BACKCOUNTRY TOURNAMENT SCORES WINNERS AND MONEY FOR TOP-KEYS STUDENTS
By Zachary Woltanski
September 25 marked the end of Key Largo’s 22nd Annual Key Largo Rotary Backcountry Kids Update Challenge. All participants were invited to an awards banquet at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier, where they were celebrated for their impressive fishing achievements and their contributions to the local charity Take Stock in Children.
This year, Rotary had a huge success with its Backcountry Challenge. After a few years of COVID limiting attendance, the tournament returned with 55 anglers. Last year’s event raised over $40,000 for scholarships (Keys Weekly is awaiting this year’s fundraising total from event organizers). Funds were raised both through tournament sponsorships and a silent auction which also took place on September 25, with over 70 items up for auction.
The Key Largo Rotary Backcountry Fishing Tournament raises money for Take Stock in Children, a local charity that provides hundreds of thousands of dollars for Florida scholarships. Students can choose to sign up for middle and high school for a Take Stock Mentor. These scholarships do not simply allow students to follow the path of academic success.
Take Stock also funds and supports professional scholarships and vocational training. Chuck Licis-Masson, who oversees the Monroe County Take Stock in Children program, believes this tournament is an exceptionally important event for Take Stock’s fundraising.
“[The Backcountry Fishing Tournament] was extremely important for Take Stock. It provides funds for scholarships and it has grown over the years,” said Licis-Masson. “What better way to help the students of this community than to fish and do what they love?”
Also present at the event was Andrea Galvan, a graduate of Coral Shores, who spoke about the importance of the Take Stock program in finding your goals and achieving your dreams.
The tournament, which kicked off Sept. 23, promised a weekend of fishing to benefit Upper Key students. The anglers were divided into five divisions, including the children’s division (anglers under 13), the junior division (13-17 years old), the adult division and the pro and guide divisions.
The winners of the event took home prizes, including paintings by Roberto “Pasta” Pantaleo. The winners were chosen based on the size of the fish they caught and released. In the children’s division, Easton Meyers won the biggest trout and the junior backcountry champion was Chase Caputo, who caught the longest combined length of a rockfish, snook and trout . The Grand Backcountry Champion award went to Gene Kent, and the winner for Best Professional Angler was Chris Hanson. Other awards were given for the biggest individual catches of redfish, trout and pike.
Most participants rated their tournament experience highly. Chloe Cummings, a 13-year-old who competed in the junior division, said her “experience was really fun”. Jack Brown, also 13, said: “I’ve been fishing since I was 2 years old. I participated in maybe five other competitions. [in addition to this one].”
CA Richardson, a famous angler and Flats Class TV host, also attended the event where he competed in the Pro division. He has “a personal connection to the Take Stock program” and feels that “for people reading this who love backcountry fishing, this is a really great event to get involved in.”