By Zachary Woltanski
Sept. 25 marked the ending of the Key Largo Rotary’s 22nd Annual Take Stock in Children Backcountry Challenge. All participants were invited to an awards banquet at the Elks Lodge in Tavernier, where they were celebrated for both their impressive fishing accomplishments and their contributions to local charity organization Take Stock in Children.
This year, the Rotary experienced tremendous success with their Backcountry Challenge. After a few years where COVID limited participation, the tournament returned with 55 anglers. Last year’s event raised over $40,000 for student scholarships (the Keys Weekly is waiting on this year’s fundraising total from event organizers). Money was raised both through sponsorships of the tournament and through a silent auction that also took place on Sept. 25, with more than 70 items went up for auction.
The Backcountry Fishing Tournament organized by the Key Largo Rotary raises money for Take Stock in Children, a local charity organization that supplies hundreds of thousands of dollars for Florida scholarships. Students can choose to sign up in middle school and high school for a Take Stock mentor. These scholarships do not merely allow for students to pursue a path to college success.
Take Stock also funds and supports vocational scholarships and job 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 funding.
“[The Backcountry Fishing Tournament] has been tremendously significant for Take Stock. It provides funds for scholarships and it’s grown over the years,” said Licis-Masson. “What better way to help students in this community than through fishing and doing what they enjoy?”
Also attending the event was Andrea Galvan, a Coral Shores graduate who spoke about the importance of the Take Stock program in finding her goals and achieving her dreams.
The tournament, which kicked off Sept. 23, promised a weekend of fishing to benefit Upper Key’s students. Anglers were split into five divisions, including the children’s division (anglers younger than 13), the junior division (13-17 year olds), the adult’s division, and the pro and guide divisions.
Winners of the event won prizes, which included paintings by Roberto “Pasta” Pantaleo. Winners were chosen based on the size of the fish they caught and released. In the kids division, Easton Meyers won for biggest trout, and the Junior Backcountry Champion was Chase Caputo, who caught the largest combined length of one redfish, one snook, and one trout. The prize for Backcountry Grand Champion went to Gene Kent, and the winner of Top Professional Angler was Chris Hanson. Other awards were given for the biggest individual catches of redfish, trout, and snook.
Most participants spoke highly of their experience with the tournament. Chloe Cummings, a 13-year-old who competed in the Junior Division, said that her “experience has been really fun.” Jack Brown, also 13, said that “I have been fishing since I was 2. I’ve been in maybe five other competitions [in addition to this one].”
C.A. Richardson, a celebrity fisherman and the host of Flats Class TV, also attended the event where he competed in the Pro Division. He has “a personal connection to the Take Stock program,” and believes that “for the people reading this who love backcountry fishing, this is a really great event to get involved in.”