Enthusiastic crowds cheered and gathered at the edge of the railing at the Blue Sunshine
Patio Bar & Grill trying to get a closer look at the five to 55 pound catches of those participating
in the 4th annual Suncoast Spearfishing Challenge at Marina Jack. Marina Jack, located on the
bay front in downtown Sarasota, hosted this year’s spearfishing tournament from Sept. 25-26.
Contestants could scuba dive or free dive for 12 hours to find their prize. The winners, based on
a weight for points system, were announced on Sept. 27, with a Junior Division prize also
awarded to contestants under 18 years old.
Competitors were permitted to catch one to three fish per allowed species based on
category, with the exception of lionfish, for which there was no maximum as the challenge
donated all unwanted lionfish for research. Divers received five points per fish weighed and one
extra point per pound of each fish, with the exception of lionfish and lobster, which do not count
towards the total but are evaluated in a separate category.
There is an entrance fee for all competitors with the exception of active military, fire,
EMS and law enforcement personnel, but those just looking to watch and participate in the
tournament’s raffle are admitted for free. “Every year a new charity is benefited, this year it is
Operation Second Chance,” volunteer Kristy Lomelo said. “All the money stays local, it’s kind
of like a grassroots project.” Lomelo spent the day selling raffle tickets for Operation Second
Chance, which serves Americans wounded in combat.
After much anticipation, trophies and prizes were awarded to first place contestants in
each category. The overall 2014 winners were Douglas Strott in first place; Jen Young, first
place for female competitors; Matthew Bruecker, in first place for free divers; and Charlie
Shaffer in first place for junior divers. Tournament records for 2015 and previous years can be
found at the Suncoast Spearfishing Challenge website, where one can see the names of
participants holding the records for largest grouper, snapper, hogfish, sheepshead, pelagic, cobia
and lobster in the challenge’s history. Chris Johnson boasts the heaviest with a pelagic weighing
in at 58.90 pounds in 2013.
“It’s more about camaraderie,” scuba diver and 2015 participant Ross Sonnen said. “My
team can’t compete with these big bad boats, some divers get down to 200 feet, but it’s still the
time of your life, and anyone who gave it a shot would be addicted.”