char Charity Trip to Florida was a blast!

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Charity Trip to Florida was a blast!

A swordfish caps an incredible Florida charity trip

The winning $25,000 bid by the Webbers at the 2016 event turned up a fabulous experience on and off the water, courtesy of the Cabo Tuna Jackpot sponsors

Team Tuna Down

Director's Note: More than $43,000 was raised for in 2016, with a large share of that, $25,000, the winning bid for another incredible Florida fishing vacation complete with tackle, airfare, meals, factory tours and fishing all courtesy of Tuna Jackpot Sponsors. We asked Stuart and Melinda Webber, who won the live auction bid at the awards dinner, to write up a report on their experience.

THE 193-POUND SWORDFISH capped an incredible trip in Florida for Melinda and Stuart Webber.

NEW SMRYNA BEACH, FL -- Team Tuna Down was thrilled to be a part of the Smiles International Donation. We enjoyed the opportunity to fish with some of the greatest people in the fishing industry. Below is a little wrap-up of our trip to Florida with a great group of people we have met through Western Outdoor News.

It seemed like an eternity for the dates to arrive for our flights to Orlando, Florida. We flew from San Francisco direct to Orlando on Jet Blue. Dave Bulthuis of Costa sunglasses was our key contact for this trip and as always he is the instigator these amazing Florida trips for the Smiles charity. Dave arranged our flights, hotels, fishing and everything that went with it. Upon arriving in Orlando Dave picked us up and we headed to New Smyrna Beach, Florida. After a short hour drive we went to a lovely dinner on the water at Outriggers Tiki Bar and Grill where we saw our first tarpon hooked on the dock. We laughed, we drank, we told fishing stories and then headed to the hotel to get ready for our big fishing day on the Mosquito Lagoon. We met captains Mike Trip of Fish and Trip Light Tackle Charters and Dennis Cox of Real Native Guides to head out and fish for black drum, sea trout, red fish, catfish and ladyfish.

IT WAS GOOD TIMES all round for Melinda, right, and Stuart Webber, left. The trip was organized by Costa's Dave Bulthuis, middle.

The day left nothing to our imagination. We were sight fishing which my wife was amazed and loving the experience of how it all took place. Melinda enjoyed the direction by Captain Trip on how to cast exactly where to catch the fish. And then there were the gatherings of manatees in the lagoon. A very memorable day seeing the mating and socialization with us on the boat. They came up so close we could have touched them.

Once back at the dock Dave hosted us to lunch at JB's fish house with some of the freshest seafood we have ever had. We then went back to the hotel and had some down time. We showered and hit the streets of New Smyrna Beach to see the sights. Darts, cocktails and meeting the locals was our appetizer to another great evening with Dave and his wife Amy Bulthuis for a memorable dinner at the Flaggers Tavern right on the strip of downtown New Smyrna Beach.

After seeing tarpon at the dock, the first evening we had to give it a go for ourselves so we managed to borrow some fishing poles once again from Dave and get down there at first light to see what we could bring to the dock. We managed one hook up with our Rapala lures and we hooked up a nice tarpon and the king is alive and well. We learned you must "bow to the king" or it flings the lure as it does its aerial acrobatics.

INSHORE OR OFFSHORE, the Webbers scored a real variety of fish, including battles with snook and tarpon.

Back at the hotel we waited for our ride to visit the Costa sunglasses plant. The short drive to Daytona had all of us anxious to see the factory where the magic happens. We were in awe with what takes place at this facility. All the employees were hands on and anxious to answer all our questions. We were lucky enough to be wearing some of the newly branded items available from Costa, and the employees walked right up to us and asked us where we got the gear. Dave just smiled and was thrilled to see that the employees approved of some of the new items available.

We so enjoyed seeing all the high-tech operations along with the marketing that goes into bringing this product to the masses.

After receiving some amazing gift bags from Costa, we headed out for lunch and then on to our next destination, the Hutchinson Island Marriott Beach resort for more fishing in Stuart, Florida.

Dave once again hosted our group to amazing cocktails and appetizers at the pool before heading back home to New Smyrna Beach. Our group decided to hang out at this resort and call it an early night to make sure our morning fishing with Costa Captain Mike Holiday and Captain Ken Hudson from Snook City Charters was a memorable event.

