Live Like Jeff

By: Capt. Tony Young

With a snap of our fingers, June is here and we are full force into our summer fishery. Looking back on May, the 1st of the month is a long-anticipated day for anglers and divers in south Florida. It is a holiday, we all take off work, pull kids out of school, and load up the boats for opening day of grouper and hogfish! For the past five years, May 1st has also held a more special meaning to our community, as it marks the annual Jeff Leonia Reel and Steel Classic. A tournament honoring the life of a close friend to us all, Captain Jeff Leonia.
There are no right words to describe Jeff, other than he was the man that most men aspire to be. He was a rock in our community and would do anything for anyone, no questions asked. Jeff was full of joy, always smiling, he could catch any fish and dive any depth. Most importantly, Jeff had a heart of gold. He loved his family, his friends, and his community more than anything. He was a beam of light for us all to follow and without him now, it often feels like we are navigating in the dark. At the age of 24, Jeff tragically passed away in a car accident. He lived a life that was more full at that age then most men could even dream to accomplish in 100 years. Jeff’s life and his legacy as a captain in the Florida Keys is remembered each year on May 1st. The annual Jeff Leonia Reel and Steel Classic is a tournament like no other, all in Jeff’s honor with all proceeds going toward kids dive and fishing camps throughout the Florida Keys!
In the beginning, Jeff’s annual tournament was a Facebook group of locals shooting and catching fish with online submissions. Today, the tournament has grown with watermen from all over the country traveling to compete. There are divisions for women, men, scuba spearfisherman, freedive spearfisherman, anglers, and most importantly for the kids! The community pulls together for some of the most amazing prizes, with all proceeds going back to the community. The rules are simple, it is an individual tournament where you shoot or catch the biggest Grouper and Hogfish you can find. You get one point per pound, weighing one grouper and one hogfish. The largest fish that generates the most points wins! This year we added a calcutta, giving divers and anglers a fun way to up the competition. All kids enter for free and are allowed to weigh any fish for a prize. The food is top notch and the beer is cold, just like Jeff would have it. Although there are some great prizes and local bragging rights that keep the competition fierce. The tournament is so much more. For one day out of the year, Jeff’s family, friends, and community all come together to honor him. We share stories, tears, smiles, laughs, and for just this one day we feel like Jeff is still with us.
Jeff’s family started the saying “Live Like Jeff”. This simple phrase is a reminder for us all to step back and take inventory on our blessings. Slow down and enjoy every aspect of the journey you are on and the life you are living. Live Like Jeff is now a nonprofit organization, run by Jeff’s family, that takes tournament proceeds and generous donations to support kids camps throughout the keys. The Live Like Jeff Foundation gets kids on the water that would otherwise not have the opportunity. They get scuba certified, participate in reef cleanups, plant coral, they learn to fish, throw cast nets, you name it the camps teach it!
Thank you to everyone that supported this year’s tournament, we all truly look forward to this day each year! Mark your calendars and remember the date May 1st, this is the day we all gather to celebrate Jeff’s life and put some big fish on the boat in his honor! No matter where you are in your life, in your journey, remember to “Live Like Jeff”. We will see you next year on May 1st, for the 6th annual Jeff Leonia Reel and Steel Classic!


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