Helton tickled “pink” with FSFA Championship
BILL SARGENT, FOR FLORIDA TODAY5:02 p.m. EST February 6, 2016
(Photo: Photo courtesy of Capt. Troy Perez)
Zella Helton’s favorite color is pink. It not only compliments her blonde hair and dimpled smile, she says pink also brings her good luck.
So needless to say, Helton wore a lot of pink during countless fishing trips in 2015 with her boyfriend Troy Perez.
While her colors may not have mattered outside of boosting her confidence, Helton had the good fortune to compile more than 30 quality catches that added up to the highest award given each year in the Florida Sport Fishing Association (FSFA), a 48-year-old fishing club of 220 members headquartered at Cape Canaveral.
Helton was named the FSFA Club Champion for 2015 at an awards dinner in Melbourne last Sunday. She scored 500 catch points under the club’s points fishing program, one of the oldest and most respected in Florida. It includes annual competition, recognition and awards for its members.
“Surprised isn’t the word for it,” Helton said. “I knew I was in the running but I didn’t think I had enough points.”
Her points total was one of the highest finishes in recent years.
Club director Chris Pashos of Merritt Island finished second with 440 points coming on 21 different species.
Helton, a 53-year-old single parent from Mims, started dating Perez three years ago. Perez is unquestionably one of the top saltwater fishing guides in the state, and as a veteran member of the FSFA has won the club championship twice and is a double grand master, the highest rating achievable.
One of their first dates was a fishing trip and Helton knew from that moment that she had found the right guy.
“Growing up in Winter Park I loved fishing but never did much of it,” Helton said. “I met Troy and he started coaching me and its been a learning process ever since. It goes without saying I’ve learned a lot and I’m hooked on it.”
Helton insisted that due credit go to Perez.
“It was a 110-percent team effort,” she said. “I’d never accomplished this without all of Troy’s work.”
During the year Helton and Perez made more than 100 trips on Mosquito Lagoon, the Indian, Banana and St. Johns rivers and offshore Port Canaveral, sometimes late in the day after Perez had finished a day of guiding.
“There were times when we’d go six or seven trips without a fish,” explained Helton, a former certified nursing assistant at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville. “We wanted the larger 20-pointers and we were always prepared with rods rigged in each tackle category.”
Under the program, which has minimum weights for each species, catches carry a 10- or 20-point value for the class of tackle used.
Perez ran the boat, helped Helton prepare and rig her tackle, and he located the fish. Still it was Helton who had to properly present the bait and fight each fish single-handedly. All catches must be made unassisted.
Helton joined the FSFA in January 2015 and immediately began amassing points. She also won seven other awards, among them a Species Master for redfish, one of the more difficult achievements because the angler must catch a single species in all six of the tackle categories — fly, untralight, spin, plug, light general and general. Each category has specified line-test maximums, with light general and general tackle allowing the use of natural baits and stronger test line.
Some of her best 20-point catches included an estimated 100-pound tarpon, multiple 20- to 30-pound redfish and one giant red at 40 pounds, black drum to 67 pounds, and a 24½-pound tripletail. In all cases the fish were released.
She landed a 130-pound Goliath grouper unfortunately not recognized as a points species. “It was like trying to pull a car out of the water,” she laughed.
The tarpon took more than an hour to bring to the boat during a blistering day in July.
“I thought I was going to pass out on that one. It was so physical,” she said. “Troy was pouring water over my head.”
Helton was among more than 30 club members receiving awards, most of them custom wood carvings by Chris Costello of Port St. John, owner of FishingTournamentTrophies.com.
William Hawley of Indialantic received the Fish of the Year Award for a 29-pound redfish on 4-pound test ultralight tackle. It was judged the best single catch by a panel of experts.
In addition, Hawley was named the Ultralight Champion and he received an award for releasing a seven-foot sailfish.
Hawley said all of his catches came with Capt. Joseph Smith of Fin Factor Charters.
Ryan Vetsch, a 19-year-old Eastern Florida State College finance and economics student, achieved his Grand Master status, becoming one of the youngest to reach the 1,000-point plateau required.
“I skipped a lot of school to do this,” Vetsch grinned. “I was determined to get it in 2015.”
Vetsch also made Species Master in redfish and he was named the Fly Division Champion.
Other champions were Laurie Thomas, Women’s Champion; Pashos, Saltwater Champion; John Dobbins, Freshwater Champion; Club President John Durkee, Spin Champion; and Mark Wilson, Light General Champion. Championships in plug and general tackle were not awarded for lack of entries.
Pashos also set four club records for striped bass during a trip to Massachusetts in June and he received a Heavyweight Award for a 38-pound, 10-ounce gag grouper he caught on Dec. 31, the final day for 2015 catches.
Another impressive heavyweight was a 44¼-pound king mackerel by Alex Gorichky, Jr. of Merritt Island.
Four youth took awards in the Junior Division led by Junior Champion Hunter Delaney, a 10-year-old Roy Allen Elementary 5th-grader who took home seven awards. Seven-year-old Greg Bernard of Satellite Beach received a Junior Heavyweight award for a 21-inch seatrout.
Junior Liam Hawley of Indialantic landed a 23-inch snook, and young Dylen Pullias of Satellite Beach took a 3-pound 11-ounce bass.
Leading the list of new club records was a 600-pound blue marlin released on 30-pound tackle by Chloe Corbitt while fishing in the Bahamas.
For more on the FSFA go to the club website at www.fsfaclub.org.
Contact Bill Sargent at email@example.com.