Bryan and Greg Watts enjoy a laugh with Gritter Griffin after the meeting on Thursday.
GULF SHORES, Ala. Gambling may be illegal in the "Heart of Dixie." But if Oh Boy! Oberto Redfish Cup events in Alabama are any indication, rolling the dice has become a common practice for professional redfish anglers.
History has proven that when the top 30 All Star teams can make the long run to Louisiana waters for a heavier stringer they'll do it. Even if it means huge waves, increased chances of mechanical breakdowns and less than two hours of fishing time.
Despite weather forecasts that call for scattered thunderstorms and unpredictable winds, it could be another year of playing the odds in the Mid-Season Bash. The tournament gets under way Friday at Lulu's in Gulf Shores, Ala.
"It looks like the long runs are coming again this tournament," Mike Del Duca of Naples, Fla., said. "The fish around Mobile Bay just aren't tournament-winning size at this time of year."
With some anglers planning round-trip runs of up to 280 miles, the field is hoping that the weather won't give them the short end of the stick. The gambling along this coast is equally known for those who gambled and lost. Last October two of the top five teams broke down short of the weigh-in, after enduring hours of ramming their boats in to rolling waves.
Even with the losers, there are those whose gambles pay off. In 2005 during the Mobile, Ala., event, fair weather allowed the majority of the anglers to make the long run to the lucrative Louisiana waters. As a result, consistent 13- and 14- pound stringers were prevalent.
The big winners were Anthony Randazzo and Billy Wallbaum, who used their home waters to reel in a first-place finish with 41.42 pounds. But Lady Luck turned on the team the next year when they faced much tougher conditions and mustered only a 22nd-place finish.
But don't look to the 2006 tournament as an accurate predictor for what the weekend may hold. Orange Beach greeted the All Star anglers with gale force winds that forced teams to make a choice endure thrashing waves and make the run to Louisiana, or stay close and hope for the best.
For Keith and Greg Hartsell, who decided to gut it out and head for the friendly waters of the Bayou State, their strategy led them to an early lead. But on the final day, the weather forced the team to throw in their cards when their boat broke down and they were unable to make it back to the weigh-in on time.
Bo Johnson and Mike Del Duca, on the other hand, were serious homebodies. They decided to stay close and finished the tournament in second place, fishing within just a few miles of the launch site every day.
"We just kept fishing a little further out, then a little further out, then a little further out," Del Duca said. The game plan worked and they nabbed a 26.77 three-day total on their way to a $15,000 payday and second-place finish.
While Del Duca and Johnson had a singular approach, it was a game of risk and reward for Ross Barkhurst and Lloyd Landry. The team made the long run on Day One but chose to stay close for the final two days. They were able to stay consistently around 10 pounds throughout the tournament, edge out the field, and walk away with the $40,000 grand prize and the All Star belts.
The risks will remain the same for this event. But the stakes are higher than ever, with a guaranteed payout of $60,000 as well as substantial contingency money up for grabs. It will be an all-out ocean offense to see who can bring in the heaviest bag and walk away with the cash.
"With the caliber of anglers at these events, if there's fish there, these guys will find them," Del Duca said.