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Junior angler lands possible world record

Thirteen-year-old Caroline Waterman of Key Largo, Fla., earned top honors for the second consecutive year in the Key West Fishing Tournament kickoff with a catch that may be certified as a world record.

Waterman won the tournament’s junior division and the division’s heaviest catch award for reeling in a 97-pound hammerhead shark. The catch is being submitted to the International Game Fish Association as a potential junior angler world record.

Waterman fished on Bait Stealer with Capt. Dale Bittner, who guided her to the junior division win in the 2007 tournament.

Bittner said the two of them were targeting sharks west of the Marquesas when they spotted the hammerhead.

“He was just as hot as can be — we watched him eat her bait and she started fighting him,” said Bittner, who added that the fight took about 25 minutes.

Bittner said young Waterman also released a sandbar shark, whose weight he estimated at 125 or 130 pounds, during the tournament.

In addition to Waterman, several other teenagers earned top honors in the tournament whose rules allow young anglers to fish against adults.

Among them was Key West resident Joe Merritt, 15, who scored a double triumph with the heaviest grouper at 43 pounds and the heaviest kingfish at 31 pounds, 4 ounces. He fished on Perro Loco with Capt. Greg Sherertz, who was named the tournament’s top captain.

Fourteen-year-old Turner Dowling released 32 barracuda during the tournament’s two fishing days. The Key West teen took top honors for the most barracuda releases, fishing with his father, Ed Dowling, aboard Turner’s Whaler.

Honors for adult anglers included the heaviest cobia award to George Aleksandrowicz of River Head, N.Y., who caught a 58.5-pound monster while fishing on White Cap with Capt. Mario Perez.

The kickoff tournament drew 143 anglers on 37 boats.

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