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Florida Keys Fishing Tournament Coverage

Take Stock in Children Backcountry Challenge
By Islamorada Sport Fishing
contributing writer John Geiger.

Guide offers boat for teen tournament angler

A Key Largo guide said he will sponsor a local teen’s $100 tournament entry fee and guide him for free in next year’s Take Stock in Children Backcountry Challenge.

Capt. Tony deloSantos said it’s important for kids to get a chance to fish the bay and experience the backcountry’s beauty. DeloSantos fished this year’s tournament with 15-year-old Jess Greene of Key Largo. Green will also be aboard next year (the contest is expected to be in November 2003)  but there’s room for one more, said deloSantos, who is one of the founders of the Key Largo Fishing Guides Association.

For more information, call deloSantos at 451-1097.

A curious crocodile challenged a sleep-deprived Key Largo captain for his bait during the Oct. 25-27 Take Stock in Children Backcountry Challenge. Capt. Tony deloSantos won the battle and went on to win the snook division of the charity fishing tournament.

Like a scene from Jurassic Park, one toothy reptile apparently knew that there were little live mullet -- also called “tarpon candy” -- aboard deloSanto’s 18-foot skiff. 

“Somehow it figured out where the live well was and then it tried to climb in to the boat,” said the guide.

DeloSantos picked up the push-pole and quickly tried to get away from the prehistoric monster with its sharp claws and frightening teeth. But the croc wouldn’t take the hint. It pursued the boat in the dark, shallow water. DeloSantos poled harder. After awhile, the creature gave up and swam away into the night to find its own food.

“Thank God he didn’t get any more ideas,” said Jess Greene, Captain DelosSantos’ angler, who, despite the close call, said he wants to be a backcountry guide when he grows up. “I’d do it all over again. I just love anything that has to do with fishing. I’m a fish-aholic.”

In this tournament, anglers could fish for snook and redfish around the clock for three days and nights in the contest based out of Sundowner’s Restaurant in Key Largo.

Most of the 20 or so teams got in two days of fishing and maybe an evening tide or two. DeloSantos and Greene fished 34 hours straight. That’s four times as long as your typical full-day charter.

“They were serious,” said Norm Whitla, one of the event organizers.

It paid off. After deloSantos kept his bait away from the hungry croc, he fed it to a hungry snook instead. He won the first place in the snook division with the 31-incher. That’s a good 10-pound snook. He got the fish at about 2:30 in the morning under a waning, last-quarter moon. 

The team also had to fight off armies of mosquitoes in the backcountry.

DeloSantos and Greene, who must have looked like swamp things themselves, covered up from head to toe with long-sleeves, long pants and mosquito netting over their heads.

“The buzzing makes you sick,” said Greene.

A few hours later, just after dawn, in another part of the 850-square-mile bay, angler Capt. Kerry Wingo of Key Largo caught his own 31-inch snook. But since deloSantos caught his first, he kept the title. (All fish are released in this tournament. Each team gets a camera and a yard stick to photograph the fish before they’re slipped back into the bay.)

Capt. Tadd Vandemark of Key Largo, also a backcountry guide, caught a 30-inch snook and took third place in the snook division. But Vandemark won the redfish division with a 28-and-a-half incher. He also won the outstanding catch award because he caught and released a bunch of big snook and reds.

“This is a great tournament,” he said. “And it’s only going to get better because it gets more and more competitive each year.”

It’s estimated that the tournament raised more than $6,000 this year for the mentoring scholarship program, Take Stock in Children.

Glenn Hammon of Miami, who was one of only two people who were not Key Largo guides in the top positions, won second place in the redfish division with a 28-incher, Lain Goodwin of Key Largo, the other non-guide, won third with a 27-inch red.

“The guides really cleaned up,” said tournament organizer Whitla.

Next year, things will be different. Divisions will probably change so that only non-professionals could win the top three snook and redfish awards, Whitla said. Then, professional guides would compete against each other for one longest snook and one longest redfish award.     

“I knew guides would eventually dominate,” said Whitla. “This was the year it happened.”