A Veterans Day fishing tournament inspired by the late President George Bush raised money for the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.
The 7th annual All-American Backcountry Fishing Tournament organized by Cheeca Lodge & Spa brought some of the sport’s top anglers to Islamorada, Florida. The three-day tournament also recognized two war heroes who competed as a team.
Celebrities in attendance included Jeb Bush, Jr., Bruce Melnick, former American astronaut and retired U.S. Coast Guard officer, and legendary fly champion Stu Apte.
All-American anglers competed for trophies and prizes for releasing five different species of fish: snook, redfish, bonefish, tarpon and permit. Tackle divisions included fly, artificial and bait.
The tournament’s field of 14 anglers on 10 boats posted overall game fish totals of 56 snook, 47 redfish, 10 tarpon, eight bonefish and three permit. The total of 124 releases during the two-day tournament included 16 on fly, 44 on artificial tackle and 64 on general tackle.
Taking home top honors of Grand Champion Angler and Fly Division Champion Angler was Fred Schwaibold of Charleston, South Carolina, guided by Dave Denkert of Islamorada, Fla. Schwaibold released one permit and four bonefish on bait, and eight snook, five redfish, one bonefish and one tarpon on fly. He earned bonus points for catching all five species and released a total of 15 fish on fly.
Grand Champion Team Awards went to Paul McCulliss of Littleton, Colorado, and his son Brian McCulliss of Denver, title sponsors representing McCulliss Oil & Gas. Guided by Eric Herstedt of Homestead, Florida, the duo released 16 snook, 19 redfish, and one bonefish.
Jim Bokar of Tavernier, Florida, earned General Division Champion Angler and second-place Angler Division with 10 snook, eight redfish, five tarpon and two bonefish. Bokar was guided by Frank Ortiz of Key Largo, Florida.
Second-place Team Division Award went to Dennis and Jeffery Bernardo of Cumberland, Rhode Island, for releasing 13 snook, seven redfish and four tarpon, guided by Mike Alfano of Islamorada, Florida.
Anthony Bongiovanni of Newington, Conn., clinched Champion Angler in the Artificial Division, releasing nine snook and five redfish. Bongiovanni fished with his father Alan representing the Bongiovanni Group, a title sponsor of the tournament.
Brian Walwyn of Delray Beach, Florida, landed the Most Outstanding Catch Award for releasing two permits back-to-back, guided by Rich Smith of Marathon, Florida.
Best Photo Awards went to the U.S. Marine Corp. veteran team of Sgt. Tommy Pearce of Miami and Private 1st Class Raul Lucas, of Dania Beach, Florida, guided by Mike Makowski of Key Largo, Florida. They released nine snook and one redfish. The snook was a first for Lucas.
“It was an incredible experience to fish a tournament of this caliber in the sport fishing capital of the world and actually take home an award,” Pearce said. “It was also great to get acquainted with Jeb Bush, Jr., since I served under the George W. Bush Administration.”