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Friends cast about to remember angler

When Jonnie Meeks died in a fishing accident, his friends took consolation in knowing he had died doing what he loved best _ angling for bass.

Now his friends will honor the memory of the 47-year-old St. Petersburg man by doing the same thing.

At dawn today, they will tow their boats to the shore of the same lake in Tarpon Springs in which he drowned two months ago. They will talk about the man they fished with for years. Then at 7 a.m., they will go after bass.

Twenty or more boats, with 40 or more competitors, will take part in the Jonnie Meeks Memorial Bass Fishing Tournament, said Bruce Richmond, a friend whose boat Meeks had been using on the day of the accident.

Richmond said the mood will be upbeat.

"Everybody will have fun," Richmond said. "We all know what it's for. We're out to have a good time and carry his memory on."

Meeks, a Navy veteran who worked as a trades supervisor for the Pinellas County School Board, was fishing alone on Lake Tarpon on April 14 when his boat apparently hit a wave, tossing him overboard.

His body was found two days later after a search by sheriff's deputies, rescue workers and members of the Dunedin Bassmasters Club, of which Meeks also was a member.

Friends and family consoled themselves by reminding each other what fishing had meant to Meeks.

He died doing what he loved best, they said.

But Richmond said the passing of time hasn't made the amiable fisherman's absence any easier. To the contrary, he said, the loss seems to be sinking in only now.

That's where the fishing tournament comes in.

There will be brief remarks and probably a moment of silence, said Jim Turner, a club member. Then contestants will fish until 3 p.m.

Prizes will be given to the angler who lands the biggest bass and to the three two-person teams whose cumulative catch is heaviest.

"I think about him every time I go fishing," Richmond said. "He'd want us to go out there and have fun."