BY LIZA STROUT - Four children sat at the stern of the Boca Blue last Saturday afternoon, holding their breath with every radio transmission. Known as Team Gasparilla Outfitters, they were in the lead in the Gasparilla Island Kids Classic, and the excitement on the boat was palpable.
The kids had been tarpon fishing before, but it was 8-year-old Matt Waterhouse’s first release that closed the deal for the victory. He is now in the record books as the youngest child to release a tarpon in that particular tournament. His older brother, Will, had put the team in the lead with the first one. From then on, it was a “wait-and-see” game with their little sister, 7-year-old Welyn, chanting for good luck, “We’re winning ... we’re winning.”
Those two fish netted the team the Second Annual Gasparilla Island Kids Classic championship for 2012. Each of the children received Apple iPad 3 computer tablets.
“They were a perfect family to have fishing this tournament,” said tournament organizer (and the team’s captain) Capt. Sandy Melvin. “The whole point of this tournament was to get parents and kids to be involved, especially when it’s for a good cause. That’s what this is all about.”
In all, 15 fish were caught and released during the tournament. The event raised $30,000 for Moffitt Cancer Center’s “Families First” program. The young anglers, ages eight to 15, managed to catch and release their tarpon in an average of seven minutes.
“It was an impressive effort by the captains and the anglers,” said Melvin. “It shows that these fish can be released before they are exhausted. If an eight-year-old can do it, anyone can. We had high expectations for this event and those expectations were more than exceeded. I couldn’t be more proud and pleased with the participants. The focus of the event is sportsmanship, doing good for others and conservation. What I saw was exactly that. The fishing was tougher that I expected, but I had a great team of anglers. They were focused and excited and kept a positive attitude through the whole 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.
The tournament began with all participating boats lined up in the waters in front of the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum. Everyone watched the presentation of the colors by the Lemon Bay ROTC, and Kaitland Stevens, a seventh grader from L.A. Ainger Middle School, sang the National Anthem. The Charlotte Warbirds flew in formation over the Pass as well. After a few words on the importance of conservation by local politician and former island resident Chauncey Goss, and the blessing of the fleet by Pastor Gary Beatty of the Boca Grande First Baptist Church, the tournament was on.
Boca Blue was the first boat to call “fish on” after about 30 minutes, followed in quick succession by releases by Faithful II and Phil-Jack. The tarpon were wily that day, with at least as many throwing the hook as making it to the boat.
When everyone headed in at 7:30 p.m., they were ready for a party after a great day of fishing ... and that is just what they got. The teams, along with their families, the organizers and many members of the community gathered in downtown Boca Grande to collect their prizes.
Melvin took to the stage to introduce Colton James, who sang his song “Brave Men” to honor the men and women of the armed forces. Lemon Bay High School ROTC members presented the colors during the song to a rousing ovation.
In a surprise gesture Melvin presented the ladies from Hudson’s, who have done so much to raise money for Relay for Life this year, with a painting of the famous pink pump that stands in front of the store.Melvin, who won a $1000 cash prize as the winning captain, donated his prize money back into the pot to put toward the donation to Families First. Patrick Waterhouse, the winning team’s father, rounded out the amount sent to Moffitt with another $3,000 donation for an even $30,000.
Team Cradle, in second, each got an iPod Touch, and Capt. Mills received a $500 cash prize and a $500 labor certificate, all courtesy of Able’s Marine.
Team Key Agency Insurance, in third, won Kindle Fires, and Capt. Lamar Joiner, Sr. received a YETI cooler and $250 from Barnichol Hardware.
Each angler who released a tarpon also received a trophy. William Waterhouse, Brendan Cutting, Colton Nagler, Riley Mizell, Luke Ellison, Autumn Shaffer, Matt Waterhouse, Ben Taylor, Austin Whiting, Cole Kelley, Tyler O’Donoghue, Andy Roman, Nick Mostyn, Devyn Main and Austin Fogo all received individual angler trophies.
Autumn Shaffer won the prize for first girl angler to release a tarpon. She won a sterling silver tarpon charm bracelet from Barbara Anne’s Jewelry and a gift basket from Courtyard Hair.
William Waterhouse won the prize for the first boy angler to release a tarpon, a Backcountry spinning rod and reel including a tackle box courtesy of Fisherman’s Edge in Grove City.
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