42˝ Hours of Intense Fishing On Line In 35th Annual Mercury Outboards Bonefishing World Championship

Anglers & guides set for one of oldest, prestigious tournaments in Florida Keys


ISLAMORADA, In the Fla. Keys --- To backcountry and flats fishermen it's considered one of the most intense and prestigious tournaments for both angler and guide alike. Nineteen teams of guides and anglers from seven states will take to the Florida Bay waters for five challenging days as the 35th Annual Mercury Outboards Bonefishing World Championship/Islamorada All-Tackle Tournament kicks off October 8-12. 

            For 42˝ hours on the water, their sole goal is the grey ghost of the flats; the wily, hard-fighting bonefish.  The tournament is all catch and release.

Competitors from New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, Kansas, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Florida, are pre-registered for the tournament, where luck is a four letter word precluded by keen preparation, skill, accurate casting, hard fishing, serious guiding, and plenty of mind-games.

Tournament spokesman Dr. Fred Troxel, Big Pine Key, said the event is also unique in that all four prominent tackle styles can be utilized, depending on the weather conditions, as well as the interests and skills of each angler.

"They may choose from bait, spinning or plug casting with artificial, or traditional fly tackle," said Troxel. "Prizes are awarded to the top finishers in all of those individual categories. In addition, there are prizes for most total points, most releases, largest single fish, largest permit, and an all-tackle champion that requires catching fish, two over eight pounds, with each of the four tackle styles. 

"Also factored in for points are a maximum of five weigh fish, usually in the 9 – 13 lb. range that anglers bring to the weigh scales and then release,” Troxel added.  "That is if they can catch them."

The winners will take home original artwork by nationally known marine wildlife artists along with an array of prizes donated by national and local merchants.

Money raised from Mercury Marine, other sponsorships and entry fees goes to conservation and environmental efforts.


Hoping for favorable weather

The competitors are wishing for mild weather throughout the week to do more sight fishing than allowed in past years.

Last year’s tournament was one of the most physically challenging and windiest tournaments any competitor can remember. For the entire week winds blew as high as 52 mph as anglers and guides came back each afternoon red faced, wind burned and fatigued. 

In 1999, the tournament was called on the fourth day to give way to Hurricane Irene and the evacuation of the Keys. 

            Lines are in at 7 a.m. each morning with the weigh-in and live release activity taking place at the Lorelei (bayside MM 82), throughout the day. Lines are out at 3:30 p.m. daily.



The Teams: Anglers and their guides

The defending champion is Mark Cockerham, Islamorda, who will be guided again by Capt. Rick Moeller. Moeller himself had won this tournament in ‘91 and ‘94 as an angler before becoming a guide.

Multiple winners are also back including three time champions Jose "Pepe" Lopez of Miami, guided by veteran Islamorada Capt. Billy Knowles, and Fred Troxel with his guide Capt. Mike Guerin who Troxel recently persuaded to move back from New Mexico. Lopez won the Bonefishing World Championship in '93, ’96 and ’98.  Troxel did it in ’90, ’92 and ’95.  

Also competing is two-time champion Carl Hiaasen, Islamorada, guided by Capt. Tim Klein. Hiaasen, a popular Miami Herald columnist and award-winning novelist (Stormy Weather, Sick Puppy and Strip Tease) won his titles in ’97 and again in ’99 during the interruption of Hurricane Irene.  Hiaasen finished as the runnerup to Cockerham last year.

They’ll face some stiff competition from top South Fla., anglers including Jim Bokor, Tavernier, Fla., Dan Zicari, Vero Beach and Pat Dorsey, Miami.

Bokor is fresh from his win this past week at the Mercury Outboards Baybone at Key Largo. He’ll be guided by Capt. Paul Tejera.

Zicari won the Mercury SLAM in Key West in early September, and Dorsey won the IGFA/Rolex Inshore Championship this past summer held in Islamorada.  Zicari is teamed with Capt. Mark Krowka, Davie; Dorsey with Capt. Dave Denkert, Miami.

            Other local competitive teams include Brower Moffit, Palm Beach, with Capt. Bruce Stagg; Jim Mooney, Islamorada with Capt. Rick Miller, and Carl Anderson, Islamorada guided by Capt. George Wood.  Capt. Kris Bacen and Capt. Mike Ehlers will guide two other Islamorada anglers in Jim Rhyne and Jim Trice respectively. 

Entered from out of state are Chicago's Gary Hirsch, guided by Capt. Kenny Knudsen; Ed Casale, Westfield, N.J. with Capt. Craig Brewer; Tom Siska, Saddle Brook, N.J. with Capt. Duane Baker, and Gary Merriman, Atlanta, Ga., with Capt. Tim Hoover.  From Lehighton, Pa, is Paul Wingrove with Capt. Steve Thomas; Moe Slayton, Avon, Conn., with Capt. Greg Poland, and Dan Root, Leawood, Kan., guided by Capt. Kevin Guerin.

            For the guides it's a chance to be listed among the elite of their profession alongside former top guides and legendary skiff captains like Eddie Wightman, Bob Reineman, Cecil Keith, Steve Huff, Harry Spear and George Hommell.


The Psychological Factor: The mind games

            Most Keys tournaments are one or two day events where luck and a good guide can make all the difference in winning.  In this tournament of five days, preparation, skill and physical endurance play out to the end with anglers and guides alike trying to eliminate the mind games that begin and end at the leader board each afternoon.

            Dialogue such as "if I had caught my bonefish with a jig instead of live bait I could have picked up 50 more points" or "had I used a fly during the days with less breeze I could be in the lead with 100 points more than the bait fishermen," invade many of the competitor's brains.

            On the water anglers try to judge which bonefish eight pounds and over to release and which to bring to the scales (later released) when the extra points of five tournament weigh fish becomes a factor.

            "The only mind game you should have is with yourself." said Bokor. "If you begin to compete against anyone besides yourself you're that much closer to losing, You need to just go fishing, concentrating on the best skills you have whether it's with live bait, artificial or fly. It's five days of intense fun but what is really nice.... you're fishing!"

            "The camaraderie is great among the competitors," added Bokor.  "We have a good time at the weigh-in and afterwards talking about the fish we caught, the one's we lost and the one's we should have caught."