■ BY SUE ERWIN
This year’s Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament was an extra-special one, with 41 boats releasing 33 tarpon and $22,960 in prize money given to three winning teams.
The artwork to commemorate Ladies Day was very special as well. Created by artist Brendan Coudal, the rendering portrays a young Isabelle Joiner on the dock of Whidden’s Marina. In the painting you can see some of the iconic symbols of the marina, including the “shrimp” sign and little dogs a-plenty. Even Chico the monkey makes an appearance.
The tournament, in fact, was dedicated to Isabelle this year. She passed away last year in the thick of tarpon season, on June 20.
The artwork is called “Island Belle” and embraces the “Old Florida” style that Boca Grande locals know very well.
“The Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament is a beloved event that celebrates the strong women who have been tarpon fishing in the Boca Grande Pass for generations,” said Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Wesley Locke at the captain’s party on Friday evening. “This year’s theme has an Old Florida vibe. Isabelle was a mother to more than her blood, a servant of the Boca Grande community and a passionate player in the island’s tarpon fishing history. She reminds us of the many hats that women wear on a daily basis – mother, business owner, community volunteer and friend to all.
“The Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce is proud to host this timeless tradition that honors strong women and their love of tarpon fishing.”
It was an emotional evening as friends shared stories about their appreciation of the “island matriarch” who so many were lucky enough to know.
Attendees enjoyed food, drinks and friendship as Locke discussed the rules of the tournament and ended her speech with a tribute to Isabelle.
It didn’t take long after the tournament began on Saturday afternoon before the ladies on Little Spook caught a tarpon. Led by Capt. Nelson Italiano, they would continue on to catch a total of five by 7:08 p.m., taking first place and sharing a cash prize of $11,480 and other prizes. The lucky winners of the Silver Queens team were Renee Lindsey, Julie Camp, Cannon Wenzel and Alison Henderson. The ladies made an entire day’s celebration of the event, starting with lunch and drinks by the pool.
“I am so proud of our team,” Renee said. “We caught five of seven tarpon in three hours.”
Cannon caught the first fish in the tournament at 4:45 p.m.
“I am truly honored to be a part of the winning team for Ladies Day 2019,” Cannon said. “The whole day was a day to relax, revel in friendships and most importantly be empowered to bring the mighty Silver King to the boat.”
The annual tournament is always held on Mother’s Day weekend, which made it a bittersweet day for Cannon.
“Having lost my own mother this year, it was equally fitting to have both the Boca Grande fishing matriarch and my own matriarch looking down from above while I fought two (very stubborn) tarpon,” Cannon said. “Our Island Belle Isabelle Joiner was heavy on my mind from the captain’s party throughout the tournament.”
The ladies had an exciting night. Renee caught two, Alison caught one, and Julie’s jumped the hook – the one that got away.
Boca Blue had a fish on three minutes later, and Lynn Erb, fishing aboard Thunder, caught the third tarpon of the day. The fish continued to bite until the tournament wrapped up at 7:30 p.m.
Capt. William Woodroffe and first mate Marshall Locke led a group of lady anglers on Faithful II, including Isabelle’s daughter Melissa Joiner Steyer, Liz Woodroffe, Candy Brooks and Kara Robinson.
The team, dressed all in purple in honor of Isabelle, were among the teams that placed purple tulips in the water in the Pass in memory of Isabelle. Less than a minute later, Melissa caught a tarpon, as if her mother was smiling down on her to help celebrate the day.
Capt. Kalee Joiner and first mate Mila Wyman aboard the Jo-Bob led a group of four anglers on an all-female excursion. It was believed to be the first time in tournament history that a team of female anglers was led by two women. The team caught a tarpon at 5:46 p.m.
Cash prizes and other awards went to the top three winning teams, a first- time benefit for tournament competitors. The ladies aboard the Hammerhead took second place, winning $6,888, a gift basket by James Griffith Salon, a $75 gift card from Barnichol Hardware and a trophy.
Those aboard the Tracy Lynn took third place, taking home $4,592, a trophy and a gift card from the Pink Pony/Dolphin Cove.
All participants were invited to come to the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce courtyard immediately following the tournament to enjoy pizza, beverages and celebrate with the winners.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that we had some help from our talented Capt. Nelson Italiano, who put us on the fish,” Cannon said. “His first mate Sebastian was cool, calm and collected while adrenaline flowed through our veins as we yelled ‘Fish on!’ and proceeded to cuss like sailors … only to be cheered on by the other boats. When you hear your own name being called out by fellow female anglers, well, there really is nothing more special than that.”
Locke said the 2019 Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament exceeded expectations.
“That’s what happens when you have a hard-working team of volunteers, amazing sponsors, dedicated judges, 41 boats and a Pass full of tarpon sent straight from Isabelle Joiner,” she said. “Congratulations to all the winners, and until next year, tight lines!”