A minute to spare

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BILOXI/D'IBERVILLE, Miss. — The final regular season event in the 2009 Redfish Cup season came down to the final minute.

Racing back to the check-in area on a long run from the Louisiana marshes, the father and son team of Chuck and C.J. Howard made it to the docks with one minute to spare. At the weigh-in they survived the other four teams to lay claim to their second Redfish Cup victory with a final-day total of 19.32 pounds.

"We are elated because people don't realize how hard it is to win on this level," C.J. said. "These guys are professionals, the best of the best. We have regular jobs and are just happy to be here and get this chance."

Finishing just over a half-pound back in second place was Ken Chambers and John Merriwether with a two-fish bag of 18.78 pounds. Day Two leaders Charlie Thomason and Shane Pescay fell to third on the final day with 18.16 pounds.

Mike and Michael Frenette suffered boat trouble on Day Three and only managed to bring in 11.89 pounds to finish fourth. Brothers Bryan and Greg Watts decided against making a long run in windy conditions and caught 6.81 pounds to round out the top five.

For the winners, the victory was especially emotional because they got to share the experience as a father and son team. After sitting in the "hot seat" while three other teams weighed in, the Howards got choked up on stage as the moment of victory sank in.

"If you can take your kids fishing — sharing anything like that — it is an important thing for a parent," C.J. said. "You can't put a reward on these successes. Sharing this with Chuck and getting to relive these experiences is very special."

"I've had great partners in the past, but getting a chance to fish with my dad is outstanding," Chuck said. "We work and own a company together and fish together. He is an outstanding partner and a mentor."

Their victory was almost spoiled twice on the long run to and from Louisiana. The wind and rain was bad enough on the morning ride out that the Howards nearly didn't make it. At one point, they were only running at 8 mph and the long journey to their primary area took close to 3 hours.

On the ride home it was a gesture of sportsmanship that almost cost them the win. The Howards picked up Michael Frenette after their boat broke down, and all three continued to the weigh-in, arriving with one minute to spare.

Their on-time arrival pushed Chambers and Merriwether, the only team in the top five that hasn't won on the Redfish Cup, to second place. The team was sharing a single deep-water hole with third-place finishers Thomason and Pescay, part of the arrangement the two teams have to share information across all Cup stops.

"Without the good graces of Thomason and Pescay, we wouldn't be here," Chambers said. "Fishing was a little slower for both of us today because the current was slower. The wind direction affects current flow and today it was blowing against the incoming tide. The best fishing was early when the tide was strongest. We just didn't have enough time."

Their high finish helped Chambers and Merriwether lock up a berth in the Championship event, set for September in their home state of Florida.

Thomason and Pescay weren't able to close out a wire-to-wire victory for the second tournament in a row, but they leave D'Iberville in possession of two Redfish Cup records. On Day One, they boated 23.08 pounds, a single-day record, and their two-day total of 43.85 pounds was another record.

On not closing out the victory again after a second-place finish in Chalmette last month, Pescay replied, "We've got one more shot in Pensacola."

The Academy Sports + Outdoors Team of the Year presented by Crocs was decided on Day Two in D'Iberville, with Kevin and Cajun Phil Broussard capturing the year-long crown and $10,000 prize. The Watts brothers finished second, 13 points behind.

The final event of the season is the Redfish Cup Championship, set for Sept. 25-27 in Pensacola, Fla., where the top 20 teams after the four regular season will battle it out.