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It's nice to travel, but all so much nicer to come home, especially with so many good memories, including a dramatic 11th hour victory for our team in the biggest tarpon tournament of the year.

I returned this week from my 10-week stay in the giant tarpon capitol of the world-Boca Grande. I don't recall working so hard as I did during this season, running trips twice a day, seven days a week for 10 weeks. In that period, more than 400 giant tarpon came boatside and probably three times that amount went in the air, bringing life-long thrills to many from around the world.

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Left to Right: Team Publix/Coca-Cola/WDAE crew
members Jake Misner, (winning) Capt. Richard
Knox & Capt. Robert McCue display the 1st place
trophies and a check for $162,500 they won in the
Mega Money held in Boca Grande on
July 8th & 9th, 2001.

I suppose I have a 1001 stories to tell of giant sharks, double and triple hook ups, 21 fish jumped in 90 minutes during one of the best hill tides in recent years, threadfins in the "pan", dozens of fish over 200 lbs and some phenomenal karma. It is all more than I could ever write about here but all the stories will remain a part of me, ready to be recalled whenever I look back on the season of 2001.

The fishing memories are great but when the fat lady has sung, the money is spent and the 15 minutes of fame has long expired, all I have are the friendships that have been made with my guests, including many that have become "family" to me over the years. Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to share quality time with you. Your smiles, stories, revelations, advice, and friendships are alive in my heart. I came home to many gifts this year ranging from videotapes, photographs, CD-ROMS, skin conditioners, pure maple syrups and candies, hams, warm "thank-you" cards, vacation invitations, clothes, hats, and even a pre-worn thong bikini, and all are greatly appreciated. My success is nothing without all of you. To my family and friends… Thank you.

The fishing highlight of the year actually came after I returned home July 2. I intended to return home on the 9th of July after the year end big money tournaments. During the last week of June many tarpon had left the area due to high water temperatures and the lack of rain. A full moon was approaching and the prospects were not looking good for numbers of fish as the moon matured. About that time, long-time friend and client Greg Crouch of Austin called to survey the situation prior to making plans to enter the high-stake events. After some debate, team CIC, elected to wait until 2002. I decided to return and fish where the majority of the fish are, Tampa Bay. That is, after a few days shacking up in an undisclosed penthouse suite for a few days with my family.

The following Friday night, I passed by my cell phone with the voice mail indicator flashing. It was long-time colleague Capt. Richard Knox calling from Boca Grande asking if I would fish with him aboard the Team Publix/Coca-Cola/WDAE-620AM boat.

"I was wondering if you would mind coming back down to help me out as the ringer on my boat in the MegaMoney tournament?" Richard asked, when I returned the call. "You are the first and only person I am calling," he added.

While it is not likely you will find Richard and me enjoying an ice cream together in the park on a Sunday afternoon, he has been a very good friend over many years and has always been there to help me out. I hold equal respect for his talents, skills, and experience. Though there were not many fish, I knew without question that Richard would be a tough competitor and a "ringer" himself in this event. I felt our chances were good, particularly with the assistance of second-year mate Jake Misemer on board. I accepted.

The following is a summary of what happened over the next two days:

Three unsuspecting people won an entry into the inaugural Mega Money tournament valued at $35,000. Their trip was aboard the sponsored Publix/WDAE/Coca-Cola, skippered by Capt. Richard Knox and team crew of Jake Misemer and Capt.Robert McCue.

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Left to right: Team Publix/Coca-Cola/WDAE
Jake Mismer, Ed Freeman, Capt. Richard Knox,
Robert McCue, Mike Hebert and Renee Freeman

Ed and Renee Freeman of Deltona were in Englewood on vacation and shopping at Publix when their 14-year-old daughter, Ashley, entered a raffle she thought was a drawing for a boat. A week prior to the event they received a Fed Ex mailing stating they had won the entry that included a stay in a all expense paid condo, meals on Gasparilla Island, and the $35,000 entry into the two-day tournament.

Mike Hebert, 24, of Tampa, was the sixth caller into WDAE 620-AM, which had a spot on the boat to give away. His call put him in the radio station drawing for the tournament entry and Hebert was the winner.

On the first day of fishing Capt. Marty Scott, skipper of Team Fast Lane set the pace for nearly the length of the tournament by entering a 130lb tarpon. The team, consisting of Gary Evans, Dave Harper, Scott and Richie Edwards, was sponsored by Irvin, Texas-based Magnum Hunter Resources, Inc. Harper, who lives in Tampa, landed the fish. If the fish held, Team Magnum Hunter stood to win more than $190,000, by virtue of being entered in both the Mega Money and the smaller Catch The King tournaments that were held simultaneously.

There were 75 fish hooked during 10 hours of fishing over the two days and only 13 of them weighed. Many fish were lost to the bottom and to large bull and hammerhead sharks that plagued the pass during the event. We lost a total of seven fish to one or another of these factors and midway in day two, the team decided to "lock down" drags on any last-chance hookups and hand the rod to myself so I could handle the fighting chores.

At 11:43 a.m., with just 47 minutes remaining in the tournament, Misemer and myself hooked up fish within a few seconds - the second double we had in the event. A split-second decision was made. Mismer's fish already was running hard. Rather than risk crossed lines, I backed off my fish to let it pull off and took the rod from Misemer. We fought the fish with all the drag and thumb pressure I dared apply. The risky tactic paid off. I had the tarpon at the boat in just 12 minutes, where Knox lip-gaffed it and Misemer roped it. The battle was highlighted by 3 jumps from the mighty silver king and a close encounter with an 11-foot. bull shark that eyed the tarpon near the end, but did not attack.

At the scales and with just 30 minutes remaining in the tournament, the extent of our good fortune was realized. Coming in at 139 lbs, our fish held for the duration of the event - winning the first-place prize of $162,500 thanks to perseverance and an exemplary team effort. The fish, which had been hooked on a 4-ounce lead head jig, was tagged and released alive and well.

Under the team's pre-tournament agreement, the Freemans received $81,250 (50 percent), Hebert $40,625 (25 percent) and the three-man crew of Misemer, McCue and Knox $40,625 (25 percent).

Team Magnum Hunter collected $117,250 for second in the Mega and first place in the Catch the King event. Team Ranger leader Ray Van Horn caught a 121-pound tarpon that took third-place money in the Mega and second in the Catch the King, for a total of $66,630.

Between the 2000 Catch The King and the 2001 Mega Money, Team Publix and raffle winners have earned more than $220,000 in cash prizes.

The win was sweetened by the fact that our fish was hooked hundreds of yards from any other entrant. Take it from me as a fishing guide, there is nothing more satisfying or rewarding than that. My hat is off to you Capt. Richard, who made a point of not fishing in another boat's drift and hung tough under difficult conditions.

Now comes the time to move forward and get on with a more normal life. Tampa Bay tarpon and pompano will be my focus the next six weeks. So for those who missed the chance to test their mettle against the king, there is still some time left.

Click here for more tourney press

Screaming Drags and Tired Arms

Robert McCue


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