the most complete outfitter in Northeast Florida.

Among the new brands we carry are Skinny Water Culture and TrueFlies. The new inventory will complement current merchandise — Hardy, G.Loomis, Scott, TFO, Echo, Lamson, Nautilus, Patagonia, Abel, Ross and Simms among others.

Company representatives and Oyster Creek Outfitters staff will be on hand to answer questions about all of our gear. If you’re on the water, we want to serve you.




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Tight Lines in Montauk

Montauk is one place I’ve always wanted to go. I’m not much of a fan of the Northeast, but Montauk is the one exception in my geographical mindset. Its rugged beauty is attractive enough, not to mention the striped bass fishing. It’s definitely on my fly fishing bucket list. This video came from Dan Dow of Bonefish Tarpon & Trust. Dan posted this on his Facebook page. Check it out.

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Tarpon in Motion

A video from my good friend Dan Decibel, who is equally adept with a video camera as he is with a fly rod or a push pole. Good guy and a good fisherman.

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