Department of Leisure Services' Reel in the Fun tournament.
It was a balmy 75-degree Saturday morning, Feb. 27, at the Neptune Beach Approach, where 50 kids, ages 4-12, and their families gathered for the Reel in the Fun children’s fishing tournament, hosted by the city of Ormond Beach Department of Leisure Services.
Ike Leary, owner of Granada Pier Bait and Tackle, greeted participants as they strolled through the parking area toward the registration tent. The Learys have sponsored this event three times per year since it began in 2013.
“I’ve got 80 hot dogs and water for everyone,” Leary said. “They’ll go through them, too.”
Event organizer Sonja Johnson, the community events coordinator for Leisure Services, explained that ordinarily their February catch-and-release tournament is held at Central Park in Ormond Beach but due to the CDC’s COVID-19 restrictions regarding event spacing, they opted for the beach.
Moms, dads and grandparents helped their contestants bait hooks, net and remove fish, untangle lines and assisted with casting. Families embraced the wholesome activities and seemed to revel in disconnecting from pandemic-driven live-streaming. For Melissa and Nicholas Neumann, fishing is a way of life.
“Our very first date was fishing,” Nicholas said. “We took my stepdaughter, Emma Ball, freshwater fishing in Colorado on our families’ first date.”
After two hours of shore fishing, the horn blasted, the last fish were weighed, and the little anglers packed up their tools of the trade. Everyone gathered at the registration tent for the winners to be announced.
Eleven-year-old Brianna Lucas caught a 7-ounce whiting, which earned her a second place in the 10-12 category. Her father, Jeff Lucas, taught her how to fish four years ago, and she has since added a bonnethead shark to her conquests. Brianna is one of the four girls who placed in the event out of six winners. Aurora Zeckler placed first in the same category with an eight-ounce whiting.
“There are a lot of little lady anglers these days, and a lot of them win. This has become a girls’ sport, too,” Johnson said.
Winner of the 4-6 category was appropriately named: Marlon Smith caught two whitings. In the 7-9 category, the winners were: first-place, Melina Wright, 14-ounce whiting; second-place, Aiden Zaza, 12-ounce whiting; third-place, Lillian Piccola, 12-ounce whiting.
Granada Pier Bait and Tackle provided brand new fishing rods for the first-place winners while Fish Florida also sponsored the tournament and gave the remaining participants new fishing rods. Fish Florida is a nonprofit organization that helps hundreds of fishing and conservation education programs with donations of fishing equipment, grants and scholarships.
The next Reel in the Fun kids’ fishing tournament will be held at the Neptune Beach Approach the day before Father’s Day, Saturday, June 19.