"Most of the youngsters are new competitors to this 'tournament of champions' event," said Peter Gaube, the IGFA's Jr. Angler tournament director. "But we have several who again won their local competitions and are back to compete."
The girls and boys, ages 5 to 16, qualified for the all-release championship by winning one of the IGFA approved fishing tournaments held in the U.S. and the countries of Jamaica, Turks & Caicos and Papua New Guinea.
Neil Dupree, 14, Rocky Mount, N.C., won the Manteo Rotary Rockfish Rodeo and will be representing N.C.
Chip Wall,12, from Murrells Inlet, S.C. won the Junior Angler Division of South Carolina's Governor's Cup Billfish Series and will be representing S.C.
Anglers ages 5-10 will compete in the smallfry division; ages 11-16 in the junior division.
Gaube said the event, dedicated to young anglers, has been a resounding success since its inception in 2002 and continues to grow.
"The goal of the Mercury/IGFA JAWC and the qualifying tournaments that feed into it is to encourage youngsters under 17 to become involved in fishing, and to keep them interested in the sport," said Gaube. "Fishing promotes closer family relationships, plus these young fishermen are the conservationists of tomorrow."
Tournament officials said 865 fish were caught and released last year among the 33 young contestants and the eagerness grew with each hookup. Gaube added that the parents were having as much fun, living their love for fishing through each and every fish their youngsters boated and released.
The young contestants are accompanied by a parent and fish in pairs with another junior or small fry angler over two days for a variety of 23 eligible five to 25 point species.
The local Florida Keys guides are selected by the IGFA. Circle hooks are used with all live and dead bait.
We're also excited to have the crew from the Hook the Future TV shows at the event videotaping this year's tournament," said Gaube. "This will be one of 26 weekly episodes seen on Comcast Cable Southeast, The Fox Sports Net Florida and nationally on The Sportsman's Channel and The Water Channel (www.hookthefuture.com/).
The tournament starts Sunday afternoon with a social hour followed by an opening ceremony, dinner and rules meeting at the Double Tree Grand Key Resort, the host hotel. Each pair of anglers will draw for their boat and captain that evening. Fishing on Monday and Tuesday will begin and end at Oceanside Marina.
The young anglers are awarded points depending on species and degree of difficulty. The easier fish to catch in the five-point category are jacks (crevalle), yellowtail snappers, red grouper, mackerel (cero and Spanish) and ladyfish. Ten-point fish include barracuda, dolphinfish, grouper (black and gag), king mackerel, mutton snapper and any shark.
Little tunny are worth 15 points each and amberjacks and cobia are good for 20 points each. The successful catch and release for each sailfish, permit, tarpon, African pompano, tuna (yellowfin, blackfin) and wahoo are worth 25 points each.
There's no minimum length for eligible species, but a maximum of three fish of each species per day can be counted by each contestant. Any other fish are awarded two points each with a maximum of three per species and a minimum of 12 inches in length.
Overall Grand Champion titles will be awarded to the top anglers in each division. The boys and girls in each division catching and releasing the most species will also receive awards. A total of 22 awards will be presented including the top three scoring captains.
Besides title sponsor Mercury Marine, other sponsors include Boston Whaler, Shimano, Plano, Double Tree Grand Key Resort, Oceanside Marina, Rapala, King Sailfish Mounts, Key West Bait and Tackle, Reel Life Art, Publix, Berkley, Pelagic Clothes, FWC, Daiichi, Glenda and Pat Kelley and Gene and Bill DuVal and Hook the Future.
The junior championship is the latest addition to the IGFA junior angler program, which recognizes separate world records for boys and girls in over 200 species of salt and freshwater fish. The IGFA has Junior Angler Club members in over 50 countries.
Tournament directors of junior tournaments or adult tournaments with junior divisions are encouraged to contact Gaube at 954-924-4247 or firstname.lastname@example.org for complete details on how to become a qualifying tournament for the junior championship. Parents who fish in tournaments with junior divisions should notify tournament officials of this exciting new opportunity.
For further information, contact the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, 300 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach, Florida 33004; phone 954-927-2628, fax: 954-924-4299, www.igfa.org.