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"BUBBA" RICH GARNERS MORE FISHING FAME WITH CROCODILE BAY WIN
CROCODILE BAY, SOUTHERN PACIFIC COAST, COSTA RICA - With his quest for all ten fish needed to guarantee enshrinement in the Met Hall of Fame behind him and a book on the adventure soon to be released, Islamorada angler Bob "Bubba" Rich Jr. was looking for new fishing worlds to conquer.
He found one of them in Costa Rica, winning the grand championship in the first annual Mercury Redbone@Large Crocodile Bay Tournament held April 5-10.
"In retrospect, my wife Mindy and I would have gone to Costa Rica just for natural beauty, as well as to support a great cause," Rich said. "It's an enchanting place to visit, even without the fishing. But the fishing is just extraordinary."
Like all Redbone and Redbone@Large tournaments, the Crocodile Bay event, sponsored by Mercury Marine, was a multi-species, all-release tournament. The target species for this event were billfish -- including sailfish or marlin -- and a species native to the Eastern Pacific called the roosterfish.
The roosterfish has a reputation as a superb light-tackle gamefish. Growing to a length of over four feet, it can weigh over 100 pounds. "The roosterfish are totally unique," Rich said. "Pound for pound, it's a great light tackle target for any angler."
As with his quest for the Met Hall of Fame, Richs win in the Crocodile Bay event was carried off in grand style. He caught and released two roosterfish on bait, and three sailfish on fly. But the highlight of his trip was the last sailfish he caught in the tournament, a monster estimated to weigh around 160-170 pounds.
"When I went to Costa Rica, I would never have believed I would be raising 15 to 20 fish a day and releasing a world record sailfish on fly," Rich said. "I think a lot of tournaments are good to great, but this one was just mystical."
The big sailfish Rich caught ate a fly cast at it at about 11:30 a.m. on the third and final day of the tournament. After taking the fly, Rich said, the fish circle once, then began to tailwalk just 10 feet off the boat's stern.
"I heard the captain say, 'Ay carumba!' which I later learned meant it was the biggest Pacific sailfish he had ever seen," Rich said.
After four and a half hours, according to Rich, the big fish still had plenty of fight left in it. "At 4 p.m., he was still sounding and tailwalking as if he'd never been hooked. And we ended up having a decision to make."
At 4:30 p.m., with a long trip back to the Crocodile Bay Resort docks ahead of them and dusk fast approaching, Rich's captain urged him to take the drag off the reel and simply attempt to "horse" the big sailfish to the boat. Rich said he had no illusion that doing so with the 12 weight flyrod and 20 pound tippet he was using would result in the fish breaking the line, and after fighting it for five hours, he didn't want that to happen. "So I came up with a different game plan," Rich said.
First he went to the bow of the boat, then had the captain drive fast past the fish as it was sounding. Then as the fish began to rise toward the surface, Rich had the captain loop around its position in a large oval and come up behind it.
"I figured by doing that, the fish would not feel the pressure of the line, but just the hook in his mouth, and he would come to the surface and try to spit it out," Rich explained.
That, in fact, was exactly what happened, and when the fish surfaced, Rich had the captain run in on it fast. The mate grabbed the leader and broke the fish off for an official release.
Because the world record for a sailfish on 20 lb. tippet fly tackle is 128 pounds, there is no doubt in his mind that the fish he fought off Costa Rica would have earned him a new place in the record book had he brought it to the dock. But he has no regrets. Just the opposite, in fact.
"I think the best part of this story is the fact that catch and release has gotten to the point in Costa Rica where no one -- not me, not the captain and not the mate -- ever thought of killing this fish, even though it was certainly a world record," Rich said.
The first runner up in the event was Craig Reagor of Chicago, Ill., who caught one sailfish on fly and two roosterfish on bait. Reagor also won the trophy for most roosterfish releases -- although he and Rich both released two roosterfish, Reagor was the first to release his second fish.
Rich did win the award for most billfish releases, as well as the trophy for largest sailfish release, with no other tournament anglers able to compete with his 160-pounder.
The largest roosterfish, measuring 51 inches, was released by Brad Kenyon of Palm Harbor, Fla.
Celebrity participants in the event included former Oakland Raiders quarterback Daryl Lamonica and former Miami Dolphin Earl Morrow, who brought along a camera crew from their television program, "Outdoors with the Pros" on the Fox Network. A segment of the show featuring the Mercury Redbone @ Large at Crocodile Bay event is expected to air this summer.
The first class Crocodile Bay Lodge hosted the totally unique event to raise crucial dollars to fund medical programs and research for cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that causes the body to produce an abnormally thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and can lead to life-threatening lung infections. Remarkable progress has been made, but at this time, there is no cure. The Mercury Redbone events have generated over 1.8 million dollars in the last thirteen years to "catch the cure" .