Last weekend the 2023 Cuda Bowl took place, and for the first time in a few years I fished it. It was fun to step back into the mix in this tournament, which has grown in both popularity and participation over the years. I fished it this year with Doug Kilpatrick, and while we didn’t have a lot of time to prefish we did set aside the day prior for some scouting and practice. We had a few places that we wanted to return to (and more that we didn’t) after the day of looking around, and for the tournament day we had a decent idea of where we wanted to spend our time.
The first day of the tournament we started slowly, catching a few smaller fish before the light got higher and the larger fish seemed to move in to where we were. Throughout the morning we had a number of fish clustered in the high 30’s and a few over 40, though not many and not by much. We tried throughout the day to upgrade our smaller fish, trying to raise the average size of our three biggest fish. By the end of the day we were not able to crack the 40-inch average that seems to be a minimum for being in the game to win this tournament, though we were close with a 39.75-inch average. After the scores came back we were sitting in third place, behind Justin Rea and John Chinundnet, who had used a 46-inch fish to raise their average to just under 45 inches for the first day, and Don Gable and his son Sean, who had a average a bit higher than ours. There were also a number of teams clustered around our score that we needed to worry about, since all of them were in reach of overtaking our scoring difference with an even slightly better day 2 than us. Our plan for the second day was the same as the first, though with a few minor tweaks: we needed to spend as much time as we could in places where larger fish might be lurking, and if it looked as though we couldn’t post at least a 45-inch average we needed to make a move and try to find larger fish. It made little sense for us to pick away in the low 40’s, so we agreed that if we needed to make a risky move to leave then we would do it. As we’ve learned over the years, fishing to win is infinitely more rewarding than fishing for anything other than that, even if it doesn’t pan out.
The second day we powered down where we wanted to be and spent our time in deeper water, covering every piece of it we could, hoping to get the proportions we were after. After an hour we had a 41.5-inch fish, then another hour after that we had another one the same size. The next hour brought us a 43, raising our average to 42 inches even for the second day of fishing. We tried to connect with a larger fish, though after a few hours and releasing a few 40’s we knew that we had to make a move in order to have a hope of pulling off a win. We tried hard, desperately, for the last four hours of fishing to find the Land of Giants we needed, but in the end we only had one shot for our efforts before we had to make it back to the dock.
In the end Justin and John maintained their lead from day 1, pulling off the first win for John in the fly division after fishing it from the first year with Justin. Second place was secured by Nick Labadie and Ben Bortner, and in third place was Max Hamlin and Gus Farmer. Of particular note this year was the spin division, which experienced a new scoring record courtesy of Chad and Zach Huff, who had a two-day average of over 49 inches. They won handily, and in second was Connan Lemkuhle and George Schultz. Olivia Snell, fishing with her father Aaron, won both the youth division and the ladies division, and that rounded out what was a fun two days of fishing and an event that’s grown into a proper first event of the ‘tournament season’ down here.
I don’t have a lot of fishing planned until after Kat fishes the March Merkin with Doug Kilpatrick, at which point Ian and I are going to start our tournament preparation for the upcoming tarpon events.
More to come, if slowly.