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Catching a good time: Kids memorial fishing tournament is bait for family fun

PALMETTO — About 200 young anglers and their families filled the Green Bridge Fishing Pier on Saturday morning for the Jerry Hill Memorial Kids Fishing Tournament.

The 23rd annual and recently renamed event brought out families who sweated out a muggy morning but were treated to prizes for all the kids ages 7 to 14 — along with hot dogs and Tropicana orange juice.

The event was sponsored by Manatee/Sarasota Fish & Game Association, Palmetto Kiwanis, Bradenton Kiwanis and the City of Palmetto’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Using only sardines and squid provided by tournament committee members, the kids caught a variety of fish: Sting rays, mangrove snapper, catfish, redfish, Spanish mackerel, grouper, jack crevalle, needle fish, puffer fish and dog fish.

The tournament was recently renamed in honor of former Bradenton Herald outdoors writer Jerry Hill, who recently passed away. Hill used to call the tournament the “Dogfish Classic” because of all the small dogfish that are traditionally caught, and once again, the tournament didn’t disappoint.

The largest fish caught, in the 7-year-old division, was a 24-inch sting ray by Ronald Erickson. The smallest was a 1-inch guppy.

Dogfish were caught aplenty.

The Green Bridge Fishing Pier is perhaps not the best Manatee County pier to fish from, especially if the bite is slow, but the down time did allow family time and some unlikely catches.

“I caught a rock,” Reine Thormodson said. “It was huge.”

Noah Thurnau, a 10-year-old from Parrish, never got to see the fish that blasted his sardine on the east side of the pier.

“Whatever I had almost took off with my fishing pole,” Thurnau said. “I went for my pole, and the fish just got off.”

The most popular catch was the tasty mangrove snapper. Unfortunately for those who hooked into snapper, it was a catch-and-release tournament.

Brian Owen, 9, from Sarasota, had only fished for an hour when he told his father Ed, “I’m tired of this. Let’s go home.”

“You’ve got to be patient when fishing,” his dad responded.

That’s when Brian reeled in mangrove snapper of 13, 12 and 10 inches on sardines.

Every kid was given a prize, including a T-shirt and bag with a boating and angling guide to Tampa Bay, and a kids fishing catalog that shows how to tie knots, clean fish and protect fishing habitats.

Mary Sheppard, a Manatee County Planning Commissioner, on-and-off board member of Manatee-Sarasota Fish and Game since 1987 and an advocate of habitat conservation, brought her granddaughter, Stacey, to the tournament.

“This tournament is very important,” Sheppard said. “This is something fisher people can look forward to every year.”

Stacey agreed.

“You get to go fishing,” she said, “and it doesn’t matter what you catch. Technically, you all win because you all get a prize.”