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Fishing and fun in Emerson Point tournament

MANATEE — When Bruce Hager took over as a volunteer United Way coordinator for Manatee County Public Works about two months ago, he knew exactly what his first priority would be: Put the fun back in fundraising.

How would he do that?

For starters, Hager organized a kids fishing tournament.

After about eight weeks of planning, 55 children ages 5 through 15 arrived at Emerson Point in Palmetto on Saturday morning ready to brave the summer heat and catch some fish.

As far as Hager is concerned, it was a rousing success.

“Everybody had a fantastic time,” Hager said.

Not everyone caught a fish — “I asked those who didn’t catch a fish to raise their hands, and about 15 of them did” — but no one went home empty-handed.

Thanks to donations from area businesses, every kid and their family went home with some sort of prize, whether it be a gift certificate from Mote Marine, Fisherman’s Headquarters, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Hooters or Outback, or maybe a door prize that included plastic lures and D.O.A. jigs.

The first-place finishers in each division — ages 5-8, 9-11 and 12-15 — received a half-day fishing charter from area captains Erik Nicholson, Chad Gamble and Tony Blizzard.

Not bad for a first-year event, and Hager hopes it’s the start of something big.

“I hope one day, when I’m retired, I’ll be coming to the 20th annual kids fishing tournament,” Hager said.

The top-five finishers in each group were as follows:

n 5-8-year-olds: 1. Michael Shoeman, 2. Wit Johnson, 3. A.J. Koller, 4. Austin Hinson, 5. Gavin Hughes.

n 9-11-year-olds: 1. Rand Folds, 2. Joann Gigliotti, 3. Robert Cavazos, 4. Joey Hughes, 5. Michael Bush.

n 12-15-year-olds: 1. Tashia Troxler, 2. Jeff Streitmatter, 3. Dakoda Dossy, 4. Gabe Streitmatter, 5. Garrett Donahue.