Key Largo Woman Named Grand Champion Angler at Fish for Holly Sailfish Tournament
The Fish for Holly Sailfish Tournament set a new tournament record with 165 sailfish releases, achieved by large field of 334 registered anglers fishing on 70 boats. The popular Upper Keys event ended Jan. 6 in Islamorada.
Grand champion angler Melissa Stevens of Key Largo, Florida, reeled in and released five sailfish while fishing on Back in Business with Captain Robert Collins of Islamorada.
Stevens also snagged the top female angler award and helped lead her Trisea Seakeepers-sponsored team of anglers aboard Back in Business to victory as top boat with 11 sailfish releases.
The team was awarded the perpetual Release Marine trophy housed at Tackle Center of Islamorada and an invitation to the Offshore World Championship in Quepos, Costa Rica, to represent Islamorada and the Fish for Holly tournament on an international platform.
Stevens received the traditional diamond hook necklace presented each year to the top female angler, representative of a necklace that tournament namesake Holly Given always wore. Given was a young Florida Keys woman who was tragically killed in a domestic violence incident.
Key Largo captain Scott Stoky on GTB scored eight releases to earn second-place boat honors, while Islamorada captain Sean O’Donnell led the Carolina Reel Men boat team to third with seven releases.
Top male angler Tommy Rodberg of Islamorada scored five releases fishing on GTB. In second place, Matt McLean from Naples, Florida, released three sailfish on Back in Business.
The third-place male angler title went to Kenny Longaker with two sailfish on the Reel Hawk with Captain Taylor Walsh. Both Longaker and Walsh are from Islamorada.
Caroline Hendrix of Islamorada took second place in the female angler division with four sailfish releases achieved while fishing on Carolina Reel Men with Captain Sean O’Donnell.
In third was Logan Spaulding with three releases. The Islamorada angler fished on Caribsea with her father, Islamorada’s Captain Kenny Spaulding.
Top junior angler, 14-year-old Sawyer Hendrix of Islamorada, brought in two sailfish while fishing on Provider with Captain Brooks Gregory, also from Islamorada. This was Hendrix’s third consecutive year as grand champion junior angler.
In second place, Rylan Solis of Islamorada, fishing in his first tournament, brought in two sailfish on the GTB with Captain Scott Stoky. Solis celebrated his 11th birthday five days before the tournament.
Fourteen-year-old Nash Andruski of Key Largo was named third-place junior angler. He fished on 4 Aces with Islamorada’s Captain Brian Ruiz, bringing in one sailfish.
Fun fish awards were given to the anglers with the largest dolphin (mahi-mahi), tuna and kingfish.
Zach Cov from Delmar, Maryland, snagged the largest dolphin fish, which weighed in at 21 pounds. He fished on the Kay K IV with Islamorada’s Captain David Galen.
The largest tuna, weighing 16.2 pounds, was caught by Bruce Devlin of Islamorada while fishing on Smilemaker with Captain Bill Sullivan of Naples.
The largest kingfish, weighing 17.5 pounds, was reeled in by Amy Jones from Monroe, Georgia, while fishing on the Miss Holly with Islamorada’s Captain Jack Given — Holly Given’s brother.
Now one of the largest tournaments in the Keys, the Fish for Holly tournament is intended to raise awareness about domestic violence and provide financial support for South Florida domestic abuse shelters, along with scholarships for career training and education for young adults.