Calhoun County's Gulf Coast Fishing Tournaments
Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.
PORT O'CONNOR - Good fishing, competition and camaraderie attract visitors to more than a dozen annual fishing tournaments in Calhoun County along the Texas Gulf Coast.
Two of 19 weigh stations for the statewide Coastal Conservation Association Texas STAR Fishing Tournament include Indianola Fishing Center in Indianola and The Fishing Center in Port O'Connor. The competition attracts more than 40,000 participants each year.
On a recent fishing trip, Vicki Preston, of Ingleside, caught a redfish after a day of bad luck.
She fished in Aransas Pass in winds that she guessed blew 30 to 50 mph. Lightning followed by light rain might have deterred some, but Preston knew the storm would pass.
Her first catch was a hardhead catfish, but she could see the redfish from her airboat. She optimistically put dead bait, which she called "redfish candy," on her hook.
Normally, Preston would catch her limit, but the redfish were nibbling, not biting.
The entire trip was discouraging - until she cast her last line. She felt a tug, reeled in the catch and picked up the leader line. There dangled a 5-pound tagged redfish.
The fish was tagged as part of the STAR tournament and came with a $70,000-prize including a truck, boat and motor.
"No one could understand why I wasn't excited about a $70,000 fish," she said.
Preston was crushed because she could not remember registering for the saltwater tournament. Her husband assured her she was automatically registered at the CCA banquet in Corpus Christi, but she was not convinced.
When she returned home, she scrambled to find her membership card. It read, "STAR entrant."
"I ran out of the house like I'd lost my mind," Preston said. "Thank God for the Corpus Christi CCA chapter."
The tournament lasts from the end of May to Labor Day with prizes and scholarships that amount to $1 million.
Entrants under age 18 are automatically entered in a drawing to win a $20,000 scholarship.
Youth divisions include Starkids, ages 6 to 10, with $50,000 scholarships for winners in flounder, sheepshead and gafftop competitions; Starteens, ages 11 to 17, fishing for speckled trout with $20,000 scholarships for winners in upper, middle and lower coast competitions; and Starteens with $20,000 scholarships for winners in flounder, sheepshead and gafftop competitions.
Adult division entrants are automatically entered in a drawing for a package including a boat, motor and trailer. The first five tagged redfish winners receive a Ford F-150 XLT Super Cab truck, Haynie 23 Bigfoot boat with motor and trailer.
Those who catch the next five tagged redfish receive a boat, motor and trailer, as do the winners of nine other categories including kingfish, trout, ling and dorado.
Josie's Mexican Food and Cantina, which has served Port O'Connor for 30 years, depends on the busy tournament months to survive the rest of the year.
It is not a town visitors travel through on the weekends like Rockport or Port Aransas, said Eloisa Newsome, owner of Josie's. Port O'Connor has one road in and one road out.
"Word of mouth helps bring in new people," Newsome said. "They participate in tournaments and tell their buddies in Rockport about our quiet, little place."
Tournaments can attract twice the number of participants, counting family and friends, Newsome said. For example, Josie's caters the Cula Roja tournament in which about 225 people fish but more than 400 dine.
Tournaments range from the invitational Poco Bueno that attracts fishermen from around the country to Warrior's Weekend, which is a free tournament for wounded soldiers. They generate most of the income for area businesses including restaurants, motels and gas stations.
"The total amount of revenue that coastal contests generate is impossible to tally with any degree of accuracy," according to an article in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine.
Warrior's Weekend attracts 700 participants and their families each May. Nearly 300 volunteers and 400 boats allow the heroes to fish in the all-expense-paid tournament.
Also free are three children's fishing tournaments that are hosted in Port Lavaca and Port O' Connor in May and August.
In June, Hurricane Junction in Port O'Connor is home to the Redfish Rodeo Uncorked Fishing Tournament. Women are required to fish on each team. Abbie Navarro, who splits her time between Seadrift and Smithville, was part of a two-man, two-woman team called Livin Reel Good. The foursome won the guided heaviest stringer competition.
"Without the tournaments, the economy would be terrible," said Mary Jo Walker, owner of Beacon 44 Seafood Market and RV Park. "It's huge; we look forward to March through September."