UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Pickwick Lake

McKenzie-Bertha off and running at Fernandina Beach

McKenzie-Bertha off and running at Fernandina Beach
After a long run south this morning, Gary McKenzie (right) of Bartow, Fla., and Sam Bertha of Bunnel, Fla., lead the FLW Redfish Series Eastern Division event out of Fernandina.

FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. - Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series anglers plying the waters of Florida's northeast coast in the final Eastern Division event of the regular season did a little better Thursday than many predicted.

A solid catch of two redfish weighing 11 pounds was good for 15th place, and it took over 12 pounds to make it into the top five.

Only one team cracked the 13-pound barrier, and that beautiful pair of redfish, which checked in at 13 pounds, 3 ounces, belonged to the team of Gary McKenzie of Bartow, Fla., and Sam Bertha of Bunnell, Fla.

But their two spot-tail brutes did not come from Fernandina waters - or Jacksonville waters - or even St. Augustine waters.

Instead, Mckenzie and Bertha made an even longer run to the south this morning.

Bertha explained: "Let's put it this way: I live about 100 miles south of here, and we decided to run back to my home waters. Gary's been sick and I've been recovering from elbow surgery, so neither one of us got much practice here. With that, we just decided to run back to water where we feel the most comfortable."

The leading team's boat ride took a whole lot longer than actually catching their fish.

"The fish were right where I thought they would be when we got there," Bertha added. "We hooked up immediately, caught two, culled once, and we had the fish we weighed in less than 15 minutes and we headed back."

Given Friday's tides and conditions, Bertha feels pretty confident that his fish will be there again tomorrow. One of the team's biggest risks at this point is the long run.

"Actually, the ride is not bad," Bertha said. "The main thing that could hurt us, which has happened to us before, is we get down there and there is a local boat on that spot. But that's just part of it. If there is a boat there, we've got some other water in that area we can fall back on."

Winters hold down second

The husband-and-wife team of Fred and Diane Winters of Port Charlotte, Fla., are The husband-and-wife team of Fred and Diane Winters of Port Charlotte, Fla., are in the second place position after day one with two redfish weighing 12 pounds, 13 ounces.in the second-place position after day one with two redfish weighing 12 pounds, 13 ounces.

The Winterses are fishing about 20 miles from the launch site in Fernandina.

"The high tide is critical for us," Fred Winters said. "We can get to our spot pretty quick, but then we've got to wait for the water to come up to get back to the best spot. And then once we're back there, we've got to wait for the redfish to get in there and get comfortable and start chasing bait. Once they do that, we can catch them fast."

The Winterses only have about an hour to an hour and a half to fish before the tide starts falling. Then they have to evacuate the area to avoid being left high and dry.

"We caught three redfish in there this morning and left," he added. "We probably could have stayed a little longer, but given the size of the two we caught, there was no need to stay in there and risk it."

Walker-Sansom third

Shawn Walker of Crystal River, Fla., and Mark Sansom of Ocala, Fla., brought in two redfish weighing 12 pounds, 12 ounces to start the event in third place.Shawn Walker of Crystal River, Fla., and Mark Sansom of Ocala, Fla., brought in two redfish weighing 12 pounds, 12 ounces to start the event in third place.

Walker and Sansom stayed close to the launch site, waiting on just the right tide today.

"We caught a couple of small ones early, but at about noon the tide got right on our best spot, and we caught the two biggest ones there," Walker said.

The team described the best tide as being a falling tide just after the dead high.

"I'd call it a medium-high tide," Sansom noted. "If the water is too high, the fish are not quite right and once it goes below a certain level, it's over. Knowing which spots are best on which tides is critical here."

Benson-Howie fourth

Last year's Redfish Series Eastern Division Team of the Year, Daniel Benson of Brandon, Fla., and Steven Howie of Saint Cloud, Fla., won the points race without ever qualifying for a top-five finish.

The team is trying to remedy that situation this year by qualifying for a top-five, and they are well on their way in Fernandina with a day-one catch of 12 pounds, 9 ounces for fourth place.

"We made a long run south this morning and caught a couple of small fish on topwater in a high-water spot and then ran all the way back up here this afternoon and culled those two out with the two bigger ones on a low-water spot," Howie said.

"The low-water spot up here definitely has bigger fish, but they're much riskier to bank on," he noted. "There's only about 15 fish in the school, and if we don't intercept them at just the right place at the right time, we'll never see them. Today we just happened to time it right to catch the big ones."

"We're still going to make that long run to those topwater fish in the morning for insurance; they're more consistent," Benson added. "We want to get two keepers in the well before we start risking it with these bigger fish up here."

Derringer-Herrera fifth

Tommy Derringer of St. Augustine, Fla., and Chris Herrera of Palm Coast, Fla., ran south to their home waters nearly 60 miles away to boat two reds for 12 pounds, 8 ounces to take the fifth place position after day one.Tommy Derringer of St. Augustine, Fla., and Chris Herrera of Palm Coast, Fla., ran south to their home waters nearly 60 miles away to boat two reds for 12 pounds, 8 ounces to take the fifth-place position after day one.

Like other teams, the key tide for Derringer and Herrera is the falling water just after dead high tide.

"We have to wait for the tide to get right to get in there, and then we stake down and wait for a school to come out with the falling water," Derringer said. "We probably caught about 15 fish to cull up to what we had today."

Points watch

In the Land O'Lakes Team of the Year race, the Chivas brothers did what they needed to do today - stay in the top 35 - but barely, as the young guns now sit in 34th place with 8 pounds, 5 ounces.

Their nemesis team, Scott Guthrie and Rick Murphy, sits in 13th place with 11 pounds, 3 ounces.

The Chivases are safe for now, but they have to survive one more day.

Should Guthrie-Murphy move up several more places and the Chivas brothers slide back more than 10 or 15 places, it could get interesting tomorrow.

Needless to say, things will be tense in those two boats on Friday.

Takeoff for day two of the Redfish Series event in Fernandina begins Friday at 6:30 a.m.

Tags: rob-newell  headline-story  2007-05-31-fernandina-beach 

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