Reel Time: Results in from the 2023 Waterman

Results in from the 2023 Waterman
Bill Horn addresses participants at the Waterman Tournament Banquet. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

The third annual Waterman Fly Fishing Tournament was held this past weekend. The two-day, fly-only redfish tournament with a Snook Calcutta (an award for the longest snook of the tournament) was a sellout with 126 anglers registered. The fishing boundaries were wide-ranging, including the west coast of Florida from Crystal River to the southernmost tip of Sanibel Island. The photo submission format and the angler tournament app made it possible for fishermen in this entire range to participate. The tournament culminated in an awards banquet and prize-rich raffle at the Bradenton Yacht Club on Sunday evening, an event that was made possible by a large number of generous sponsors. All proceeds from the tournament benefited Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection, preservation and improvement of the Tampa Bay watershed.

The 63 two-angler teams received a collared long-sleeve tournament shirt, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper hats, dinner for two at the awards ceremony and one raffle ticket for each angler. Target species were redfish and snook. Scoring was done by the highest combination of the two longest redfish caught between day one and day two. If a tie had occurred in any of the three top places, it would have been decided by a casting competition based on fly casting distance and accuracy.

Sponsors were pivotal to this event and the fishing community stepped up to support TBWK’s mission. A full list of sponsors is available on the Tampa Bay Waterkeeper website.

Some quality redfish were landed, but among the anglers I spoke to there was concern with the overall abundance of fish as well as the condition of the bay. That sentiment was shared by tournament organizer and TBWK Board member Adam Fernandez in his introduction at the evening’s awards ceremony and raffle. A total of 82 fish were weighed in during the two-day tournament including nine snook, the biggest at 25.5 inches.

Seventy-two redfish were entered in the tournament. The biggest, at 34 inches, was caught by Pierson Monetti of the first-place team Crawl Mode with Josh Glidden. The team entered two fish totaling a combined 65 inches. Monet- ti’s company, MRIC Spatial, was a platinum sponsor of the tournament. Second place was claimed by Team Not Ready with Leigh West and Brandon Chircop. Their two fish totaled 62.5 inches. Third place was awarded to Team Bar Fly with a two-fish total of 54 inches.

There was great camaraderie, a dinner, a raffle with many fine products and an inspirational presentation by Bill Horn. Horn is vice-chair of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT) and former assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He is the author of “Seasons on the Flats,” “On the Bow” and many other literary works. Bill has been deeply involved in Everglades restoration for the last 20 years. He’s been a major force behind BTT’s work on water quality, fisheries management and federal policy. In his speech, he mentioned BTT’s recent study of pharmaceutical drugs in bonefish. The study was expanded to include redfish in Florida waters to show the problem was more widespread than the Florida Keys. Tampa Bay was one of the regions sampled and the redfish were found to have some of the highest levels of pharmaceutical drugs, including antidepressants, blood pressure medications, painkillers and a host of other compounds. Horn finished by saying that the technology exists to remove these compounds and emphasized the critical need to implement them before the drugs enter the environment further. Organizations like Tampa Bay Waterkeeper are on the front line of the defense of our littoral environment and deserve the support of anglers and all those who appreciate the threatened coastal ecosystem. The challenge is to make decision-makers aware of the concerns and have them address them at the state and national levels. Your vote is critical to making this a reality. See how your local, state and federal representatives have voted on these issues at the League of Conservation Voters website. As Horn mentioned in his closing statement, “if we don’t do this, this might be the last generation of anglers to have the opportunity.” Join Tampa Bay Waterkeeper and be a part of the solution.