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The angling community loses good-hearted friend

Like many youngsters who grew up fishing for tarpon off Pinellas County's piers and bridges, Eric Mercadante thought Dave Morgan always would be there, just like the fish he loved.

"It was something we took for granted," said Mercadante, now a charter boat captain. "You could always count on him to tell you where the fish were, to share some shad whatever you needed, you could count on Dave."

For five years, Morgan had tried to recover from a liver transplant. He died Nov. 3 at age 54.

His funeral, set for Saturday morning, was rescheduled for later in the day so his friends could compete in the Suncoast Kingfish Classic.

"That is the way Dave would have wanted it," said longtime friend Dave Mistretta, one of the state's top tournament fisherman. "He would have been out there fishing with us if he could have."

Most everybody who in recent years fished the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup, the longest-running tournament on the west coast of Florida, knew Morgan, an "old school" fisherman and outspoken proponent of a sport that had no more passionate follower than himself.

"He lived, breathed, ate and slept tarpon fishing," Mistretta said. "He was on a mission to see that everybody he knew caught a tarpon. That is all he cared about."

Mistretta, like dozens of Morgan's friends, met the big-hearted angler on the old Indian Rocks Pier.

"What impressed me most about Dave was how much he cared about kids," said Frank Chivas, a local restaurateur and fisherman. "He always had time for my boys, and that means a lot to a dad."

Hooks, leaders, lines, rods and reels, Morgan always had plenty to share if there was ever a child in need, friends said.

"He always had time," Mercadante said. "Looking back now, that was a huge thing."

When Morgan took over the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup more than a decade ago, he was determined to return the tournament to its former glory.

"He put his heart and soul into that tournament," said Wayne Johnston, who builds Sabalo powerboats in Largo. "He lived for the tournament and the people who fished it."

There were times when Morgan found himself at odds with his critics in and outside the tournament, but he always stuck to his beliefs, even if it cost him support.

"He was one of those guys who always tried to do the right thing," said Doug Johnston, a longtime Roundup angler. "You have got to give him credit for that."

Last year Morgan succeeded in securing a boat as the tournament's grand prize. Morgan also promoted the catch-and-release aspect of the event.

But there was no greater joy in Morgan's life than watching youngsters catch their first tarpon.

"He would sit in the back of the boat, cut chum, change baits, do whatever," friend and fishing buddy Ron Kien said. "He always made time for my boy, and for that, I'll always be grateful."

Mistretta said Morgan looked out for anglers who didn't have boats and fished from piers and bridges.

"Those folks often get overlooked when it comes to tournaments," Mistretta said. "Dave always took care of the underdog."

Those who knew him admit Morgan didn't always see eye to eye with those he dealt with, but when it came to tarpon fishing, he always saw heart to heart.