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Bonita Bill’s children’s fishing tourney a blast

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Jul 9, 2021

As Bonita Bill’s owner Bill Semmer fired off a cannon that looked like it could have been used in the Revolutionary War, another Fourth of July weekend children’s fishing tournament was in the books. Little more could be asked for than a sunny day fishing with watermelon and hot dogs for everyone.

With children getting new fishing poles for participating and the top catchers earning shiny trophies, the joy of fishing and enjoying the scene of the bay off Fishermans Wharf was a hit for the 29th time.

Fathers and mothers accompanied their children, showing them the ropes in some cases on how to fish the right way. More experience anglers helped unhook the catches, weighed and released them back into the water. Some of the more interesting catches, like a striped sheepshead fish, were placed in a tank to be taken to the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center across the street.

Showing some consistency was nine-year-old Jaxon Lynch, who finished third in the tournament for most fish caught this past weekend one year after he finished runner-up in that category. His father T.J. Lynch still has his trophies from when he competed in the same tournament. “I was coming out here when I was his age,” Lynch said. “It’s a good tournament for the kids.”

Teybren Aguilera, 5, of Fort Myers, caught the most fish.

Chase Fraley, 11, of Ohio, caught the first fish in the 29th children's fishing tournament at Bonita Bill's Saturday. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

The longest fish caught, at 15 1/2 inches was a catfish by Hunter Hartzog. Hartzog, a 14-year-old from North Fort Myers, caught the longest fish – a 15.5 inch catfish. He has been fishing since he was 3-years-old. He usually goes fishing at Red Fish Pass or Marco Island. He also enjoys freshwater fishing in North Fort Myers.

“It was pretty good,” Hartzog said of the tournament. “It was a little slow” finding fish, he said. He only caught one fish but it was long enough to win a trophy – he also received a new fishing rod so he was all smiles.

Some said there weren’t as many fish this year in the tournament but that still couldn’t stop the anglers, their friends, family and onlookers from enjoying a perfect day.

For Mr. Semmer, the fishing tournament is a long tradition going back to before it was held at Bonita Bill’s. Semmer bought the property 30 years ago. Before that, he and Joanne Semmer put on the fishing tournament off the Fort Myers Beach Pier.

Semmer recalled that when he purchased the site now known as Bonita Bill’s there was “no floor, nothing.” He built it up into one of the mainstays off Fishermans Wharf.

The competition was fierce yet friendly and celebratory at the children's fishing tournament at Bonita Bill's held on Independence Day weekend off Fishermans Wharf in Fort Myers Beach. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

He likes to keep the tournament “laid-back. You can have all the fun in the world,” Semmer said.

Semmer made note that all of the food, fishing poles and trophies for the participants and their families was courtesy of donations, They included Ostego Bay Foundation Marine Science Center, Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Cafe, Semmer Electric, Gore Seafood, Inc., Mom’s Restaurant, Tarpon Hunters Club, Pete’s Time Out, Sanibel Seafood, Haley Ward Inc., First Citizen’s Bank, Snug Harbor Restaurant, Dixie Fish Co., Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grill, Loffreno Real Estate, Inc. and Red Coconut RV Park.

Hunter Hartzog, of North Port, caught the longest fish - a 15.5 inch catfish Saturday off the Bonita Bill's marina. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg.

Teybren Aguilera took home top prize honors for most fish caught at the 29th annual children's fishing tournament at Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg

T.J. Watkins (red hat) looks on as his catch is weighed and measured.

Jim Funk holds on to a sheepshead caught by Zoa Bethke, which he placed in a tank to be transported to the Ostego Bay Marine Science Center.

T.J. Watkins and Lincoln Watkins, of Cape Coral, enjoy the children's fishing tournament outside Bonita Bill's Waterfront Cafe Saturday. / Photo by Nathan Mayberg