How Bradenton-area anglers battled slow fishing and cold weather to win local tournament

In the first major Manatee County fishing tournament of 2024, a familiar team brought home first place.

“There were a lot of good teams in this tournament, top tier bracket fisherman,” said angler Justin Rudrud of Team Rats on da Cheese. “But we didn’t really focus on them. We put in the time and effort and the name of the game is (to) try and win. We all work full-time jobs but get out when we can to scout and look around. All three events are for good causes, but we want to put in the effort to go out there.”

The Suncoast Saltwater Shootout, the first of the three events known as the Manasota Flooring Triple Crown Series, took place after a captains meeting Friday, April 19 and concluded the following day in the afternoon. The shortest of the three tournaments, it was an overnight sprint that had teams like Rats on da Cheese looking for good fishing to add up a redfish, trout and snook slam.

“I wouldn’t say it was good,” Rudrud said when asked how the fishing was. “We capitalized on the opportunities we had. We only had two snook bites, landing one and the other spit the hook. I think we probably caught only three or four redfish total. It was pretty tough. But we had a plan and stuck to it.”

Fishing for bigger bites to fill each of their needed species, they went into the nighttime with a decent-sized trout and 33-inch redfish in the camera roll that were caught and released. In the dark of the night, fishing was slow and the anglers struggled with cold temperatures on the boat, but they got another fish they needed.

“We only had those two snook bites. The one we caught was 37 inches, the only one we caught all tournament,” said Rudrud. “After 1 a.m., we spent the rest of the tournament trying to upgrade, but we were really cold from about 2 to 4 a.m.”

The rising sun and temperatures were a welcome sight on Saturday morning.

A larger trout was caught early, but they were unsuccessful in catching a bigger snook or redfish. Trout fishing proved helpful as with minutes to spare they upgraded again to what turned out to be the largest trout of the tournament.

“With 20 minutes left, we got a bigger trout upgrade — 25 inches. It was the last fish we caught in the tournament. We were hoping to have a top 5-finish knowing the other teams we were going against.”

Catching a slam of 95 inches after covering nearly 150 miles during the tournament, Team Rats on da Cheese and teammates Rudrud along with Matt Mangone, Rich Linkenhoker, Kaleb Falcone and Ashton Marquette would best second-place Team Godzilla by a mere two inches for the victory in the in-shore slam division. For winning, they would collect $3,250.

Team Godzilla would bring home the prize for largest redfish at 34 inches, while Team Palmetto Bait and Tackle would claim third place with 90 inches and fourth place Desire Diesel brought in 89 inches and the largest snook at 42 inches.

Next up in the triple crown series is the Annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing tournament in May. With inshore, nearshore, offshore, junior and spearfishing divisions, the Crosthwait Memorial is one of the largest slam tournaments in Florida.

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