Soldiers win team honors at the Cheeca Lodge All-American Fishing Tournament

Weather conditions were rough and windy in the Florida Keys during the Second Annual Cheeca Lodge All American Backcountry Fishing Tournament, but a tenacious group of 30 anglers fishing on 22 boats managed to release a remarkable 193 gamefish over two days of fishing: 97 snook, 75 redfish, 13 tarpon, seven bonefish and one permit Nov. 9 and 10.

Individual Grand Champion honors went to James Bokor of Tavernier, Florida, who released 10 snook and 10 redfish for a total of 1,935 points. Bokor, a well-known name on the tournament circuit, was guided by Frank Ortiz of Key Largo.

“I’m honored and humbled to win this tournament because it’s fashioned after one of my favorite events, The George Bush/Cheeca Lodge Bonefish Tournament, which I fished for many years,” Bokor said.

Runner-Up Grand Champion was Samuel Rose of Miami, releasing six snook and 10 redfish for a total of 1,935 points. Rose was guided by Mike Hutchisson, also from Miami.

In a fitting tribute to Veteran’s Day, active duty soldier Rob Dixon of Clarksville, Tenn. and wounded soldier Kevin Willette of Chicopee, Mass., were the Grand Champion Team. Fishing with Guide Mike Makowski, the soldiers racked up a total of 2,780 points. Dixon is a Chief Warrant Officer of the 5th Special Forces Group. Willette completed his service as Army Specialist. Both were ecstatic with their win, having never fished in the Florida Keys before. “Spending time with our guide Mike was amazing,” said Willette. “We never would have won without him. He is the best. This was one of the highlights of my life.”

Fishing legend Stu Apte and his partner, Art Webb from Virginia Beach, Va., took home Runner Up Grand Champion Team honors. Guided by Tavernier’s Steve Thomas, they scored a total of 2,650 points, inching out Dale DePriest and Guy Fullhart by a mere 40 points. Webb also landed Grand Champion honors in the Fly Division, releasing an impressive two snook and five tarpon on fly ( 1,800 points). Apte took home the Artificial Division Grand Champion honors with one redfish, four snook and one tarpon and 850 points, winning by just 25 points!

General Division Champion Angler was Chief Warrant Officer Rob Dixon, releasing eight snook and nine redfish. He was deployed for the first time during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He has returned to serve his country five more times in Iraq. This decorated soldier has been awarded four Bronze Stars and two Army Commendation Awards. Dixon joined the service in 1994, and after completing Military Occupational School and Jump School, he volunteered for the Special Forces. “In the military, I found myself. I found out who I am. I also gained perspective; what’s important in life,” he said.

Soon after the tournament, Officer Dixon will head to Afghanistan for the first time. “I’m looking forward to it. There is a unit there who needs me, and I want to be there for them,” he said. Next year he will retire and hopes to enroll into law school. Dixon’s teammate Sargeant Willette had the honor of pinning the Purple Heart on his father when he arrived in Afghanistan. Shortly after that, he was injured when his forward operating base was attacked. General David Petraeus honored this soldier with the Bronze Star of Valor for his heroic actions.

Angler Jeff Sanders from Macon, Georgia, released an 18-pound permit during a torrential Keys downpour to take home the Most Outstanding Catch trophy. Sanders was thrilled with his permit, and added it to his list of tarpon and bonefish to finish out his Keys Grand Slam. His guide was Lonnie Shaw from Islamorada.

Tournament fishing headquarters was World Wide Sportsman, Islamorada’s premier headquarters for fishing in the Florida Keys.

Proceeds benefit the George Hommell Jr. Florida Keys Habitat Fund, established this year by the Bonefish Tarpon Trust in honor of Islamorada fishing icon George Hommell, Jr. who died about two months ago. The BTT is an organization of concerned anglers and guides who are dedicated to conserving and enhancing global bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and their environments through stewardship, research, education and advocacy.

Wells Fargo Bank, BCF Boom Your Brand travel marketing firm and the Florida Keys Key West’s fishing umbrella were the All American’s major sponsors. Other sponsors included Simms, Costa, Executive Printers of Florida, Printing Plus, Tommy Bahama, Floral Fantasy Gifts, Linens More, Reef Safe, Florida Keys Outfitters, World Wide Sportsman, Frigid Rigid, Blue Marlin Jewelry, D.O.A. Yo-Zuri and the Green Turtle.

For more information about Cheeca Lodge, visit www.cheeca.com. For information about Islamorada and the Florida Keys, visit www.fla-keys.com.

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