“Let’s host the first open spring SKA [Southern Kingfish Association] Fishing Tournament this year,” Steven Cooper said to his dad Mike one evening.

The Cooper family (Mickey and Annie) founded Pelican Bend Restaurant on the Isles of Capri and have reared their children and grandchildren on the isles, with most of the family members working (at least part of the time) in their family seafood restaurant.

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Giving Steven an inquisitive eye, Mike asked him – “You really think we can do that?” That was all the introduction young Cooper needed. He and his wife Morgan put the pedal to the medal and pulled it off big time, so big that plans are for it to be repeated next year.

What may have inspired the Coopers to take on such an ambitious task may have been the thrill Steven had on that blustery Saturday, Feb. 3 afternoon in 2011 in the Marquesas Keys of Old Key West, when he and his teammates on the Triple J team brought in a 66.67 pound kingfish, fishing on a 32-foot Yellow Fin lead by owner P.J. Myers. This was quite a catch, but certainly not anything near record-breaking, but it turned out to be the third largest fish in SKA history at that time and landed them a boat as a prize.

The SKA Tournament on March 24 and 25 hosted by Pelican Bend was a “one day fish” event – March 25. There were 25 boats participating from numerous locations in and around Florida. Initially 35 boats had registered, but ten pulled out fearing bad weather. All of the proceeds from the event went to the Freedom Waters Foundation (FWF).

The FWF Veterans program began in 2012. It provides marine activities for veterans and their family members, offering them an opportunity to relax, leave their concerns on the dock and enjoy cruising with other veterans in a safe, enriching environment. This program has helped many veterans who have isolated themselves in their homes, not sure how to navigate in the world after coming back from combat.

It was a happy day for all entrees this March 25 as all teams came back with a kingfish to weigh in.

“This was the best fishing day of my life,” said Captain Jeff Smith, a local on Capri and captain of team Hooter Haven. Even though Smith’s team did not come in first place, he had a great time.

“The minute we began fishing, we never stopped,” said Smith. “We never even turned off our motors, but kept meandering around our spots and kept pulling them in!” said Smith. Fishing with him was his friend Dave Beatty and Ron Hershel. Beatty was a newcomer to fishing in the competition, but said he had a great time.

“I was wet from the onset until the end, and never realized how much work was involved,” said Beatty. “The blue runner bait, which we eventually ran out of, had the kingfish skying -- jumping 15 feet in the air with the blue runners in their mouths,” said Smith wide-eyed. Smith said they went through 49 blue runners and two dozen mullet.

Prizes were awarded for overall, single engine, lady, senior and junior anglers. Although bringing in the largest kingfish was the overall goal, there were prizes also for barracuda. There were prizes for high roller, Calcutta and winner take all. The king mackerel or kingfish is a migratory species of mackerel of the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and it is an important species to both commercial and recreational fishing industries. According to the fishermen, kingfish do not have great endurance, but they are very fast. They often take 100 to 200 yards of line off the reel in the first 30 seconds of the fight.

During the day as guests were awaiting the weigh-ins with the deadline being 6 p.m., Pelican Bend was cranking out the specialties on their new Sunset Hour Menu. The most popular items seemed to be their hogfish tacos and shrimp sliders topped with fried green tomatoes. In addition, members of the Key West Smoked Fish Company passed around samples of their Smilin’ Bob’s Smoked Fish Dip to the delight of all. This dip is made with king mackerel.

“We have been following the SKA Tournament around for the past three years,” said Tom Kelly.  “We make a generous donation to the SKA and in turn they give us discounts on the fish – it is a win-win for all!”

At 7 p.m. the winners of the event were announced. Coming in first place overall was Team Top Down. Captain Jeffri Durrance and his team-mates Todd Parrish, James Manning and David Holifield went away with $12,600 as they won overall, senior, Calcutta and high roller.

“This was as good as good gets as a fishing day,” said Parrish. When asked “What’s next?”  Parrish said that in the next two weeks, they planned to enter for three weekends in a row in the St. Petersburg, Florida area.

Taking second place, weighing in a 47.27 pounder, was the Woithe family. Captain Robert Sr., his wife Susan, their sons Robert and Bruce and grandson Luke fished on a 36’ Yellowfin powered by a Yamaha. Luke also won junior angler, his grandmother Susan won senior, lady and a host of other awards.

“I wish I could have fished with them today, but I had to work” said Beau Middlebrook as he and his wife Evelim looked on with their young son falling asleep waiting for the finale. There were numerous members of the community who came to eat, watch and enjoy their first SKA Tournament hosted on the Isles. The Coopers say that they plan to host this event again next year as they watched a beautiful sunset conclude the day.

Contact Ann Hall at

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