ISLAMORADA, Florida Keys — Angler Jim Bokor Jr. of Buffalo, New York, fishing with Islamorada’s Captain Richard Black, won the 2023 Cheeca Lodge & Spa All-American Backcountry Tournament held Nov. 9-11.
The tournament uses a unique format for backcountry fishing, scoring points for the catch and release of five target species — tarpon, redfish, permit, bonefish and snook — on three different types of tackle: general/bait, artificial/spin and fly.
Bokor captured the grand champion title with a total of 8,600 points, and also won the general/bait division. He released six snook and three redfish on artificial tackle, along with 22 fish on bait — 10 bonefish, five redfish, three tarpon, three snook and one permit — for 4,300 points, and also earned 4,300 bonus points for catching and releasing all five of the tournament’s target species.
A Colorado father-and-son angling duo took the team grand champion title while fishing with Captain Eric Herstedt of Homestead, Florida. Father Brian McCullis of Steamboat Springs and son Paul McCulllis of Castle Pines released 16 snook, seven redfish and one bonefish on bait.
Each year two U.S. military veterans are hosted to fish in the prestigious tournament. This year, two U.S. Coast Guard veterans participated and captured the team runner-up title for their catches on both artificial and bait. Chief Warrant Officers Mike Enright from Charleston, South Carolina, and Jaret Mats from Tavernier, Florida, fished with Captain Mike Makowski of Key Largo, Florida.
Christopher Jordan of McLean, Virginia, fishing with Islamorada’s Captain Pauly Ross, released 10 fish on fly to earn the fly division’s champion award.
Taking the artificial division was Jeffrey Parish of Buffalo, New York. He tallied 11 catches while fishing with Islamorada’s Captain Dave Denkert.
Alan Bongiovanni of Newton, Connecticut, snagged the 2023 most outstanding catch award for his release of a remora on artificial and a mutton snapper. He fished with Captain Steve Thomas of Tavernier.
Gamefish catch-and-release totals over two days included 166 fish with 17 on fly rod, 46 on artificial tackle and 103 using bait.
Proceeds from the tournament benefit Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, a nonprofit organization with a mission to conserve and restore bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries and habitats through research, stewardship, education and advocacy.
Next year’s tournament is scheduled Nov. 7-9, 2024.
Grand champion angler Jim Bokor, Jr. of Buffalo, New York, center, is presented with original artwork by Cheeca Lodge and Spa resort manager Bill Coteron, on left, along with his guide, Captain Richard Black, far right.
U.S. Coast Guard veterans Jaret Mats, on left, and Mike Enright, far right, accept the team runner-up award with their Captain, Mike Makowski, center.