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Next generation of Manatee County anglers take charge of popular fishing tournament

Since 1983, Bradenton’s most competitive anglers have always had the middle of May circled on their schedule.

The annual Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament brings together friends and families for a weekend of events that has evolved since its inception more than 40 years ago.

“It started as a little tent out in front of the (Bradenton) Yacht Club with maybe 20 people fishing it,” said Joe Kennedy, who has served on the committee or fishing for almost all 40 tournaments. “Since then it has grown bigger and bigger. We’ve added divisions and have constantly been tweaking points to make it as fair as we can for inshore and offshore anglers. Back in the day, we were early on a live release division for inshore species geared toward conservation and now it has evolved into all photo release. Offshore is still the great show on Sunday with the chance to see wahoo, mahi, giant grouper, snapper… maybe even a swordfish or cobia.”

When Kennedy started volunteering his time at the Crosthwait Memorial, his son Chris wasn’t even born. Neither was Jeff Stephenson’s daughter Sarah. Now both are integral parts of the committee and Sarah will serve as chairman for this year’s tournament. Chris served as chairman last year.

“Our kids are taking over and that’s wonderful. We told them we don’t want it to go away, so they better step up and take care of it. The past 40 years have been great, now we want to see the next 40 succeed as well. Sarah stepped up this year,” explained Kennedy, who is a Snead Island resident.

“We’re all volunteers and no one is paid. We probably start getting organized in September or October then we have weekly meetings starting around January to get everything together. Most prize money is brought in through sponsorship and if we have any money leftover we work on giving it back to the community with scholarships,” Kennedy said. “It seems we’re almost working on something year-round.”

While the children of the original committee members have begun to organize the tournament, it’s also the children of longtime anglers who seem to be filling up the scoresheets with big fish. The next generation of anglers caused one of the biggest rule changes the tournament had ever made.

“We’ve had to split the tournament from what it used to be when inshore guys would go against offshore guys in one big division. Now there are junior divisions, multiple offshore divisions, spearfishing as well as the inshore. We were all amateur until 7 or 8 years ago but noticed so many kids who grew up fishing the Crosthwait became captains and we were running out of fishermen so wanted to bring them back. Anyone can still win it, so it’s open to everyone,” Kennedy said.

Typically hosting more than 100 entrants between its multiple divisions, the conclusion of the Crosthwait Memorial tournament will be held this year at its longstanding location of the Bradenton Yacht Club on Sunday, May 19. Weigh-in time for inshore teams will be before noon, while offshore and spearfishing divisions weigh-in open at 1 p.m. It is open to the public and spectators are welcome.

For more information on the Crosthwait Tournament visit www.FishCrosthwait.com.