DUCK KEY, Fla. — Brooke Denkert of Islamorada, Fla., was only permitted to leave the awards stage in spurts Sunday so that she could put down one award and come back to receive the next.
The 23-year-old Denkert, teammate Wade Davis of West Palm Beach, and their guide Dave Denkert, Brooke's father, were named the Grand Champion Team of the two-day Redbone Sunrise/Sunset Tarpon Tourney at Hawk's Cay Resort, claiming the prize with 900 points overall for nine tarpon caught on live crab.
The Redbone charity tournament in the Florida Keys will eventually be featured on the ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series presented by TakeMeFishing.org on ESPN Outdoors programming.
Along with the team award, Brooke's catch of five tarpon for the tournament — three during sunrise fishing Saturday and two during Saturday's sunset session — earned her the Grand Champion Angler award. She also won the Lady Angler Grand Champion category. Awards at all Redbone charity events are limited edition works donated and signed by renowned artists such as Tim Borski, Christi Mathews and Vaughn Cochran.
On Sunday, Davis caught the team's three fish in the sunrise session, bringing his tournament total to four. Davis' fish Sunday were in the 80- to 90-pound range, much bigger than the six the team managed Saturday, which were in the 40- to 50-pound range.
"Today was Wade's day," Brooke said. "In all honesty it makes me feel just as good. It's really great to feel every different aspect of being a team. There's just that much more action on the boat.
"When your teammate puts points on the board, that just makes you stronger as a team. So it was a great day today."
Brooke, a passionate angler, has been competing in (and winning) fishing tournaments since high school. She is now in her second year of a master's degree in environmental science at Florida Gulf Coast University and incidentally has a paper due Monday morning. She admitted she did a little work on it late Friday night in her hotel room before the tournament got started at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Davis, who had said Saturday that Brooke was the one with the hot hand for the weekend, didn't want all the glory for his success Sunday.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to the captain," Davis said at the awards luncheon. "He knew where to go. It was awesome today. You just never know when you can get turned on — on the right side of the boat, the right rod, the right cork, the right crab."
First, in true Team Denkert/Davis fashion, bad luck loomed in the morning — something the trio laughingly considered an omen of good things to come. Davis had to switch rods early Sunday, and on his first cast the entire spool came off his reel and went in the soup.
"We had to stop everything, go fish it out of the water," Davis said of the spool from a $700 spinning reel, the most expensive spinning reel out there. "We put it back on the reel, cast it out — and the first fish of the day came right after that."
Dave said the bite was on from a little before 7:30 a.m., and Davis landed his three fish before 9:30 a.m. Lines had to be out of the water at 11 a.m. for the conclusion of the tournament.
High winds — gusting up to 25 knots during competition and churning up 8- to 10-feet seas — taunted teams throughout the tournament and pretty much shut down sight fishing for most. While Team Denkert/Davis had some success with sight fishing Saturday, that method was wiped out with Sunday's bigger gusts.
"Nothing was happening, we couldn't see anything," Dave said. "We saw one fish roll out in the distance, 30 seconds later his cork goes down, boom, fish on. Whether it was the same fish or a school, who knows?"
After considering several types of bait before the first day, Dave said he bought micro crabs exclusively Sunday morning. Just as deliberately, the team headed back to their special spot. Dave finally revealed at the luncheon that they fished off a bank 27 miles from the ramp at Duck Key, in the Everglades National Park.
The team of Robert Cullen and son Michael Cullen, guided by Ken Knudsen, won the Fly Grand Champion category as well as the runner-up team award.
Miami Dolphins quarterback John Beck, guided by Scott Meyer, earned his second straight Celebrity Grand Champion award, defending his title against the efforts of Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, former Miami Dolphins wide receiver/running back Jim "Crash" Jensen and current Dolphins guard Justin Smiley. Because Beck had to return to Miami a day early, fellow Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne filled in for him for Sunday's fishing and accepted the award/artwork on Beck's behalf.
The Sunrise/Sunset Tarpon Tourney is part of the Mercury Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series. Proceeds from the accompanying silent auction benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The Mercury Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series was founded by Gary and Susan Ellis in 1988 with a mission: "To catch the cure for cystic fibrosis."