2018 Champions Tour Angler of the Year Make’s Most of Trip to Islamorada

A Personalized Pathway to the Ocean for Peter’s and his Tarpon

For being named the 2018 Champions Tour Angler of the Year, Matt Peter’s was awarded an all-expenses paid trip to visit Champions Tour Founder and Owner Scott Bonnema and his wife Nancy at their vacation home in Islamorada, Florida to do some fishing in the Florida Keys.

Peter’s and his longtime girlfriend Jen packed up and were quick to exit Minnesota as they were very excited to take in some sun, relaxation and the hope to tangle with some fish, especially tarpon.

“I’ve been to the Key’s a few times and absolutely love it there, so I was pretty jacked to be heading back,” exclaimed Peters.  “But I had never landed a tarpon, so that was on the short list of things to accomplish, beyond that Jen and I were excited to catch up with Scott and Nancy.”

Following a day of travel and getting settled in, Matt and Scott headed up towards the Everglades with Scott’s friend and guide Tony Melton.  On this trip the anglers caught an array of species, including redfish, snook, drum and tripletail.  “I had never done fishing like this, or in this type of water, the scenery was just incredible,” said Peters.

“On, Wednesday, April 3rd, was Jen’s birthday, so we had the goal of getting her a birthday tarpon,” exclaimed Scott. 

Jen, Matt, Scott and Tony were part of a memorable day, as Tony exclaimed it was one of his best on the water for tarpon in terms of excitement. The group had 16 explosions, with 6 fish hooked, but sadly none were landed, so the birthday tarpon had to wait for another day.

To target these tarpon, the anglers were fishing 14” mullet, or as Scott called them, “volunteers”. They fished them around the historic bridges of the Key’s.

As the girls headed into town on Thursday to do some shopping, Matt and Scott began their day by meeting up with Don “the Mullet Man” to get some more “volunteer’s.”  The day started off slow for them, but during the slack tide they caught a few nurse sharks, enough action to keep a person entertained, but the action and excitement was about to come.

Within thirty minutes of the tide switching, Matt was hooked up with a tarpon and low and behold, the tarpon headed out to the ocean winding through pilings, ultimately going through the bridge opening that had the initials MP tagged in graffiti above it…how is that for a sign!

“We saw the MP on the bridge, but it really didn’t become cool until that tarpon went out to the ocean right underneath it,” chuckled Matt.  “I battled this fish for thirty five to forty minutes and finally after having to switch arms a few times, we got the tarpon landed and it was a 130 lb class fish.”

After a quick breather and getting the boat back on anchor, roughly about twenty minutes, the line got tight again and another tarpon battle began!  This time with some experience on how to fight a tarpon, Peter’s was able to wear the fish down sooner and quickly landed the tarpon, resulting in two world class fish in under three hours.  Celebratory beverages were in order now!

The next day was little less hard on Matt’s body as the two couples headed out to catch some sea trout and the action was hot, “conservatively I would say our boat caught over 100 fish that day, from sea trout to ladyfish, and even a few mangrove snappers, it was an absolute blast of a day,” said Matt.  “The coolest thing was that we cleaned up our snappers and took it to a restaurant called the Green Turtle, where they prepare the fish you catch.”

With one day left, Matt, Jen and Scott had a mission to accomplish, the birthday tarpon for Jen!   “Upon getting the boat set up at the spot, we joked though that we had to find Jen’s initials on a bridge for her to get a tarpon, but shortly thereafter she hooked up,” stated Bonnema.

After a forty minute battle, Jen laid hands on her birthday present, a tarpon and made the comment, “that she always really, really wanted one of those.”

Now with only a short window of daylight left, Scott wanted to get one more set in as his days in Florida for the season were coming to a close.  Right away after getting the anchor set and a line out, Scott was hooked up.  “I insisted Scott take this fish, as I feel it was a fitting way to end our trip and time with him. Scott and Nancy are just so genuine and went out of the way to make our trip memorable, this fish was his,” said Matt.

With Scott battling the tarpon, Matt was tasked with navigating the Skeeter boat through the bridges and taking cues from Scott as to when to go in reverse and forward.  “This was by far the most stressful experience of my life,” laughed Peters.

Following the battle with the tarpon and the Skeeter boat unscathed, Scott landed his personal best tarpon, a 72” long fish that he estimated to be in the 150 lb class!

“This trip was simply amazing and a memory Jen and I will always have.  The fishing culture and community is so welcoming and fun to be around, plus eating like kings every night wasn’t a bad thing either,” smiled Matt.

With every year comes a new fishing season, but it is the memories we make with our friends on and off the water that we take with us and for Matt and Scott, this is a trip that will stick with them for their lifetime.  “Jen told me that I need to win Angler of the Year every year on the Champions Tour!  Yes, winning checks is nice, but that trophy, title and this trip to make additional memories is way more impactful!”