ISLAMORADA, FLORIDA KEYS – A dichotomy of weather conditions over two days of competition created challenging circumstances for anglers fishing the 4th Annual Cheeca Lodge All American Backcountry Tournament, November 12-14, 2015. However, fishing in the Florida Keys was still respectable: Twenty-one anglers fishing on 17 boats released a total of 82 fish, including 35 snook, 21 redfish, 15 tarpon, 10 bonefish and one permit.
Retired Army Captain David Inbody shows off his first bonefish caught on fly caught during the Cheeca All American. cheeca.com
“The first day was gorgeous, but the second day was windy, cloudy and difficult,” said Individual Grand Champion Angler Jim Bokor of Tavernier, Florida. Bokor fished with Captain Frank Ortiz and released three tarpon, seven snook and five redfish all on bait, which also won him the General Division Champion honors.
“Frankie had a plan, and the plan came through,” Bokor said. He praised Ortiz, his fishing guide of many years, for his wins. “You can be the greatest angler in the world, but if you don’t have a talented guide like Frankie, it doesn’t matter. You won’t win.” Case in point – Bokor accidently hooked Ortiz’ shirt while casting for a tarpon, but Ortiz was still able to guide him to the release. “I hooked my guide, and still caught the tarpon,” Bokor said.
Another hometown legend, Stu Apte from Tavernier and Bozeman, Montana was named Runner-Up Grand Champion Angler. Apte released a total of 10 fish – 8 reds, 1 tarpon and 1 snook, and also took home the Artificial Division Grand Champion trophy. He was fishing with his long-time friend Captain Steve Thomas.
For the third year in a row, Captain Mike Makowski lead a team of two wounded veteran soldiers to Grand Champion Team honors at the All American. Retired Captain David Inbody from College Station, Texas and retired Army Airborne Specialist Nathan Wright from Cypress, Texas released six fish: three bonefish and two tarpon on fly and one bonefish on bait. In honor of Veteran’s Day, the All American Tournament hosts a team of wounded soldiers to fish in the event, and Capt. Makowski generously donates his time on the water every year. Both of these veteran soldiers suffered serious injuries fighting the war in Afghanistan, and have witnessed massive casualties of their fellow soldiers. “I have a hard time with that and the outdoors seems to be the only thing that takes my mind off of it,” said Wright. “I hunt and fish for my friends who cannot.”
Runner-Up Team Champions were Greg Wambolt of Littleton, Colorado and Mike Clark of Meeker, Colorado, who fished with Capt. Chuck Schafstall and released five fish – three snook, a redfish and a bonefish.
Michael Sullivan from Arlington, Virginia released an impressive five bonefish on fly to win Grand Champion honors in the Fly Division. He fished with Capt. Duane Baker, who is Commodore of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association and Board Member of the Guides Trust Foundation, the tournament’s beneficiary.
A magnificent 25-pound permit won angler Brian McCullis from Denver, Colorado the Most Outstanding Catch award. He was fishing with Capt. Paul Tejera. Best Photo Award of a stunning bayside seascape went to James Holmes of Ashland, Virginia who was fishing with his wife Andrea.
Proceeds from the All American will go to the Guides Trust Foundation, a local organization that assists Florida Keys fishing guides in need, helping them meet their financial obligations in times of crisis or injury. The GFT also awards scholarships to local students.
Signature sponsors again this year included Wells Fargo, Abel Reels and Robert-James Sales, Inc., among others.