Arguably there is no finer place in the whole world to fish the
flats for tarpon, bonefish, and permit than the Florida Keys.
Sure there are far away places that have more bonefish and allegedly
dumber permit, but none compare with the size of our fish or the
variety of places that they can be found or with the quality of
the guides that can take you to them. But even the Keys has its
special place: Little Palm Island home of the Little Palm
Island Grand Slam.
Little Palm Island in addition to being a five star resort is
located in the Atlantic, offshore from Little Torch Key. Of all
the sections of the Keys, this area is probably the most virgin.
It is a little too far South for the Islandmorada guides and a
little far north for the Key Westers, but within just minutes
of the Island you can be fishing seemingly endless ocean flats
or be huddled in next to a mangrove island on the Gulf of Mexico.
Tarpon, bonefish, and permit are everywhere and there is always
somewhere to go to be out of the wind and somewhere to find just
the right tide. The limitless flats fishing potential of this
area and the complete luxury of the Little Palm Island Resort
and Spa has kept the Mercury/Redbone at Large Tournament coming
back year after year; but the 2001 Tournament exceeded everyones
usual the anglers and guides met for a kickoff dinner for some
comeradery and a gourmet seven-course meal. The next morning a
fleet of 16 shiffs left the Little Palm dock headed in all directions;
each in pursuit of the mystical grand slam of flats fishing
tarpon, bonefish, and permit. The winners had to catch all three
species during the two days of fishing. This feat may not seem
too difficult from a desk in Chicago, but for those who have done
it or have set out to try to do it, it is a mystical experience:
The Holy Grail of flats fishing. Nothing can really compare to
it. The anglers skill has to be sharp, the fish have to
be found, and lady luck has to be sitting on your shoulder.
Our 2001 Tournament began unexpectedly with a light north wind,
which was pretty unusual in August. The good news was it cooled
down the tropical heatwave of the prior weeks; the bad news was
it moved all the fish around. Schools of tarpon that had been
rolling constantly next to mangrove islands were gone. The permit
had already been scared off by lobster divers splashing along
the edges of their favorite flats. The bonefish, well, they were
still around somewhere. Due to the wind shift, all the
scouting and planning of the day before was out the window as
lines hit the water.
As in most tournaments fishing ended at 3:00 p.m. and the pressure
eased on the anglers and guides. The ride back is always full
of anticipation. Everyone caught some pretty good fish
but how did the others do? As the results were posted on the scoreboard
next to Little Palms swimming pool, it appeared that most
everyone had a pretty similar day until Dan Zacaris
total was registered. Dan was fishing with Capt. Mark Krowka and
he had his slam 2 tarpon, 1 bonefish and 1 permit. Jim
Bokor fishing with Capt. Tim Hoover had 4 bonefish and a tarpon,
but no slam. Jullian Robertson fishing with Doug Kilpatrick had
bonefish and tarpon on fly, but he too was one fish short of a
slam. The rest of us were all grouped in a cluster below the three
leaders, but the slam was the key you had to catch all
three to rack up the points. In addition, no one had ever caught
two slams in a Redbone Tournament so Dan looked pretty good as
everyone drifted off for the spa, the pool or their cottage.
Day two dawned with an east wind and lots of rain. Fishing needed
to be adjusted to dodge thunderstorms and watersports, but in
between the clouds, summer returned. Dan knew he needed another
slam to lock in first prize while Jim Bokor needed some tarpon
and then some permit. When the day ended, it had seen some of
the best flats fishing ever experienced.
On day one Dan Zacari had his slam plus two tarpon so his plan
was to find some bonefish and permit to match the extra tarpon.
He caught a bonefish early, but then they disappeared, so Capt.
Krowka moved him to deeper water to look for permit. Methodically
Dan caught two permit, giving him his second slam and needing
only one bonefish for his third. A half-hour before lines out
he released his third bonefish for his third slam an accomplishment
never before achieved in a Redbone tournament. Dan, Mark, and
teammate Cal Blumberg were ecstatic as the points were recorded
on the scoreboard. The only person still not back was Jim Bokor!
Jim and Tim Hoover also had a plan. They already had four bonefish,
but only one tarpon and no permit. They decided to hit the tarpon
first and found a school sheltered next to a mangrove island.
Jim caught three bringing his total to four bones and four tarpon.
Now it was 8:00 a.m. and they needed permit. Everything depended
on the permit. Tim ran west checking spot after spot until finally
he found them permit simply covered one of his favorite
flats. Jim caught four and when it was over they realized that
they actually had four slams, an unbelievable feat in just two
days of fishing. The awards dinner turned into the Jim and Tim
show. At kickoff no one could have imagined that three slams would
take second place. In fact most of us still can not believe that
two anglers totaled seven slams in two days.
It was a fantastic time at a fantastic resort. The Little Palm
Island Resort and Spa is an end in itself with every imaginable
comfort. Add in some of the best flats fishing in the world and
you have quite unforgettable package.