The thrilling sound of line zinging off his reel brings a broad smile to Captain Terry Neal. It is just after sunrise and a perfect morning on the Lower Laguna Madre. The wind is slight, the skies wonderfully clear and to top it off, Neal has his rod bent double with the weight of a hefty redfish.
"This might even be a throwback," Neal says as he slowly gains back some line from the powerful fish. Working the big red close to the boat, he grips the rod in one hand and bends to deftly net the fish with his other. It is a movement he has practiced hundreds, perhaps thousands of times and yet it invariably elicits a grin from Neal's deeply tanned countenance.
"Boy, what a pretty fish," he exclaims, gently lifting the glistening prize from the net. The fish shines a bright golden- red hue in the early morning light, and has an extra spot on one side of its tail.
The ample fish is pushing 28 inches, but Neal is more interested in how many spots the red has rather than how much it weighs. "Right there, you have got one spotted fish," he says, touching the extra spot. "They are out there. There are multiple spotted redfish in the Laguna Madre."
The Port Mansfield "Lady and Her Tramp" most spotted redfish tournament is coming Saturday, June 16. "This is something we started this year," Neal explains as he carefully releases the red. "It is the first time we have had a tournament like this. The lady who catches the redfish with the most spots will be the winner."
Red drum or redfish as they are more commonly known in Texas are found from The Gulf of Maine to Tuxpan, Mexico. They range in color from copper to nearly silver with the most common hue being a reddish bronze. The distinguishing characteristic on redfish is the single large black spot found near the base of their tail. There is normally one spot on each side of the fish, but multiple spots are not uncommon, while having no spots is rare.
Scientists believe that the black spots near the tail are an evolutionary development that helps fool predators. Tail spots resemble eyes and may entice a predator to target the tail instead of the more vulnerable head, allowing the redfish to escape.
The national record for a redfish with the most spots is a fish that sported more than 500. The red was caught in the Everglades National Park in 1966. The seven pound 26 inch fish had a spot on each of its scales and spots on its dorsal fin. A fish with that many spots would be worth some serious money in the upcoming Mansfield tourney.
"What she will receive is a hundred dollars for the first 20 spots and $50.00 dollars for the next ten," Neal says as he casts for another red. Thirty-one to 40 spots brings in $25.00 per and 41-50 garners $10.00 each, and after that 51 plus drops to five bucks per spot. In the event of a tie for the number of spots the winner will be determined first by length and then by weight.
"I have got one mounted at the house that has over 200 spots. It's got about 100 plus on each side. We are hoping someone catches one with a lot of spots, but maybe not quite that many," Neal says with a laugh.
Once again, the line is zinging off Neal's reel, and while he can tell it's a solid fish, he is even more curious about how many spots it has. "I think I've got a pretty good fish...Oh look! There goes another one there."
Captain Neal has found the redfish, and while he reels his catch toward the waiting net several more reds dart past the drifting boat. "Okay, I wonder how many spots this one has," he says as he lifts the fish aboard. "Nothing but the original two spots," he says as he examines the red. "The fish has to have two plus or otherwise everybody would get twenty dollars," he says with a chuckle. This red is in the 25 inch range and perfect for the grill so in the icebox it goes, and that is reward enough.
Readying his line for a cast, Neal says, "That's another thing. The lady who wins also gets the chance to draw for a brand new Explorer boat, motor and trailer. She has a one in 50 chance of winning, and those are pretty good odds. We will have fifty envelopes, and one will have the title and keys to the boat."
While the tournament is primarily for the ladies, as only a woman is eligible for the cash award and boat drawing, there is a spot for the "tramp" aboard. Husbands or significant others can run the boat, and they can pool with their lady for the most combined spots award.
Following the new Lady and Her Tramp Spots Tournament is the 33rd annual Port Mansfield Fishing Tournament set for July 26-29. Neal, who also serves as President of the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce, says there are some changes in store for the annual tourney.
"We have added two divisions. We have a natural bait division and an all artificial division. That way the fishermen who want to use bait can compete against one another, and the ones that use only artificial will compete together."
In the offshore division there are some changes too. "We have gone to a tag and release on all billfish. We are not going to kill any billfish. No dead billfish will be brought to the dock. We want to protect our stocks of billfish."
There are plenty of other tournaments scheduled for the coming months including the Arroyo Colorado Fishing Tournament which will be held July 6th and 7th. This will be the 10th year for the Valley Sportsmen Club to sponsor the Arroyo tourney, and a grand prize of $1,000 will be offered to the angler who weighs in the heaviest stringer consisting of one redfish, one trout and one flounder. Several divisions are offered in the tournament including women's, fly-fishing, junior and piggy perch for the youngest anglers.
The 69th Texas International Fishing Tournament takes place August 1-5. Last year a record 1,502 registrants and 520 boats participated. Once again tournament registration will be held at the Convention Centre on South Padre Island, and anglers will weigh their catch in Port Isabel at Sea Ranch Marina II at Southpoint.
For more information on the upcoming Lady and Her Tramp Spots Tournament, visit www.portmansfield.us or call 944-2354. Additional details on the Arroyo Colorado Tournament are available from Susie Weldon at 748-0022. Texas International Fishing Tournament info can be found at www.tift.org or from tournament director Betty Wells at 943-8438.
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore