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Local grads treated to free fishing tourney

Special event held July 11 off Sanibel Causeway

By TIFFANY REPECKI - | Jul 24, 2020

While high school seniors have had end-of-year traditions like graduation and prom canceled on them, dozens of Lee County students were provided a chance to celebrate in a new way — out on the water.

Capt. Jason Miller, owner of Reel Therapy Charters, recently organized a fishing tournament for students to make up for them missing out on their traditional senior celebrations due to COVID-19. The “Take a Graduate Fishing 2020” event was held on July 11, launching off the Sanibel Causeway.

A youth football and basketball coach for about 15 years for North Fort Myers High School and the Cape Coral Parks and Recreation league, Miller explained that he knew about a Facebook page created by parents to “adopt a senior.” Graduates could make a profile and list their plans and achievements.

“And they would add a link to it that had an Amazon wish list,” he said of the lists for college supplies. “It was just really cool going through that and seeing all those kids I remembered from coaching.”

Miller noted that the graduates also could add a couple of photos.

“I couldn’t help but notice a lot of them would have a couple of fishing pictures,” he said, explaining that he has had a fishing charter for 10 years and runs a private Facebook group for local captains.

Miller decided to treat four random seniors to a fishing trip and posted it on the “adopt” page.

“I got such a response from the graduates and the parents – that’s when I decided I couldn’t just take four kids,” he said, explaining that he then turned to his captains’ group and asked for volunteers.

“Again I got such a great response, it was a no-brainer,” Miller said of planning the event.

The invitation to take part was open to all Lee County graduates. They simply had to create a profile on the “adopt” page, which he used to get the word out, and express interest in attending the free event.

“I put it all together in about two months,” Miller said.

Snook, redfish, trout, snapper and ladyfish were counted for the catch-and release photo-based tournament. With lines in the water at 8 a.m., the student teams reeled in the biggest of each species that they could until 1 p.m. An awards ceremony and cookout on the Causeway followed after.

“It was a total inches tournament,” he said.

The team of Justin Bethke, Dadrion Jackson, Kaydan Strickland and Sean Torrico, guided by Capt. Patrick King of Kingfisher Charters, took first place with 102.5 total inches. The students won themselves half-day charters donated by Shallow Water Guide Service and Saltwater Soul Charters.

Second place with 101.5 total inches went to the team of Alek Carlino, Kyle Hasenfus and Dylan Umphries, guided by Capt. Erik Johnson of Sea N Red Charters. They got to take home apparel combinations of their choice that were donated by GILLZ Gear, including T-shirts, hats and such.

Third place went to the team of Austin Bullard, Tyler Myers and Hunter Miller, guided by Capt. Andy Santana of Hooked4Life Charters, with a total of 95 inches. The students each earned themselves two tickets for an excursion with Pure Naples.

Prizes were also given out for the largest snook and largest redfish. Alek Carlino landed a 33-inch snook, earning a one-night stay at the Luminary Hotel, while Hunter Miller and Trent Tolson tied on the redfish at 30 inches. Both won a round of golf for four at the Sanibel Island Golf Club and The Club at Renaissance.

There were also raffle giveaways for gift cards to restaurants and attractions, plus goodie bags.

“We did have a great response from the community,” Miller said.

The tourney originally had about 100 seniors signed up, but between work schedules and the local COVID-19 numbers rising, some of them dropped out last minute. About 60 youths participated.

To ease concerns, temperatures were taken at registration and face shields provided.

“We had a lot of the schools represented,” he said of Lee County.

About 15 captains donated their time, gas and gear — ensuring a free event for the seniors.

“I couldn’t have had a better group of captains,” Miller said. “They would all do it again.”

Asked about the day’s fishing conditions, he reported that they were “awful.”

“If they had had a hired charter, they probably would have canceled,” Miller said of about half of the volunteer captains with a chuckle. “But we all went to places that were sheltered from the rain.”

He noted that every student caught at least one fish, and some even landed personal bests.

“It was all worth it,” Miller said. “It was totally worth every minute I put into it.”

Key sponsors included Elite Estates Construction, Alair Homes, American Roofing, Barnes Pools, Goldstein Buckley Cechman Rice & Purtz, Designs to a Tee and Mustad Hooks. Food was provided by Mission BBQ and The Club at Renaissance, while deejay Craig Power donated the entertainment.