GULF OF MEXICO — Frank Perri knew he had found the right spot. He had traveled for more than an hour to this wreck more than 50 miles offshore hoping to catch red snapper.
But not any fish would do. It had to be a big one, doormat size, large enough to feed a hockey team, or least everybody in his boss' office.
"There are some real monsters down there," Perri proclaimed to his fellow anglers as he dropped a dead sardine over the side. "The trick is just getting them to eat."
Steve Yerrid rolled his eyes. The two men had been fishing together for longer than either could remember and their angling rivalry was as tumultuous as a decades-old marriage.
"We'll see," Yerrid said, pitching a live pinfish over the side. "We'll see."
Perri, a seasoned blue-water captain, had recommended that Yerrid start with cut bait, his theory being that the oily stench of dead sardine would work the snapper into a frenzy.
But Yerrid, always seeking an advantage, be it in the courtroom or on the aft deck of a sport fisherman, thought his dancing pinfish would prove irresistible to the ravenous red snapper.
"I got a bump," Perri said, reeling up his line. "Sardines are the way to go."
Yerrid glanced over his shoulder then jerked his rod to set the hook in the mouth of fish feeding somewhere below.
"Missed it," he growled. "But it did hit a live pinfish."
Perri laughed. He knew it was hopeless to argue with a trial attorney who was used to getting the last word.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah …" he quipped. "Sardine."
Yerrid smiled. It didn't matter who was right or wrong. That's the great thing about an old fishing buddy: He keeps you entertained even when the bite starts off slow.
Yerrid, a Tampa attorney, started the morning a little stressed. He had papers to file, battles to fight, but the mini snapper season would only last a few more days. A man has got to have priorities.
"I just like being on the water," he said. "Fishing always puts a smile on my face."
In 1996, another of Yerrid's fishing buddies approached him with an idea on a trip just like this. Chuck LaMar, the first general manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, wanted to put on a first-class celebrity fishing tournament to raise money for an organization that helped young cancer patients.
Yerrid pulled out his checkbook to cover the cost of the tournament. "Now all you have to do is figure out how to raise some money to help these kids," Yerrid said.
In the years that followed, the Grand Slam Celebrity Fishing Tournament brought some big names in sports to the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg for two days of competitive fishing.
Participating anglers are teamed with a celebrity, such as baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, and one of the region's top fishing guides. Over the years, Tampa Bay's premiere inshore fishing tournament has raised millions to fight pediatric cancer, which each year kills more children than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined.
When the tournament started, just three out of five children survived their fight with cancer. Today, thanks to the help of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, that number is four out of five.
The highlight of the weekend is the Kids Fishing Derby where young cancer patients fish off the docks at the Vinoy, where expert anglers such as Yerrid and Perri help bait hooks with live and cut bait.
Back on the boat, far offshore, Perri was the first to land a snapper.
"Now this is what we are looking for," he said.
Seconds later, Yerrid answered with a hit of his own.
"Now not so fast …" he said, showing off a fine snapper of his own.