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Fishing for dollars and charities

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


You can buy the best equipment, catch the freshest bait, even find a secret spot, but when it comes right down to it, you still need a little luck to win a fishing tournament.

You can buy the best equipment, catch the freshest bait, even find a secret spot, but when it comes right down to it, you still need a little luck to win a fishing tournament.

"In Key West, we were fishing right next to a boat that caught a 64-pounder," said David Van Lent, captain of the team that won the Southern Kingfish Association's 2000 Angler of the Year Award. "You do your best to position yourself where you think the fish will be. But in the end, it is all about luck."

Anyone, however, can get lucky once. To make it to the big leagues of the fishing -- be it largemouth bass, king mackerel or tarpon -- you need consistency. Van Lent and teammates Wylie Nagler, John Strome and Dan Hockett won angler of the year for their finishes in five separate, two-day professional tournaments.

"In each tournament, you are judged on your aggregate total," Van Lent, a 41-year-old banker from Belleair Beach, said. "The trick is to catch big fish on both days. Not a lot of people can do that."

Van Lent's Team Yellowfin fish 25 tournaments a year. They started on a winning note ($10,000) in Fort Myers last month, and hope to repeat next weekend, when the local season opens with the Suncoast Kingfish Classic in Sarasota.

"The tournament everybody is waiting for is the Grand Ole Opry event in Clearwater," Van Lent said. "With a $100,000 cash first prize they will draw a lot of boats."

One hundred thousand dollars for a fish? That kind of prize money will draw more boats than any other kingfish tournament held on the west coast of Florida.

Tournament organizers need at least 450 entries to break even. Any money raised over that will benefit the Angelus, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Treasure Island Charities.

But if kingfishing isn't your area of expertise, there are plenty of other chances to fish a tournament over the next six weeks.

The action kicks off today with the Spring on the Flats Catch and Release tournament. The proceeds benefit the Pinellas County Environmental Foundation, which works in conjunction with the internationally respected National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

"This is a chance for anglers to do something directly to help the environment," assistant county administrator Jake Stowers said. "The proceeds from this tournament will benefit Tampa Bay's sea-grass beds. There is nothing quite like it anywhere else in Florida."

Spring on the Flats, like Rays general manager Chuck LaMar's Celebrity Tournament each fall, has a high entry fee and is geared toward corporations. But anglers wishing to fish for a cause can do their share by signing up for the T.A. Mahoney tournament scheduled for Picnic Island next month. "We are trying to raise money for the Tampa Boys & Girls Clubs," said Mike Mahoney, the tournament chairman. "I think one of the best things you can do for a child is get them started on fishing."

Next weekend's Suncoast Kingfish Classic, and a similar event scheduled for Treasure Island in May, will help raise money for Treasure Island Charities beneficiaries, which include the Pinellas Marine Institute and the Tampa-based Camp Good Days, for children who have cancer.

"These are tough times for all charities," said Jon Willis, the TIC executive director. "There aren't a lot of corporations out there willing to sponsor events, that is why it is so important that we try to draw as many anglers as possible."

Fishermen will be called upon to do their share next month, when the Clearwater Rotary holds its ninth annual Charity Kingfish Tournament. This event will benefit the Kimberly Home Pregnancy Center, UPARC and the Suncoast Children's Dream Fund.

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Tournament time

TODAY-SATURDAY: Spring on the Flats tournament, Renaissance Vinoy Resort, St. Petersburg; (727) 464-4985.

MARCH 31-APRIL 1: Sarasota Kingfish Classic, Treasure Island Charities (SKA sanctioned); (727) 363-0071.

APRIL 7: Spring Kingfish Classic, Billy's Stone Crab; (727) 542-3900.

APRIL 14: Rotary Club of Clearwater's Kingfish tournament; (813) 760-5533.

APRIL 14: Easter Kingfish tournament, Billy's Stone Crab; (727) 542-3900.

APRIL 19-20: Grand Ole Opry King Mackerel Sport Fishing tournament, Clearwater (SKA sanctioned); 1-800-443-7957.

APRIL 21: Redfish tour, Tampa Open, Tampa Bayside Marine; (813) 831-5757.

APRIL 21: T.A. Mahoney Fishing tournament, Picnic Island, Tampa; (813) 241-6500

APRIL 28: King of the Beach, Old Salts Fishing Club; (727) 328-7699.

MAY 4-6: Suncoast Kingfish Classic, Treasure Island (SKA sanctioned), Treasure Island Charities; (727) 363-0071.

MAY 12: TV John tournament, Old Salts Fishing Club; (727) 328-7699.

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