GASPARILLA ISLAND, Fla. John Radkins has been fishing the Raymond James Boca Grande Classic since its inception. His daughter Vanessa who has cystic fibrosis has won at least one trophy every year, in fact, the trout division was added specifically for her. But this year she couldn't attend the event because she was attending the police academy, so her father picked a friend and fished with him.
"We were fishing up in Englewood, around some places I've been fishing the last month," said Radkins. Our tarpon came on the first day right in the middle of the day, and we got our seatrout that day as well. Then today we just went fishing for redfish and snook, and we had them in the boat before 9 a.m."
Radkins always focused on having a good time with his daughter and making sure she caught a lot of fish, so this year he concentrated on catching a slam of all four species (snook, tarpon, seatrout and redfish). It won him the Grand Champion award, the tournament's top individual award. Radkins and his teammate, Ethan Williams, also won the top award as the Team Grand Champions. Runner Up Team Grand Champions were Tom Tiller and Phil Federico, fishing with Capt. Ryan Rowan.
"When I got home today, Vanessa and her fiancee were there and she asked me how I did," said Radkins. "When I told her, she said, 'Enjoy it, because my fiancée and I are fishing it next year."
While the tarpon have been slow to show this year after an unseasonably cold winter and spring, warming air and water temperatures have the fish moving into the area as of late. Only six tarpon were caught during the tournament, two of them during the last hour of fishing by Bob Pare, who was fishing with Capt. Doug Creek of Punta Gorda.
"We went two-for-five on tarpon and have three or four bites where we missed fish," said Pare. "It was slow in the morning, but when the tide changed the afternoon bite turned on big time. Once we got into the main school, there were fish rolling and feeding around the boat constantly."
"We really kind of lucked into the fish," said Pare. "We had a boat pull in on us and decided to play a little prank on them by having everyone in the boat point to the wake of a sailboat in the distance and start shouting, 'Look at all those tarpon,' in hopes that they would move on. While doing that, we realized that the wake we were pointing at actually was a giant school of tarpon."
Pare's first fish was over 140-pounds, while the second was closer to 110-pounds. Both fish ate live threadfins on 50-pound spinning tackle.
The largest tarpon of the event was caught by Maureen Cassidy (53) of Miami, who has been fishing the tournament for three years, and the 150-pounder she landed was her first tarpon.
"It was really exciting," said Cassidy. "I've jumped a tarpon off before, but never landed one. The fish was huge."
"She did a great job of managing the rod and putting a lot of pressure on the fish," said Cassidy's guide Richard Sechrist. "The first jump was about 10 feet behind the boat. She had the fish to the boat in less than 30 minutes."
The Live Bait Division was won by Ellis Green, fishing with Capt. Ryan McGhee, while the Spin/Plug Division winner was Ron Walker, fishing with Capt. Sandy Melvin. Fred Baruth took top honors in the Fly Division with a tarpon he caught on the first day of the tournament.
Former NFL Football Player and Hill Street Blues cast member Ed Marinaro was fifth in overall points scored with 1,215. Marinaro was the emcee of the event which benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
"Of all the events I attend and host, this is the one I look the most forward to every year," said Marinaro. "I've made so many friends over the years, and have a ton of great stories about fishing. It's just a great place and a great time with great people."
Top Five Two-Man Teams over two days of fishing
Angler — Points — Captain
1. Ellis Green, Bryan Corr — 4,600 — Ryan McGhee
2. Aaron DiRusso, Gary Head — 2,495 — Michael Manis
3. Jon Reecher, Jeff Strother — 1,775 — Rob Hayes
4. Bob Melvin, Ron Walker — 1,750 — Sandy Melvin
5. Ron Oliver, Ed Marinaro — 1,215 — Frank Davis
Top 10 Points Total over two days of fishing
Angler — Points — Captain
1. Ellis Green — 2,400 — Ryan McGhee
2. Bryan Corr — 2,200 — Ryan McGhee
3. Gary Head — 1,735 — Michael Manis
4. Jeff Strother — 1,150 — Rob Hayes
5. Ron Walker — 1,150 — Sandy Melvin
6. Aaron DiRusso — 760 — Michel Manis
7. Ron Oliver — 715 — Frank Davis
8. Bob Melvin — 600 — Sandy Melvin
9. Chris Branden — 515 — Derrick Jacobson
10. Phil Federico — 505 — Ryan Rowan