Pensacola penny-pinching

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PENSACOLA, Fla. — Catching the right redfish will be hard this week in Pensacola, so winning the 2009 Crown Royal Redfish Cup Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors will come down to ounces.

"Someone will bring in one of the lightest bags of the year here," Kevin Broussard said. "I did not catch a keeper redfish until my third day of practice."

Two major factors have contributed to the stingy bite at the Panhandle locale. The weather has been warmer, so the fish are still in more of a summer pattern. Had the area experienced more cold fronts that are the norm this time of year, the fish would likely be easier to target in shallow water and around docks.

Another problem has been the recent rains in the south part of the country, especially Alabama. Greg Watts found a great spot near Mobile, Ala., and knew the area would be a place to challenge for the title.

"All that rain up the river churned up the water in the area," Watts said. "Runoff can help grass and fish, but in the last two days, the water turned muddy, red and ugly and we couldn't find any fish."

Lack of fish, or at least the right size fish, seems to be a problem for the majority of the 21 teams competing this week. Finding two keeper redfish between 18 and 27 inches will be the primary challenge, and anglers seemed to agree that a 10-pound bag would keep a team in the hunt.

"It would not be surprising to me if less than 20 pounds makes the top-five cut," Danny Latham said. "The x-factor here will be a deepwater bite, but I haven't seen one yet."

A problem with deepwater fishing, pointed out by Ken Chambers, is that in Pensacola, deep fishing is different than anywhere else.

"We are catching a few redfish in even fewer places out here," Chambers said. "Fishing in 50 feet of water is just unusual for us. Out here, a lot of locals are using live bait and it is hard to simulate a chunk of mullet on the bottom in 50 feet of water with artificials."

The full field fishes on Friday and Saturday, with the top five teams moving on to Sunday's final round, where weights are zeroed. Chambers estimated that the final cut position will be less than 25 pounds.

"12 pounds a day should make the cut, it has every time we've been here," Chambers said. "It's going to be a tight weigh-in on Saturday and everyone will be waiting around to see how close they are to the top five."

Last year, Pensacola hosted the final stop on the Redfish Cup in September before the championship, and John Ochs and Craig Johnson took the title with 12.5 pounds, the only team to hit double digits on the final day.

Other championship qualifiers that made the top five last year are Latham and teammate Mike Friday and the team of Scott Hughes and Mat Haag.

A low-weight tournament favors a team like the Watts brothers, runners-up to the Broussards in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Team of the Year presented by Crocs.

"Very few times can you find a wad of fish here and they move each day," Watts said. "It's going to be a tournament where each day you make 1,000 to 1,200 casts, just playing the odds that a fish will bite. You have to stay vigilant cast after cast, because you never know when the next one will come."

Weigh-ins will take place Friday through Sunday on the waterfront in Bartram Park with full coverage from the event available at RedfishCup.com and ESPNOutdoors.com.