The Young Girl and the Sea

High school senior Heidi Mason has been reeling in big ones since she was knee-high to a grouper

Grown men have been known to quit their jobs and spend nearly $50,000 apiece in an effort to win the Met. Remember: That's for one tournament that offers no prize money. While the Masons are comfortably upper middle class, Don cannot afford to spend that kind of money on his only child's avocation. Still, you don't find many poor Met contestants. Heidi spends an average of fifteen days per year fishing in several tournaments at a rate of approximately $600 per day to charter the L&H. She also spends countless hours reading about the subject, attending Miami Beach Rod and Reel Club functions, chatting with other anglers both in person and via America Online -- her moniker is "ILUVTOFISH" -- and fishing recreationally. She's fished for fun off Australia's Great Barrier Reef, as well as off the coasts of Guatemala and Costa Rica, and after last year's prom Heidi met her date the following morning at 6:00 a.m. to go fishing. Despite all of her accomplishments and her devotion to the sport, she has not yet been underwritten by a sponsor, although fishing-gear manufacturers such as Penn Reels and Ande monofilament fishing line supply her with tackle for free. She defrays some of her costs by splitting tournament winnings with her boat captains.

But the money is only a minor obstacle compared with the time requirement. The demands of Heidi's senior-year classes at Ransom Everglades and her Herculean load of extracurricular activities take precedence over fishing. Heidi wants to attend med school at either Harvard or Dartmouth. To that end she has maintained a straight-A average at Ransom while piling on the AP (advanced placement) courses. Somehow she also finds the time to edit the school's alternative student newspaper, preside over its ecology club, and volunteer for research work at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine Science for a project to restock Biscayne Bay with redfish. She is also a member of Ransom's sailing team, plays piano and trombone in the school's concert and jazz bands, respectively, and operates the computer keyboard for her school's Quiznet team (a Jeopardy!-like contest conducted over the Internet). In her spare time she reads and counsels her peers. And then there's dating. It's a wonder she has any time for fishing, much less the hundreds of hours she spends pursuing the activity.

Somehow, Heidi makes the time, and her deep-sea angling success speaks for itself. "Heidi is an outstanding all-around angler on a wide variety of baits and tackle," notes Suzan Baker, executive director of the Met. "She's had the opportunity to learn from the best; the Dudases and their boat the L&H are top-drawer. She's bright, talented, and attractive. She's just delightful."

Mike Leech, president of the International Game Fish Association, the Fort Lauderdale-based official governing body that keeps track of world records, concurs. "I've watched her really blossom into a world-class fisherperson," he declares. "She's very serious and dedicated. Highly competitive. Exceptionally talented. She's rewritten the book for women and junior anglers in the Met. There's no telling what she could accomplish if she could take the time to travel to some of the world's fishing hot spots and go after the really big game fish. You have to remember that she's accomplished all of these feats in an area [South Florida] with over 40,000 registered boats. It isn't easy to stand out in a crowd like that. And she's incredibly versatile, catching big fish on light tackle while standing up A even on fly. Sure, she works with a good crew. Still, finding the fish is one thing; catching them is another. And Heidi just excels at that."

At the age of eleven, Heidi caught her first world-record fish, and she has notched a total of four world records to date. One of those was an eleven-foot-long, 472-pound hammerhead shark that a fifteen-year-old Heidi caught from a twenty-foot boat. The next morning, from the same twenty-foot boat, she fought a 139-pound tarpon for three hours in Government Cut, nearly getting swamped by the wakes of passing cruise ships before landing the prehistoric beast -- on flimsy twelve-pound test to boot, line so light that in theory a twelve-pound fish could snap it. The lighter the line, the more finesse -- and time -- required to catch a fish.

Heidi has never finished out of the top ten in any tournament she has entered. She has won the Mini-Met -- a one-day tournament that kicks off the larger Met -- five out of the past seven years. Both Heidi and Don take particular pride in this accomplishment because the Mini-Met does not make distinctions based on age or sex. The person who catches the most fish wins. Heidi has also twice won the women's division of the two-year-old Bob Lewis Billfish Challenge and in 1994 swept the Miami Billfish Tournament, claiming top prizes for overall angler, women's division, and juniors. Both the Bob Lewis and Miami Billfish tournaments offer cash and merchandise prizes, but more important to Heidi they afford her an opportunity to compete head-to-head with the top men in her sport on a level playing field (i.e., shorter contests). After winning those events, no one could say she fishes pretty well "for a girl."

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