Key West, Florida Keys — A South Florida woman and her two children each earned first-place “master angler” titles in the Key West Fishing Tournament, a long-running challenge that spans eight months, after topping the leaderboard in their respective divisions.
Heidi Mason took out-of-county master angler honors in the women’s division, while her 12-year-old daughter Julia Bernstein and 7-year-old-son Benjamin Bernstein earned the same titles in the junior and peewee divisions, respectively. All three are from Miami.
“One of our tournament objectives is introducing a new generation of anglers to Florida Keys fishing,” said event director Doris Harris at the Sept. 23 awards banquet. “The Mason/Bernstein family and all the other families who enter together are great examples of that concept.”
Among other triumphs, Heidi Mason scored 10 division-leading fish, earned an achievement award in the 8-pound test division and received “heaviest fish” awards in four species. Notable among them was a 29-pound kingfish on 20-pound test line.
Julia Bernstein scored her second consecutive win in the junior division for anglers ages 10 to 15 with accomplishments that included the division’s most releases at 82. She also earned “heaviest fish” honors in 12 species for catches that included an 18.12-pound cobia, 20-pound jack crevalle and 25-pound kingfish — all caught on 20-pound test line. In addition, Bernstein tallied six division-leading fish and received an achievement award in the 20-pound test category.
In the peewee division for anglers under age 10, Benjamin Bernstein followed in the footsteps of his mother and sister by catching three division leaders and receiving divisional “heaviest fish” recognition for a 1.25 jack crevalle on 12-pound test line.
The Mason/Bernstein family fished primarily with Key West’s Captain Dale Bittner on Bait Stealer, and also with Captain Steve Impallomeni on Nichol Dance.
Bittner scored tournament achievement awards for guiding the most winners in the light general division with 21, and for leading his anglers to the most releases in the division with 68.
Impallomeni earned guide achievement honors for guiding the most winners in the flats division with four.
Dennis Triana of Miami took home the men’s out-of-county master angler award. He fished on a private boat and racked up catches that included six division leaders and a 2.4-pound sea trout on fly that set a divisional record. In addition, he earned “heaviest fish” honors for boating a 2.8-pound mangrove snapper on 8-pound test line.
Rory Santana of Sugarloaf Key, Florida, earned the men’s in-county master angler award. He took top honors for overall releases with 251, including 24 barracuda and 26 tarpon, and also earned achievement awards in the tournament’s spin, plug and fly divisions. Fishing on a private boat, Santana recorded “heaviest fish” records for catches including a 14.8-pound almaco jack on spin tackle and a 6-pound gag grouper on fly.
The women’s in-county master angler title went to Judy Kemp of Summerland Key, Florida, whose accomplishments included releasing 81 bonefish and earning an achievement award in the 12-pound test division.
In-county master angler kudos in the junior division and peewee division went to Johnny O’Hearn and Zachary Bentley IV, respectively, both of Key West.
Captain Craig Jiovani of the Conch Too earned overall guide honors in the general division, guiding 12 winning anglers and tallying a division-topping 68 releases. Ross Baker of the Conch Too earned the title of outstanding mate.
Captain Brice Barr of the Double Down was named top guide in the light general division, guiding his anglers to a praiseworthy 68 sailfish releases.
Captain Tim Carlile of the Outcast earned the overall guide achievement award in the flats division. He also guided his anglers to the most flats releases with 173, including 46 tarpon.
In addition, Captain Billy Wickers of the Linda D V earned recognition for a blue marlin release.
Celebrating the diverse variety of fish found in Florida Keys waters, the free-entry Key West Fishing Tournament provides recognition and awards to anglers for weighing or releasing fish in 46 qualifying species.
The 2023 tournament drew 384 participating anglers who entered 1,169 releases and 537 weighed catches. For a complete list of winners and their catches, visit keywestfishingtournament.com.
The 2024 challenge begins Dec. 1, 2023, and continues until July 31, 2024.