PENSACOLA, Fla. If you happened to be in Pensacola during the past two weeks and saw a fully-outfitted scuba diver diving off a boat brazenly adorned with the Hooters logo, your eyes weren't deceiving you. It's just part of Chris Wittman and Tom Winrow's strategy. The Florida duo and licensed scuba divers spent just as much of their pre-fishing time below the surface as above it.
"We don't have a depth finder, so we scuba dive to find underwater structures and to see what kind of bait is down there," said Winrow. Once other competitors got wind of the unorthodox strategy, their phone began to ring off the hook with anglers wanting to learn more.
"I just stopped answering the phone," said Winrow. "I think it got in their heads a little bit."
But the team sponsored by Hooters will need to apply their underwater talents above it to make a run at the top five. Currently sitting in 18th place after only catching 12.24 pounds, they're almost two and a half pounds behind current leaders Jeff Totten and Ozzie Lessinger.
Travis and Bryan Holeman were confident while idling at the dock following their day of fishing. That is, until they went to bag their fish from the livewell to take to the weigh-in stage. Turns out one of their fish had vomited a seven-inch mullet on the ride home, costing them valuable ounces when they hit the scales. Their 13.41-pound total left them in ninth place, a pound and a half behind the leaders. How much difference the mullet would have made remains to be seen, but one thing is certain — the brothers would have preferred their fish keep its lunch down.
Many of the best anglers on the Cup are known for their sight-fishing, shallow water prowess. Unfortunately, the waters of Pensacola are known to favor a deeper pattern, sometimes even requiring the use of an anchor rather than a trolling motor. That means that several top teams are being forced to step out side of their comfort zone and fish a technique they are not particularly comfortable with.
"We're shallow water fisherman, but what we saw out there was too good to pass up," said Alex Suescun, who sits in third place with his partner Eric Taylor. "I've never caught fish like the way I did today."
Ray Van Horn and his partner C.A. Richardson, who bagged 12.88 pounds to land in 12th place, seconded the motion.
"We're South Florida fisherman — we're used to sight-fishing the flats," said Van Horn. "It doesn't mean we're not good at deep water fishing, but we just don't get to do it very often."
Gary McKenzie, normally partnered with angler Sam Bertha, Jr., was forced to miss the Pensacola event after suffering a stroke while backing out of the driveway on his way to begin pre-fishing. Although McKenzie is reportedly doing fine, Bertha was forced to pick up a last-minute replacement. Luckily his previous partner, Bob Supine, was available and stepped in to fish with his friend. The pair managed to bag 13.09 pounds, good enough for 10th place. Thoughts and prayers for a speedy recovery go out to Gary McKenzie and his family.
In the pre-dawn hours of Day One, Jim Franklin offered some insight into his and his partner Jim Fornea's strategy.
"I'm not always known for making the best decisions, but today I'm gonna try to be smart and not just go with the wind," said Franklin.
That meant staying close rather than risking the longer run, and it played out to the tune of 12.83 pounds, leaving them just outside of the top 10 in 13th place. Obviously dissatisfied, Franklin made a bold prediction from the stage that leaves little doubt they'll be making the risky run tomorrow.
"We're coming in with 14 pounds, you can bank on that."
Seen and heard
Bryan and Greg Watts, who are known as not only two of the best anglers on tour but also two of the best golfers, giving golf pointers to a member of the Redfish Cup tournament staff prior to morning launch.
"We always have fun out there — we're the Holeman brothers." —Travis Holeman
"No one remembers who finishes in second — but we always do." —Kevin Broussard
"It's going to be close." — Mark Sepe in reference to the heated Team of the Year race