BY MARCY SHORTUSE – On Saturday, May 25, the biggest and best kids’ fishing tournament will be held in Boca Grande Pass, and this year it will be bigger than ever.
Filmed for the World Fishing Network, the boats that take the field this year will go nation-wide, beginning on Thanksgiving Day, when it will initially be aired. It will also be simulcast on WENG 107.5 FM, for those who wish to hear the tarpon fishing action live.
So far there are 24 boats signed up, which leaves just a few slots to fill. Call Melina at Gasparilla Outfitters, 964-0907, to sign up. The cost is $1,000 per four-angler team. All team members must be younger than 16. A guide can be hired, or a parent can do the job. The cut-off for registration is May 15.
All anglers participating in this year’s event must be at the Boca Grande Community Center between noon and 2 p.m. There will be a cook-out, games and more, and goody bags will be handed out.
Fishing begins at 4:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m. A party will be held afterward just after 8 p.m. in downtown Boca Grande, wrapping up the Tarpon Festival Weekend. The tournament will begin with the Charlotte County Warbirds doing a fly-over, the singing of the National Anthem and a presentation of the colors by the Lemon Bay High School ROTC.
Getting kids involved in traditional tarpon fishing is what this tournament is all about. It was founded by Capt. Sandy Melvin three years ago, and has since grown to what it is today.
Last year it was Melvin’s team that took home the winnings for first place, but the action went right down to the wire. The Waterhouse kids were more than a little excited to be on a tarpon boat, much less win the tournament.
Team Cradle, on Blaze with Capt. Waylon Mills, won second place. Nicholas Mostyn, Noah Shaffer, Luke Ellison and Quinn Moccow were the anglers on the team. Mostyn was the winner of the essay contest held by the tournament organizers for a chance to fish in the tournament.
Team Key Insurance Agency, aboard the Miss Sarah with Capt. Lamar Joiner, took third with the last tarpon released. Anglers Taylor Edwards and Austin Fogo released the last tarpon of the tournament.
In all, 15 fish were caught and released, with a release time average of seven minutes.
"Last year, our expectations were exceeded,” Melvin said. “The focus of the event is sportsmanship, and conservation. It also teaches the kids the meaning of doing good things for others.”
This tournament benefits the Families First program at Moffitt Cancer Center, a program initiated to help parents and their children as they adjust to the changes that occur within the family when a parent has cancer. The music therapy program at All-Children’s Hospital will also receive donations from the tournament. That program uses music to achieve specific goals in helping children and families cope with pain, stress, fear and just being in the hospital.
Last year’s tournament raised more than $30,000 for Families First, which was a huge gift in the eyes of the children who benefit from that program.
This year, Melvin has a lot of great things going on surrounding the tournament.
“We’ve hired Wing Media Group from Arkansas that will do the filming, and the show will be co-hosted by Carlton Wing,” he said. “He’s had a long-time history in the outdoor television industry. He will host along with Brent Chapman, the current Bassmaster angler of the year.”
Chapman’s son is going to fish in the tournament as part of Team Moffitt Cancer Center with Capt. Frank Davis.
Other on-air help will come from other nationally-known bass-fishing friends, such as Bobby Lane, the on-the-water reporter, Randy Howell and Aaron Martens.
Sandy will be the technical advisor during the televised tournament, discussing baits, tides and all things to do with tarpon fishing.
Various teams will be representing different causes. There will be a “Make-a-Wish” team, and a CRADLE Adoption Agency team (with Capt. Waylon Mills), manned by a team comprised of Island School fifth graders Abby Turner, Dafne Garcia, Jake Van Atten and Luke Crosser.
There will also be a Relay for Life team, sponsored by Hudson’s Grocery, and the Boca Grande United Methodist Church will be bringing in a four-angler team from the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home in Enterprise. The kids will be traveling with two chaperone parents, and they will be housed on the island for the weekend and given the whole “Boca Grande experience.”
First-place anglers will receive Apple iPads, the second-place team will get Go-Pro Action cameras and the third-place team will receive Kindle Fires.
There will also be release prizes for the kids, including “first boy release” and “first girl release.”
The first place captain will receive $3,000, the second place captain will get $2,000 and the third place captain will receive $1,000.
For the captains, release prizes include cash and credit vouchers for Abel’s Marine for repair work.
Melvin is the president of Boca Grande Charities, the organizing body behind the event’s donations. He works with island residents Michael Vaughn and Bill Klettke, who sit on the board of directors for the 501(c)3. The group also supports the Lemon Bay Conservancy.
If you are interested in watching the tournament from the water, there is a sunset cruise option. Those who are interested can go to the Pink Elephant docks at 6 p.m. for pickup aboard the Calusa Queen to watch the second half of the tournament. The cost is $20 for adults, $10 for kids 16 and under.
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