Cheeca Lodge & Spa Announces 6th Annual All American Backcountry Tournament Results

Tournament inspired by 41st US President George Bush honored war heroes and benefitted Florida Keys Fishing Guides in Need

Cheeca Lodge & Spa announced results of its 6th Annual All American Backcountry Fishing Tournament held Nov.8-10 in Islamorada, FL. The event gathered the industry’s finest to raise funds for the local Guides Trust Foundation. In honor of Veteran’s Day, Cheeca Lodge also hosted two war heroes who competed as a team.

All American anglers competed for trophies and prizes for releasing five different species of fish: snook, redfish, bonefish, tarpon and permit. Tackle divisions included fly, artificial and bait.

Taking home top honors of Grand Champion Angler and Fly Division Champion Angler was Doug Dragoo of Pagosa Springs, CO, a Title Sponsor representing Abel reels. Dragoo released four bonefish, ten snook and ten redfish on fly, guided by Richard Black of Tavernier, FL.

Cheeca Grand Champion Awarded to Doug Dragoo – pictured here with his daughter and Richard Black.


The tournament’s field of 16 anglers on 13 boats posted overall game fish totals of 80 snook, 77 redfish,16 tarpon, 23 bonefish and one 35-lb permit. The total of 197 releases during the two-day tournament included 76 on fly, 60 on artificial tackle and 61 on general tackle. The total releases more than doubled the prior tournament’s results.

Grand Champion Team honors went to Paul McCulliss of Littleton, CO, and his son Brian McCulliss of Denver, CO, Title Sponsors representing McCulliss Oil & Gas. Guided by Eric Herstedt of Homestead, FL, the duo released 20 snook, 18 redfish, one bonefish and one tarpon. Paul McCulliss also eared General Division Champion Angler with nine snook, eight redfish, one tarpon and one bonefish.

Second Place Team Division honors went to US Army veteran Al Hunter, Sr., from Miami, FL, and Marine Corps veteran Eric Munoz of Homestead, FL, for releasing 12 snook and five redfish guided by Captain Mike Makowski of Key Largo, FL. “It was an incredible experience to fish a tournament of this caliber in the sport fishing capital of the world and actually take home an award,” noted Hunter.

Cheeca angler, Ken Biro, with a nice permit.

Jim Bokar of Tavernier, FL, clinched Champion Angler in the Artificial Division, releasing ten snook and ten redfish. Bokar was representing Robert-James Sales, a Title Sponsor of the tournament.

A 35-lb permit landed the Most Outstanding Catch and Best Photo Awards for Ken Biro of Hollywood, FL, guided by Steven Tejera of Homestead, FL.

Second-place Angler Division honors went to Fred Schwaibold of Charleston, SC, for releasing ten snook, ten redfish and three bonefish, guided by Dave Denkert of Islamorada, FL.

“We were honored to welcome talented anglers and guides back to experience some of the finest fishing in the Florida Keys” said General Manager Bob LaCasse. “It was rewarding to provide this opportunity to our veterans and raise funds for the Guides Trust Foundation at our newly refreshed resort.”

Andy Mill, world-famous fly angler, former alpine ski racer and two-time Olympian, shared his expertise on fly fishing for tarpon at an evening reception. The tournament also featured appearances by fishing legends Stu Apte, a tournament competitor, and Sandy Moret. Moret and representatives from the Bonefish &Tarpon Trust spoke on the progress of the #NoworNeverglades initiative at the awards banquet.

Title Sponsors included Robert-James Sales, Inc.; Abel Reels; Wells Fargo Bank’s Hospitality Finance Group; and McCullis Oil & Gas, Inc. Partner sponsors included Silver Kings, Costa, Tommy Bahama, Blue Marlin Jewelry, Florida Keys Brewing Company, Pasta Pantaleo, Bluefin, Mangrove Mike’s, Bacardi and Grey Goose, Deco Productions, JL Promotions, Keys Audio Party Rentals, Executive Printers of Florida, Printing Plus and the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. Valued donors included Orvis, Andy Mill and Captain Randy Stallings.

The 2019 All American Backcountry Tournament will be held November 7-9, 2019.

Cheeca will also host the 29th Annual Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament January 25-27, 2019, the third leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Sailfish Championship.