May 1 marks the opening of hogfish and grouper fishing season here in the Florida Keys. For the last two years, it’s also been the date of the Jeff Leonia Reel & Steel Classic, a fishing tournament dedicated to a local captain lost too soon. 

Leonia grew up on Marco Island in Naples and spent his weekends, summers and holidays in the Keys. In our waters, he found his home, his friends and his community. As an adult, he chose to make the Keys his permanent home, moving to Islamorada to dive, spearfish, captain and live a life immersed in the sea. 

On Nov. 18, 2019, Leonia passed away suddenly in a car accident. He was just 24. Since then, the Keys community that welcomed him has grieved for him, remembered him and honored him by “living like Jeff.”  To those who knew Leonia best, that phrase means living each day to the fullest, helping everyone you can and enjoying every possible moment on our beautiful waters. 

In 2020, Leonia’s good friend and fellow captain Tony Young created a fishing tournament to make good on his mission to embody his fallen friend’s spirit. The annual event falls on hogfish and grouper opening day because it was always one of Leonia’s favorites. 

“Grouper/hogfish opener is a busy day on the water,” Young said. “Jeff loved this day. Everyone looks forward to hunting these fish on the season opening day. My best advice is to get out early and set up where you want to fish or dive.”

You can fish by scuba, freediving or fishing rod/reel. There are different categories of prizes for each, as there are for men vs. women and for each fish type. Prizes are awarded for 1st through 3rd. Registration is $200. 

This year, Young tells the Weekly, there’s also a new juniors category to get young anglers and divers involved. The entry fee is waived for juniors. 

Kickoff is on Apr. 30 at 6 p.m. at Angler House Marina in Islamorada. House rules will be shared at 7 p.m. Hunting/fishing happens the next day, May 1. Tournament weigh in is from 4 to 5:30 p.m, with tournament dinner at 6 p.m. and awards at 7 p.m. 

For more information or to register, visit www.livelikejeff.com or call Janice Drimer at 919-414-4300.


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Tiff Duong is a self-made mermaid who loves all things cheesy (romantic and dairy) and thrives in the 3 am hour. She believes in leaving it all on the field and has never met a (mis)adventure she didn't love.