Native Floridian, Rich Barnett, a Chief Warrant Officer who pilots the Apache helicopter for the US Army, took a break after his most recent deployment in Afghanistan, just long enough to catch three bonefish and three permit and win the 2013 43rd Annual Islamorada All-Tackle Bonefish and Permit Championship. Barnett knew he did not have the advantage of time and practice days on the water. He worked to stay sharp by practice casting for an hour a day over the last several months, some of it in his backyard near Savannah, GA, and remarkably mostly at faux targets on the desert sands on base in Afghanistan!
The practice paid off handsomely on Day One of the 3 day event. After only a couple of “encounters” with bonefish in the early morning that had seen the boat first, a small relaxed group of fish materialized on some mottled bottom near Grassy Key. The cast fired in and the bait silently dropped 2 feet in front of the center of the squadron. The shrimp never made it to the bottom as the formation converged and the line came tight in a swirling skirmish of butting heads and eager fish. The 19 incher was quickly defeated, photographed and released.
With the sun now above a squall line that had developed over the Gulfstream, a change of mission shifted us to a series of 3 very small strip banks on the Bayside of Marathon. These hard-bottomed humps were in the middle of deep and busy water. Nearly at the full moon, outgoing tide was ripping across the mini flats, and a 15mph plus NE wind stood up breaking whitecaps in the surrounding eddies. Each of the shallow crowns hosted a single 30 pound class permit feeding voraciously! Marksmanship at the practice range was again about to pay off for Barnett.
The next hour and 45 minutes was largely spent battling large permit. Three perfect casts with small crabs connected with 3 whopper permit. Portions of many cresting waves joined us in the cockpit during 3 epic engagements, each lasting 30 minutes on the tournament required 10 pound test line.
With the 3 permit slots more than adequately filled, Days Two and Three were spent in search of bonefish. Bonefishing in and around Islamorada had become tougher each morning, so we headed north to the Key Largo/ Lower Biscayne Bay circuit and found several small groups both days. Rich banged out a 22 and then a 23 incher to score a centimeter converted 4,110 points for Grand Championship honors.
Second place, also with 3 and 3 for 3,750 points, was earned by angler Dr. Gary Parsons of Naples, last year’s winner of this event, with his multi-tournament winning guide Capt. Chris Jones of Islamorada. They caught the largest bonefish, a 26 inch 10 pounder. Capt. Jess Atkins guided local tournament veteran, John Timura to Third Place. Timura, fresh off his most recent win of the Herman Lucerne Backcountry Tournament, scored 3,220 points with 3 bonefish and 2 permit. Capt. Steve Tejera poled Tyler Shealey to 6 bonefish to take the Most Bonefish Releases trophy.
In an effort to enlist more anglers, the Fall All-Tackle included permit for the first time in its eventful, 43 year history. All anglers responded favorably and there is already anticipation for next year’s contest. The 3 days always begin with Columbus Day Monday. To reserve a slot in the 2014 event, contact tournament director Betsy Bullard at email@example.com .
Scoring in the Fall All-Tackle is a straight forward one centimeter equals one point for your 3 largest bonefish and 3 largest permit. You can upgrade with a larger fish at any time and your downgraded fish becomes a release, worth 100 additional points on bait, 150 on artificial and 200 on fly. There are also divisional awards for general (bait), artificial (jig), and of course fly. There are even more awards, for Most and Largest of each species. All fish of length except outright releases, are measured on a tournament supplied ruler, photographed and then released. Photos are carefully scrutinized by the Rules Committee before acceptance.
The new, 2014 Mirage 18 HPX, once again showcased its flexibility. As is the case in most competitions in the Keys, long and fast runs were required to locate the largest and most fish. A deadly quiet approach to these wary animals is also required. Combining a safe and dry ride with stealth makes the 18 HPX the ultimate tournament vessel. Rich was so impressed with the overall attributes of this hull, that he is now the proud new owner of his own 18 HPX!
Impressively, this was Rich Barnett’s very first tournament. He also won Best Newcomer, General Division Champ[on, High Point Day One Angler and Largest Permit, with the 34 inch to the fork wide, white-lipped silvery slab.
Rich’s wife Michelle is also in the Army. She is ranked Captain and flies the Apache helicopter as well. By far, the most moving of all of the awards was the presentation to my wife Marcy and I of the American flag, with a Certificate of Authentication. This “Old Glory” was in the cockpit of the Apache helicopters during actual missions flown by both Rich and Michelle in honor of our support of these fine young and courageous Americans protecting all of us in Operation Enduring Freedom.
by Capt. Mark Krowka