Kids Fishing Tournament

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Family-Friendly Holiday Staple

The 28th annual Kids Fishing Tournament hosted by the Ostego Bay Foundation & Marine Science Center will be held Saturday, June 27, at Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café at 702 Fishermans Wharf on San Carlos Island. It is for children age 3 to 15, with registration at 8:30 a.m.; the tourney from 9 a.m. to Noon, with lunch and an Awards Ceremony to follow. The Kids Fishing Tournament is free thanks to the Ostego Bay Foundation & Marine Science Center, Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café, and several generous local sponsors. Young anglers are limited to one fishing pole, with one hook per pole.

“The Kids Fishing Tournament has actually been going on longer than 28 years,” related Joanne Semmer, President of the Ostego Bay Foundation, Inc. “My sister Betty Hill and I did it as part of the Shrimp Festival, but when my brother Bill bought Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café, we began to host it there, first as part of the Fourth of July celebrations back when our family did the fireworks displays. Now we schedule it the Saturday prior to the Fourth, so as not to compete with other annual events, although those will not happen this year due to coronavirus precautions.”

Joanne explained that the Kids Fishing Tournament is a perfect family program because “you get outside and into nature! It is great to see Moms and Dads and aunts and uncles and neighbors all come out with the kids; in fact, some families even schedule their vacations to coincide with the tournament! Many of us will never forget the memory of landing that first little trophy!”

Bill Semmer fires a small cannon at 9 a.m. to start the tournament, then again at noon to conclude it. “Once that second blast goes off, kids and families get in line for a free lunch of hot dogs, chips and cookies,” Joanne explained. “While they do that, the Tournament Committee retreats to the Marine Science Center to calculate who wins which trophies and prizes, to announce after lunch. In addition to lunch, watermelon is available to snack on throughout the morning and we provide water and juice drinks, but not sodas or anything loaded with sugar.”

As for the Awards Ceremony, kids receive trophies and prizes for who catches the most fish, as well as the longest and heaviest catches, and the first fish caught of the day. “While there is definitely skill involved in fishing,” acknowledged Joanne, “most of these prizes come down to dumb luck – any of the children, whether 5 or 12-years-old, can catch the first fish or the longest or heaviest. There is just one prize per child, so no one can dominate the event, as often the longest and heaviest fish can be the same, so the prize in that case goes to the runner-up. The prizes are terrific, including fishing poles, long and small nets, and tackle boxes.”

Coronavirus Precautions

Like everything else in our ‘New Normal,’ the threat of the coronavirus necessitates safety precautions for this year’s tournament. “We will follow all social distancing guidelines,” Joanne stressed, “to keep the kids and their families at least 6 feet apart, with masks and gloves to pass out and hand sanitizers for everyone. There is actually so much room at Bonita Bill’s, however, that it is usually never that crowded, even though we average around 120 kids each year.”

Kids FIshing Tournament-Fort Myers Beach
Can’t beat that “I caught a fish!” smile! Photos by Sarah List.

Joanne offered a tip of her hat to the Kids Fishing Tournament volunteers! “Last year we had about 30 who did everything from untangling fishing lines to passing out the watermelon to helping to prepare and serve the lunch to keeping track of every single fish that the kids catch, so we could not host a big event like this without them. The Tarpon Club members provide advice on how to reel in the big one! What is neat about some of our volunteers is that after kids age-out at 16, many return to help us and assist the younger kids – they really know how to pay it back!”

Speaking of the sponsors of the event, Joanne added, “We are so grateful to all of our community partners who share our ideals and continue their support every year. They make this event possible that creates such lasting childhood memories!”

Marine Science Center

“Our Ostego Bay Marine Science Center is the best-kept secret in Lee County, now in our 29th year,” said Joanne. The Marine Science Center features exhibits and hands-on experiences that explain the Southwest Florida estuary system, along with displays on Calusa Indian history, shells, the Mound House, lobsters, crabs, nesting sea turtles, sea stars, horse conch that is Florida’s state shell, clams, sand dollars, sea horses and dolphin, along with stingray, flounder, and horseshoe crabs in the Touch Tank.

The Marine Science Center is at 718 Fishermans Wharf on San Carlos Island, under the Matanzas Pass Bridge, with access via Main Street. Presently, due to the Ostego Bay Foundation Summer Camps, it is only open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with donations appreciated. In addition to the Marine Science Center, the Ostego Bay Foundation offers the in-season Working Waterfront Tours, Florida Master Naturalist Program, Marine Summer Camps for kids ages 6 to 15, and the Ostego Bay Oil Spill Co-op environmental response team training program. Founded in 1991, the Ostego Bay Foundation, Inc., is a self-funded 501c3 nonprofit educational organization. Its mission is to promote the understanding, preservation and enhancement of the unique SWFL marine environment through education, research and community involvement. Visit www.ostegobay.org  or call 239-765-8101.

Sea Turtles & 3 Generations

What Joanne most enjoys about the Kids Fishing Tournament is “you never know what will happen from one year to the next! Once a child caught a shark; another time a tarpon. One of my all-time favorite stories is that some of the children complained to us that there was a sea turtle stealing the bait right off their hooks, and we thought they were telling us a tall tale, until sure enough we spotted an 18-inch sea turtle doing just that! We have been doing this for so long now that not only do we have former tournament kids who are now parents and bringing their own children, but recently we had one of those kids with their baby. While the toddler was obviously too young to participate yet, we are now just a year or two away from having our first third-generation participant!

For Joanne, the annual tournament is a labor of love! “It is a pleasure to host the Kids Fishing Tournament because the children are so well-behaved, polite, appreciative and wonderful! This is one of my favorite events of the entire year. It is so much fun, does not cost the children or their families a penny, the volunteers are dedicated and hard-working, and everything we do is for the kids!”