— Alyssa Mathis loves to fish but for a reason one would never guess.
This 7-year-old angler from Bayshore Gardens in Manatee County loves to filet the fishes she catches to carefully inspect what each one ate. She’s a mini marine biologist.
“The last fish I caught was a catfish, and before that a flounder and I looked inside the flounder and they ate fish, little tiny fish, and crabs and I took them out and held them,” Alyssa said.
Alyssa won $250 for catching the biggest pinfish during Saturday’s fifth annual Catch and Release Kid’s Fishing Tournament, which was part of the ninth annual Adult Fire Charity Fishing Tournament at Bradenton Yacht Club in Palmetto.
Alyssa’s winning pinfish was 10.5-inches long.
Asked what she will do with the money, Alyssa said: “Buy a swimming pool.”
“Well, it’s her money to spend,” mom Christine Mathis said of her precocious daughter.
Alyssa was among a record 66 little anglers who took up an entire wall of the yacht club while casting and reeling.
The tournament was created by East Manatee Fire Rescue firefighter Lt. Erik Nicholson to raise money for the Children’s Burn Foundation of Florida Inc. to continue to put on its annual camp for youngsters who have been burned.
The burn camp at the Florida Elks Youth Camp in Umatilla is held every November. The camp is a place where burned children can gather together for a few days and forget they look different, a place where they can develop new friendships and build their self-esteem by realizing others have had similar experiences, Nicholson said.
Last year the Fire Charity Fishing Tournment raised $12,000 for the burn camp, Nicholson added.
“I’ve been a fireman and a fisherman here in Manatee County for 20 years,” Nicholson said when asked what inspired him to create the tournament. “As soon as I heard of the Children’s Burn Foundation of Florida, I put those two words together — children and burns — and you know you don’t want to ever see those words together. It was the cause that inspired us.”
To show how dedicated he is to the salt life, Nicholson and his wife, Stephanie, named their two young boys, Fisher and Finn.
Alyssa, whose mom paid the $15 entrance fee for her, shared the spotlight with a half dozen other prize winners whose combined total length of fish caught put them over the top.
Clayton Drao hauled in a 16.5-inch catfish to win first place in the age 5-8 division. Clayton won a half-day fishing charter from Capt. Nate Weissman or Capt. Chad Gamble.
Wyatt Ferguson’s 14.5-inch catfish took second place and he won a rod and reel “combo.”
Marina Christie’s 14.5-inch catch took third, which won her a tackle box.
In the 9-12 division, which got the same lineup of prizes, Keegan O’Connor hauled in a 23.5-inch stingray to take first place.
Cody Kerley landed a 20-inch remora for second place and Savannah Dalton took third with a 17-inch stingray.
Patrick George didn’t catch anything but the owner of Jersey Mike’s in Bradenton contributed 75 lunches for contestants, while Discount Tackle supplied rods, reels and other items for the runners-up and Trophy Case supplied medals for the winners, said Erin Craft, who created the kid’s tournament five years ago.
“It takes about a dozen volunteers to put this on and they really want to make it fun for the kids,” Craft said. “You could really sense a community spirit out here today.”