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Redbone 2001 Tournaments


By Pat Ford

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 everyone’s expectations.

As 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 angler’s 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 Palm’s swimming pool, it appeared that most everyone had a pretty similar day – until Dan Zacari’s 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.