Participants came from as far away as New York State and California to compete in the 13th annual Big Pine and Lower Keys Dolphin Tournament that ended June 4, but ultimately they couldn't outfish Keys veterinarian Rene Cruz.
Cruz, whose practice is headquartered on Ramrod Key, bested more than 210 other anglers to earn first place and $3,400 while fishing on his own boat, the Dock Cruiser. Cruz caught a 41.25-pound dolphin on the tournament's first fishing day, backed up by teammates Kurt Kistner, who drove the boat, and Mike McGovern, who gaffed the fish. Both Kistner and McGovern are residents of Buffalo, N.Y.
Cruz caught the winning fish in approximately 2,000 feet of water on a short weed line.
"We used fresh ballyhoo with a pink-and-white Islander lure," said Cruz, whose victory caps nine years of fishing the dolphin challenge.
The tournament's second-place winner was Steve Kreiger of Ramrod Key, who fished aboard the Trophy Hunter. His 40.25-pound dolphin earned him $1,700.
Jeff Woessner of Key West captured third place and $850 with a 36.05-pound dolphin caught fishing with Captain Gilbert Clemens on the Sea Dragon.
The tournament's junior division was won by Mike Malvasio Jr. of Southwest Ranches, Fla., who boated a 26.7-pound dolphin. He fished on the Swallow the Leader captained by his father, Mike Malvasio Sr., and earned a rod and reel and a trophy for his catch.
Kim McKendry of Key West was the tournament's top female angler. Fishing aboard the Finer Lines with Captain Don Barton, McKendry brought in a 26.6-pound dolphin.
Additional prizes were awarded to recognize the anglers who caught the largest wahoo and tuna. Chris Dellow of Birmingham, N.Y., was recognized for a wahoo weighing 44.85 pounds, while Scott Culleny of Nokomis, Fla., took top tuna honors for catching a 17.75-pounder.