Cheeca Lodge & Spa celebrated Veteran’s Day with its inaugural All American Backcountry Fishing Tournament, wrapping up two days of brisk backcountry action on Sunday, November 11. What was unique about this tournament was that Cheeca partnered with the Montana-based Warriors & Quiet Waters Foundation to bring Wounded Warriors to the tournament. The Foundation provides injured U.S. servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan with a high-quality restorative program, utilizing the therapeutic experience of fly fishing.
Twenty-two anglers fishing on 16 boats competed in a number of different categories. All attendees felt the pride and camaraderie that sprang from the soldiers.
“We were very honored to have these distinguished servicemen at our event, said Cheeca’s General Manager, Herbert Spiegel. “Our goal was to make the All American the most impressive and celebrated fishing tournament in the Keys, and I think we did just that,” he said.
Proceeds benefited the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, an organization of concerned anglers and guides who are dedicated to conserving and enhancing global bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and their environments.
Fly Division Champion Angler was John Rix from West Sussex, England who released five snook and 10 redfish for a total of 1,950 points. His guide was Chris Jones.
Grand Champion Angler was Wade Davis from Pompano Beach, Florida. Guided by Capt. Richard Black, Davis released two tarpon, 10 snook, and 10 redfish for a tournament total of 2,840 points.
The Grand Champion Team trophies went to Jeff Harkavy from Coral Springs, Florida, and Steve Stanley from St. Petersburg, Florida. Both are Executive Board Members of the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, the tournament’s beneficiary. Harkavy caught seven snook and 10 redfish; Stanley released 10 snook and 10 redfish for team total points of 4,150 points.
Runner Up Grand Champion Angler was Mitch Howell from Plantation, Florida, who released one tarpon, 10 snook and 10 redfish for a total of 2,610 points.
In a stunning display of perseverance and skill, Capt. Blake Smith USMC (Ret.) from San Diego and Gunnery Sargent Brian Meyer from Oceanside California, took home the Runner Up Grand Champion Team trophies. Smith released two tarpon, five snook and 10 redfish. Meyer released three tarpon, one snook and seven redfish for a team total of 3,185 points. They were fishing with Capt. Mike Makowski. Smith and Makowski also took home the Grand Champion Angler and Guide trophies in the Bait Division with a total of 1,200 points.
Grand Champion Angler and Guide in the Artificial Division were Steve Stanley and Capt. Steve Thomas, with 2,125 points.
Most Outstanding Catch Award went to Blake Smith for releasing a backcountry slam, including his first tarpon, redfish and snook -- just moments before his teammate, Brian Meyer. Both veteran soldiers were fishing in their first tournament ever, and hooked up a tarpon double header on the first day.
“It came down to the wire,” said Gunnery Sargent Meyer. A bomb technician, Meyer was severely injured in Afghanistan on March 14, 2011. He spent a month in the hospital and five months in physical therapy. “It came down to lots of luck and a supportive family,” he said.
He credits his wife, Jesseca, for his miraculous recovery. “Our caregivers go through as much as we do. Jessica remembers everything, all the agony from the beginning. We really appreciate everything that Cheeca and the Warriors and Quiet Waters have done for our spouses at this tournament. I’d come back in a heartbeat.”
About Wounded and Quiet Waters
The Foundation provides traumatically injured servicemen and women from Iraq and Afghanistan with a restorative program, utilizing loving service and the sport of fly fishing in serene surroundings as a healing therapy. "Angling brings hope and serenity to the mind, said W&QW President, Col Eric Hastings, USMC (Ret).
"Fly fishing helps these wounded warriors learn to deal with the impact of life-altering injuries while staying fully engaged in a productive life. It builds resilience."