Outdoors | Kayaks bring chance to Hernando Desoto Fishing Tournament

Desoto Fishing Tournament adds kayaks for 18th edition

jlembo@bradenton.comJuly 13, 2014 

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Dominc Lenoci, 4, shows the crowd that he can name the different types of fish caught at the DeSoto Fishing Tournament during the tournament on Sunday. Special to the Herald-Ted Mase

TED MASE — Ted Mase

BRADENTON -- If you made a list of things that need to be tweaked, chances are the Hernando Desoto Fishing Tournament would be ranked near the bottom.

Now in its 18th year, the tournament is an area institution and a highlight of the season for most local anglers.

But that doesn't mean it is above change.

To wit, this year's edition added divisions for kayaks and ladies and a kids pee wee division, and the top prize to the offshore division winner was bumped to $7,500 from $5,000. It's the tournament's largest payout.

"In the past, we've tried to add different categories," said Jeff Rodgers, the tournament's co-chairman. "Some things we've grown with, others didn't."

The idea to add a division for kayakers came from Steve Traves, the owner of AMI Outfitters on Anna Maria Island and past president of the Kayak Anglers of West Florida.

"He told me there were 400 members in his association," Rodgers said. "We told him we were going to make it a category this year, and he said he would continue to help us."

Traves' store gives him a front-row seat to kayaking's booming popularity, and he commended the tournament's committee for helping further the trend.

"Tournaments are just slow to change. Until they got a lot of requests, they're stuck in what they're doing," Traves said. "Running a tournament is tough, and a lot of volunteer hours go into it. I think they do a terrific job, and I just think it's a case of people coming forward.

"It's still a growing sport."

The area's shallow waters make kayaking popular, Traves said, as does the price. Kayaks are not nearly as expensive as boats and are much easier to maintain.

"Someone can get into it for $2,000 instead of $20,000," he said. "Kayaks, you just hose them off.

"When I go to the trade shows, it's very evident then," Traves said of sport's burgeoning popularity, "and with all the phone calls and inquiries I get. Obviously, it's here to stay."

While the kayak division was added to lure kayakers, the increase in the offshore division's top prize was to lure anglers from areas outside of Sarasota and Manatee counties. Rodgers said it worked, as boats from Clearwater to Fort Myers took part in this year's tournament.

"We wanted to attract more offshore boats," Rodgers said. "Most were local, now we're drawing boats from the whole west coast (of Florida)."

While the fishing is the centerpiece of the tournament, what makes it so special, Rodgers said, is it appeals to everyone. Consequently, it should continue to its role as one of Bradenton's most enduring institutions.

"We try and incorporate the whole community, like we do with our seafood event," Rodgers said. "It's about families and children and quality time, and we have food vendors, arts and crafts vendors. ... It follows the same vein as all of our events -- we try and include the community."

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