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We'll all get ice cream afterwards: weather can't stop anglers from acting like kids ... or at least, acting on behalf of kids.

This past March, anglers participating in the second annual South Woods Elementary School Sheepshead Derby in St. Augustine had to fight through heavy rain and tornado warnings. Fifty-three diehard anglers donned their foul weather gear and targeted the tricky fish to show support for a local cause.

Richard and Christy Preston of Elkton started this event because their kids love the school music program, and as we all know just about every program in public education is battling budget problems. So they decided to use their passion--fishing--to help support their kids' passion.

"I fish for sheepshead, but I'm not great at it," admitted Richard. "My wife and I love to fish for reds, so we included a category for them this year."

The weather certainly had an impact on attendance, but the Prestons said it could have been worse. "We were really thankful that the folks at the El Cheapo Tournament in Jacksonville allowed us to drop a flyer in each of their captain's buckets. They have a huge, wonderful event so their support means a lot to us."

Even with the bad weather, the Prestons and their cast of volunteers have been able to contribute about $4,000 to the music department and school's PTO program, which directly supports teachers in the classrooms. Respectable fish were caught in spite of the weather. Daniel Bussy of Jacksonville weighed in a sheepie that was over 7.5 pounds for the winner, which edged out a handful of anglers who were within a pound and a half.

Mike Davis of Holly Hill all but stopped fishing tournaments until his 8-year-old daughter Cheyenne took a shine to fishing. Mike has entered her in three tournaments, and she has either won or placed in every one. "She took second in this one. She lost four fish that were bigger and she never got discouraged, just kept at it," said Mike. "It's a great father-daughter thing for us."

It seems like kids' events and foul weather go hand in hand. Last June, the Reeling for Kids Charity Tournament in Steinhatchee, created by former NFL player Doug Johnson in 2003, also had to battle wind, rain and high seas for the duration of the weekend event. Director Laura Javidi said, "We have both inshore and offshore divisions, and a lot of offshore boats just couldn't fish. Those that did really had to battle the elements."

This year's event will be held June 6-8, with a gala dinner on May 30. Reeling for Kids raises funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Alachua County, to whom the tourney has donated some $600,000 over the past decade. "Our money goes to the football program, because that's what is near to Doug's heart. He played with us when he was young, then here in college then the NFL." Doug was still in the NFL when the tournament started, and Javidi remembers trying to track him down during spring training for help with the tournament. "Once he retired from the NFL, he was able to give us more time and things really started to blossom."

That might be an understatement. Now possibly the biggest tournament on the Florida Gulf coast, the kickoff party is an event in itself. "That was originally designed to be an event where the wives could enjoy the spirit of the event, since some of our offshore guys go out and don't come back in until 'lines in.' They can travel 100 miles or farther to their fishing spots, and they often just stay out. So we wanted to be able to include the families in something event related. Now I've got 400 tickets to sell to that dinner, and I'm very likely to sell out completely."

There are Master's divisions for both inshore and offshore anglers, and anglers can indeed fish both if they are feeling extremely skilled and lucky. To capture the offshore Master's title, an angler has to bring a kingfish, red grouper and red snapper to the dock. The inshore Master has to have the largest seatrout, redfish and Spanish mackerel. There is a "neutral" division for cobia, and an "other" category that includes anything with fins except sharks or stingrays.

Being a children's event, of course there is a thriving children's division. "Kids in our tournament are not limited by species in any way (except for the shark/stingray rule). Any fish they weigh in can be used for points. If someone brings in a 5-pound trout, it beats a 4-pound mackerel."

"I know it's cliche, but I'm saying it anyhow: The look on the kids' faces when they bring their fish to the scales is priceless. And last year we had our first female winner in that division. Seems like a girl always came in second or third but never won. It was quite a sight."

Due to the heavy participation in this event, there are two captains meetings, one on June 4 and another on June 6. Anglers can attend either one, and it is not necessary to RSVP. Contact Director Laura Javidi (352) 3725342 for more details.
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Title Annotation:Tournament Insider
Author:Fitzgerald, Brett
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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