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Keys inshore action at Sheridan tourney: the charity event banks 100k for kids and moms.

Sometimes experience is the key to winning fishing tournaments. Such was the case with Mark Nichols of Boynton Beach, who placed first in a handful of categories at the 7th Annual BBI Sheridan House Kids Hooked on Fishing tournament in Key Largo on August 6. "Mark won the Triple Crown (best length of snook, redfish, and seatrout) and most species and a bunch of other stuff too," said friend and fellow angler Steve Waas of Palm Beach. Steve shared some podium space as well, recording the largest snook of the tournament--his first snook on his first fishing trip in the Keys in his first ever tournament.

Nichols, who has fished the tournament every year since it started, said he knew they were into a good bite within minutes of hitting the first fishing spot.

"Our captain, Brian Premaza [of Islamorada], had the well loaded with pinfish and greenies before we got there and we ran across the bay to Flamingo first thing." This plan resonated well with Mark, who has fished all over peninsular Florida for the better part of four decades. 'This is a great time of year to catch snook in Flamingo, if you can take the heat," he cautioned.

The team found action as soon as their lines hit the water. "It was about 9 a.m., the tide was just falling and Capt. Premaza had us throwing pinfish up against a beach." On his first cast, Marie hooked a nice snook which freed itself during a violent jump. His next cast met the lips of a 20.5-inch redfish. "After that snook, I kept my rod tip pretty much under water. I wasn't going to lose another fish!" Shortly after that fish, Mark caught a bigger red, and the action only heated up from there.

Mark worked through quite a laundry list of inshore species, including a sawfish estimated at 8 feet long--good enough for him to tie for biggest fish overall. "I caught a couple snook, then some jacks and the usual fish that run around Flamingo and the area." He stuck with the same tackle throughout the day--a medium-action spinning rod with 25-pound braid and a 25-pound fluorocarbon leader.

As it sometimes goes, the fish that are thought of as the easiest to catch proved to be the focal point towards the end of the day. Mark still needed to boat a seatrout.

"After lunch, our captain brought us to a little bay behind a key he thought might hold trout. We found some promising water but didn't catch anything. So we prospected along and came across some really clean water with thick, dark grass. At that point we had switched from live bait and I was throwing a rootbeerGulp!

"First cast at that spot we got a little trout, then another and another, and Steve got a couple all within a few minutes. Which was a good thing, because we had to hightail it back to Key Largo to beat the deadline."

Mark said seeing his buddy Steve land a winning snook was probably the most rewarding part of the fishing day. "I don't think he knew he had it on at first," Mark chuckled.

Steve's account supports that theory. "I was just watching my bait move from left to right with the tidal flow in front of some mangroves. I was following the pattern as instructed: When it gets past a certain point, reel in and cast again for another drift." Right before he was About to reel into cast, he noticed his line was leisurely heading in the opposite direction. "I saw that it had changed direction, but I was really just reeling in to make the cast when I felt the pull."

Mark said Steve's instincts took over at that point. "He set the hook beautifully. The fish never broke water and the water at that spot was really cloudy.

We all thought it was going to be a big red." Steve, who tagged along at the last minute because Mark's intended partner (his daughter) had commitments at her school and couldn't go, said he now understands why fishing tournaments are so popular. Thirty-five boats, over twice as many anglers, and everyone really seemed to have a great time. It's competitive, yeah, but that is really secondary to what is going on--some fun fishing and helping a good cause."

In this case, the cause is the Sheridan House in Broward County, whose mission is to help children and mothers in need. Tournament director Robert Taylor agreed that the weekend was another success. "We should raise over $100,000 this year once the smoke clears," he said.

That's a fine haul for an organization that has a history of superlative support for families. "When the tournament first started, we based it in Tampa because I thought the fishing environment there would better support an inshore event.

"It was successful there, but with Sheridan being a 60-acre facility in west Broward we needed to bring it home. So we moved to Ocean Reef for a bit before settling at the Key Largo Beach Marriott Resort, where we intend to stay.

"The fishing here is world class and the guiding community is extremely supportive. They, and our sponsors, stepped up once again," Taylor said.

For his part, Steve said he is considering making sure Mark's daughter is busy again next year so he can return to Key Largo to defend his snook title.
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Title Annotation:Tournament Insider
Author:Fitzgerald, Brett
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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