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Dozens of baby nurse sharks could be seen swimming along the shoreline in inches-deep water heading north toward Wiggins Pass on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. They were joined by a large green moray eel, plenty of fish, sting rays and crabs. Farther offshore, a pod of dolphins and pelicans appeared to be enjoying a feeding frenzy. Annika Hammerschlag/Naples Daily News
Sunday was a great day to be Capt. Jim Stoner.
First off, it was his 64th birthday, which the longtime local guide spent fishing out of Chokoloskee with his son, Doug, along with family friend, Mark Murphy.
And to top things off, the trio reeled in first place in the Guided Bait division in the 24th annual RedSnook Catch & Release Tournament.
“Can’t beat fishing with your son on your birthday and winning a tournament,” Stoner said. “And this is always a great tournament that’s very well-run and you’re able to see a lot of familiar faces who you’ve become friends with over the years.”
A native Floridian, it was Stoner’s own father who first took him fishing out of Chokoloskee in the early 1960s when Jim was 10.
And when Doug, now 37 and also a guide, was around that same age, Jim started taking him fishing in the Everglades.
“I always really enjoy fishing with my son because he’s a great fisherman, and so is Mark,” he said. “They’re both really enthusiastic and knowledgeable.”
But it was that common fishing knowledge that seemed to get turned upside down during the two-day tournament in which the 36 participating teams in five divisions had to boat three redfish and three snook each day.
“The fishing was really good for snook but tough for redfish, which is really unusual for this time of year,” Jim Stoner said. “Generally, the reverse is true. The snook bite is better when the water is warmer. But the water temperature this weekend was around 70 degrees. That’s cool for snook but usually good for the redfish bite.
“We really struggled to get the six redfish we needed. We got them late each day. We caught 10 to 15 snook each day but it came down to the wire with the reds.”
Stoner guessed Hurricane Irma might be partially responsible for the fish flip flop. Or, he ventured, maybe it was the spectacular full moon that graced Southwest Florida during the weekend.
“It could have been a combination of things,” he said. “I don’t know. Maybe the storm, and also that full moon. Typically, the redfish bite is slower on a full moon.
“A lot of different people think a lot of different things. Some feel with a full moon the fish feed better at night, so they don’t feed as well all day long. I don’t know if it has some other effect on the reds, but a full moon seems to suppress the bite.”
It was the 12th time Stoner, who acted as the trio’s guide, has fished the Redsnook. This year, it was his team’s seventh — and sweetest — win.
“It was a good day,” Stoner said. “A really good day.”
2017 RedSnook Catch & Release Tournament
Guided Bait: 1. Doug Stoner, Mark Murphy, Jim Stoner (guide); 2. Mokey Shea, Charlie Mueller, Rob Walczak (guide); 3. Hensley Shotwell, Robbie Turner, Justin Strickland (guide).
Unguided Bait: 1. Troy Pruitt, Brian Carlos; 2. Kenny Main, Kenny Main Jr.; 3. Aldo Musico, Kelly Musico.
Guided Artificial: 1. Keith Sullivan, Andrew Dolwick, Bill Faulkner (guide); 2. Scott Weidle, John Cooney, Connor McNichols (guide); 3. Wayne Meland, John Kukk, Andrew Bostick (guide).
Unguided Artificial: 1. Kyle Coar, Pat Butler; 2. Jeff Ball, Derek Pruitt; 3. Gary Parsons, Stephanie Parsons.
Fly: 1. David Roger, Harrison Roger, Kevin Mihailoff (guide); 2. Phillip Cates, Charlie Grievel; 3. Rich Gordon, Matt Myers.
Top Female: Stephanie Parsons.
Largest Snook: Scott Weidle, 42 inches.
Largest Redfish: Charlie Mueller, 29 inches