The fish were “reeling” Saturday as young anglers participated in the fourth annual Lines in the Lagoon Tri-County Junior Angler Fishing Tournament. The tournament provides a platform to educate the next generation about the importance of keeping the waterways clean and working to reverse the declining health of the Indian River Lagoon.
More than 100 anglers did their best to catch and release as many fish as possible between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., and were then joined by family and friends for an awards ceremony at the Capt. Hiram’s Sandbar, where they shared stories about “the one that got away” and received prizes for redfish, snapper, snook and trout, the largest non-premium fish, a Jack Crevalle, and the ugliest fish, a lizardfish.
Neil Helseth took home the title of Grand Champion, proving his fishing prowess with six snook that measured a total of 134 inches.
“The lagoon has been in decline for a very long time; really as long as we can remember. Four years ago we decided to come together and fight for something that we’ve been surrounded by our whole lives,” shared Bryce Hauser. “At first, Lines in the Lagoon was just an idea. It was scary and uncomfortable to try and make our idea a reality as just a group of ninth-grade kids. But through hard work and persistence, it’s become a major organization within the Treasure Coast community.”
In addition to raising awareness and attracting like-minded preservationists, the first three tournaments raised roughly $104,000 to fund programs at the Ocean Research & Conservation Association and Coastal Conservation Association of Florida.
“I’ve seen a big change in the boys since they first started,” said Jennifer Croom, LITL parent organizer. “The goal of this whole event wasn’t a fundraiser. The boys know it’s their generation that’s going to have to solve the lagoon’s problems.”
Florida Institute of Technology research indicates that the lagoon is home to more than 3,000 species – 2,000 plant, 600 fish, 300 bird and 53 threatened or endangered species – that are suffering from a half-century of neglect and pollution.
“I’m so proud of what they are doing,” said Craig Fletcher, a Vero Beach native and former city mayor, of his grandsons Jacob, Bennett and Owen Collins, who were involved with the tournament. “We had so few things like this when I was growing up. People weren’t interested in the lagoon in those days because there was no pollution. You could catch anything you wanted to out there. Nowadays you’re lucky if you go all day and you catch something. It’s really sad.”
“It’s been a journey to see the whole thing grow,” said Quinn Hiaasen. “We never anticipated that we would have this many anglers or raise this much money. It’s great to be able to show this many kids what the lagoon is all about and how to use it safely. This is a resource that we use all the time, and it’s something everyone should care about; not just people who use it regularly, because it affects all of us whether you fish or not.”
For more information, visit linesinthelagoon.com.