INSHORE OR OFFSHORE, the Webbers scored a real variety of fish, including battles with snook and tarpon.

And so, it began another amazing day of fishing from Jupiter to the Indian River where we chased and threw to schools of tarpon. "The King" is alive and well. The highlight of this outing was to see Melinda winding on a tarpon and it was unforgettable for all of us to see the smile on her face. Back into Hope Sound where we landed and released snook, golden trevally and ladyfish, we decided after fishing for over seven hours we should head back and call it a day. Another day of great fishing in Florida! We headed back to the docks, showered and then out for another amazing meal with Captain and TV show host Mike Holiday at Ian's Tropical Grill in Jupiter, Florida.

Bright and early the next morning we were picked up by "Mango" from Gray's Taxidermy and transported to Deerfield Beach, Florida to check into our hotel on the beach and then headed out to lunch at Ocean's 234, "wow" place. Melinda was in her element. Bubbles arrived and amazing food was served at our table and we all enjoyed the event. But it doesn't end there. We headed to Pompano Beach to visit Gray's Taxidermy operation. Right in front of us was a replica of an Orca whale being painted for a museum. The whale took up most of the room, but it didn't stop there. We saw turtles, dolphin fish, baitfish, tuna, marlin and it just went on and on. Unmolding, sanding, grinding, airbrushing, painting, professionalism at its best under the driving force of Bill Dobbelaer. To have the opportunity to see it will always stay with us. The accommodations at the Wyndham Deerfield Beach Resort was second to none, and after checking in we headed over to Little Harbor to meet the crew who we would be daytime swordfishing with the next day.

THE WINNING BID money went to a $43,000 fund for that provides facial and cranial surgeries -primarily for cleft pallet deformities - on children at clinics in Cabo. This is a before and after of a recent surgery at one of the clinics this past April.

Young professionals had been working on our baits, checking and double-checking the gear so to make every opportunity count. Five a.m. came early when we were picked up by Bill and taken over to the boat. The boat was a 43-foot Seevee powered by four Yamaha 350s. There was no doubt that it was all business today. The harbor was a buzz with boats as there was a local tournament they were waiting for the shotgun start, but we were long gone by then, on the grounds in no time flat, traveling in excess of 60 knots with the sun creeping up over the horizon.

The anticipation was incredible. Trying to take it all in, we watched as Bill set the boat. The boys were dropping the weight and bait making sure we were going the right way and trolling backwards with baits at 1,913 feet. It seemed to me no one knew how to play this "Fishing Game" better than this crew. It is still hard to understand how it all works, and now it was just a waiting game.

"With the slightest tap on the pole and with their trained eye Bill said we were about to get busy. After a burst on the power we were hooked up now like a well-oiled machine and they swung into action.

THE WINNING BID money went to a $43,000 fund for that provides facial and cranial surgeries -primarily for cleft pallet deformities - on children at clinics in Cabo. This is a before and after of a recent surgery at one of the clinics this past April.

Harpoons and gaff were at the ready with the fish heading towards the boat, hearts pumping, and knowing we were far from boating this fish. The pole was bending, nearly touching the water, we started to see deep color. Bang, bang the fish has been hit with the dart and now has two gaffs. A few minutes later the fish was laying on the deck and it was hogtied. Mission accomplished with all the backslapping hand grabbing fist pumping.

It was plain to see it has been a great day so now it was time to get back to the scale to see what this baby weighed --193 pounds on a certified scale amazing next order of business was to take this to one of Bill Dobbelaer's favorite restaurants and have the chef prepare some of the freshest swordfish known to man within six hours and it was being presented to us two different ways. The dedication to the food was obvious in the taste prepared by Chef Elsa Addario from Bruscos in Deerfield Beach.

As most things must come to an end as did this trip it wasn't just about a fishing trip it was about being able to help some less fortunate children smile and through the generosity of all the sponsors. All was provided by Smiles International, Team Costa, Team Gray's Taxidermy, Team Pisces Sport Fishing, Team Mold Craft, Team Mustad Hooks, Team Rapala, Team Seaguar, Team Okuma and Team Western Outdoor News.

We were privileged to be part of it, to see such wonderful people from the local and international fishing Industry coming together for an unseen problem out of their control in the hope to make someone's life better something that will stay with both my wife and myself forever.