Key West, Florida Keys,
16:33 PM

Texas Angler Wins March Merkin Tournament in Florida Keys Waters

Robert Dougherty of Dallas, Texas, caught and released two permit to win the 2024 March Merkin Permit Tournament that ended March 14.

Dougherty’s permit, both caught on the tournament’s third and final fishing day, measured 56 and 74 centimeters for a combined total of 130 centimeters. Metric measurement is used to conform with International Game Fish Association preferences.

Fishing with guide Nick LaBadie of Key West, Dougherty was named grand champion angler in the hotly contested tournament.

Acclaimed as among the globe’s most competitive catch-and-release permit challenges, the March Merkin began in 2006 and is hosted by the Lower Keys Guides Association. The nonprofit is an organization of professional fishing guides dedicated to sustainable fisheries management and a flourishing sport-fishing community.

“Most anglers and guides say permit are the hardest fish to catch consistently in the entire Florida Keys island chain, but this is one of the best years of fishing we've had in recent history,” said Allison Delashmit, the association’s executive director. 

“There were 11 fish caught this year, and our anglers felt fortunate to have this many on the scoreboard,” Delashmit added.

The first runner-up angler was Mike Ward of Spokane, Washington. Guided by Brandon Cyr of Key West, Ward released two permit with a combined length of 115 centimeters.

The largest individual permit released during the tournament measured 77 centimeters. It was caught by Jose Ucan of Punta Allen, Mexico, who was also named the second runner-up angler. Ucan was guided by Justin Rea of Sugarloaf Key, Florida.

Twenty-four teams of permit enthusiasts fished the 2024 March Merkin.

As well as providing a celebrated angling challenge, the tournament stages a silent auction that benefits the Lower Keys Guides Association and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, which helps conserve and restore bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats.

Tournament director Jessyca LaBadie reported that the 2024 auction set a new event record by raising more than $63,000 for the two organizations.