Boca Grande is an area steeped in tradition, but the people in the community are also working hard to blend the cherished old with the new spirit to keep it moving in the 21st century. Nothing exemplifies that more than their annual Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament, and this year Paradise Cove Properties was well represented in the planning room and on the water. Realtor Candy Brooks was instrumental in making the event a success and realtor Katrina Towns anchored the crew that took first place in the 26th Annual Tournament over the weekend. The day again proves that women are a driving force in a town that still has one foot in the past and a big toe deep in the waters of modern day island life.
Since coming to Southwest Florida, Candy has submerged herself in the culture of the island and the persona of the town and has emerged as one of the people who are working to preserve what Boca has become famous for. “I have fallen in love with the island and it’s an amazing environment for my son.” That sense of community was what drew her to get involved in the Chamber of Commerce, becoming the treasurer two years ago. She sees events like the Ladies Day Tourney as a way for Boca to put its best face forward, but also build upon its historical foundation. ““I love the sense of community here. When you’re on an island this small, you really learn to manage relationships well. The people out here really care about their neighbors.” The event reflects these ideals.
This means everyone not only comes out for the event, but that the people as a whole build the day long before any anglers hit the water. Candy, who will soon take over as president for the Chamber, says the tournament is really a year in the planning, and local business are more than willing to get involved. She and the other planners hit the local businesses for donations and support, and this year they were able to get prizes donated by the local community and anglers, including sponsorship from Englewood Bank. “We get a huge amount of local support because of the tradition in the tournament,” says Candy, who is also involved with getting gifts and financial support for the Captain’s Party. For many, the party before casting off is as much of a tradition, and this year she was able to make sure the caterers were local and had Peace River Distributing work the event.
Katrina, who has been a part of Southwest Florida since moving here in 1978, has seen the tournament grow in its 26 years and has been a part of it even before she started to compete. The day began more than a quarter of a century ago when the wives of the fishermen decided to go out with their husbands to celebrate the opening of the season. It became known as ‘Mothers, Daughters, and Others’ and was eventually taken over by the Chamber of Commerce in 1991 and had its name changed. It’s the kind of story which might be folklore in other towns, but is just par for the course with the charm of Boca. This year, 28 boats went out and featured crews from all over who, despite the winds and the fish moving out, counted eleven tarpons caught and released. Katrina’s team, named Team Searene and captained by Lamar Joiner Jr., were the first to have a confirmed catch.
It’s just another example of what makes the area special for her, and when she talks about the event she can’t help but connect it to its traditions. To her, the most important part is not the money raised for local charities like Families First, it’s about the way it’s done. “They do it the right way,” she says when complimenting the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce and the 2016 Ladies Day Committee for the day. “There’s a respect for the fish and the area.” She points to the captains of the boats being second and third generation anglers in Boca and the way they sail the waters, use live bait, and release the fish as being a nod to what makes the area great. It’s another way, she says, like preserving the area and its lighthouses that the people who live and work in Boca show their pride in where they live.
Candy also points to the way the day is run as being important, citing how important it is for people to see how to angle the right way and connects it to the conservation of the area itself. “Conservation is important and an issue for the people here. The tournaments we run are important in this message.”
The event is a chance for both to connect to the beauty of the land and the people who travel here and make Florida’s own slice of heaven their home. “It’s one of those places where you still have that old feeling,” says Katrina. “When our lives are hustle and bustle we need that escape.” The same places these boats explore are the ones people in the area have come to cherish. The unique, water, wildlife and vegetation offer people something different from anything they can find in Florida. “Boca is world famous. It’s probably the best fishing in the state. There are so many fisheries, so many places to explore. It doesn’t matter if you’re out on a boat or kayak. There are so many nooks and crannies.” Candy echoes the same idea. “It’s a tropical paradise. We have the best waters, simply pristine. It’s so calming here.”
This is just one of the reasons people return to the area year after year, and why so many people chose to make this area their home. Candy & Katrina are more than willing to help them connect with those dreams whether on Gasparilla Island, in the Village or off island in the neighboring mainland communities. What makes living in Boca Grande so special? “Everyone wants to keep the old charm, it doesn’t seem to matter if you just moved to the Island or lived here for generations, and everyone understands the importance of preserving what we have.”
Candy points to the ladies involved as the biggest reason she remains involved and the most important aspect of keeping the spirit of the event alive. “I love being competitive with the ladies. All the ladies come together and have a great time. It’s amazing to be fishing with these gals. The tradition of the fishing is something very romantic for me.” Her team took second in last year’s tournament and won Howling at the Moon, another important annual competition. Her attention is now turned towards the next big event in Boca Grande, the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament which is set for May 19-20. This year that competition has raised its purse to $250,000 and looks to bring more eyes onto the island.
As for Katrina, she feels a sense of accomplishment in winning this year, but also connected to the ladies who have been involved since the beginning. Until next year, when she hopes to repeat her team’s victory, Katrina is satisfied finding “searenity” in those daily moments that make Boca the perfect place to live and work.