A series of prestigious fall fishing tournaments in the Florida Keys has fallen victim to the ill winds of Hurricane Irma.
For the first time in the 28-year history of the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series, “The Trilogy” of three major 2017 Keys tournaments has been erased from the anglers’ fishing calendar.
“We’ve had issues with weather before but nothing like this,” said Redbone Executive Director Susan Ellis. “It’s a huge financial blow.”
The Redbone’s Southernmost Light Tackle Anglers Masters event in Key West was scheduled to conclude on Sept. 10, the day Category 4 Irma made landfall in the Keys. About 90 people were expected to take part, Ellis said.
Storm damage that forced the closure of several popular oceanside resorts in Islamorada wiped out the Oct. 6-8 Baybone Tournament, with an expected fishing field of about 45.
This week, the series sponsored by Robert James Sales announced the 2017 cancellation of its namesake Keys event, the Redbone in Islamorada, named for the redfish and bonefish sought by about 75 anglers.
“We could send our boats out from the docks at the Lorelei but a lot of people had reservations at Cheeca Lodge and The Islander. Now they have no place to stay,” Ellis said.
Both oceanside resorts, now making repairs in Irma’s wake, tentatively expect to reopen in early 2018.
Established as a nonprofit organization, the Rebone series of 20 tournaments now has raised more $23 million for the fight against cystic fibrosis through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Gary and Susan Ellis founded the series after their daughter Nicole was born with the life-threatening disease.
The event organizers already had purchased awards and gear, Ellis said. “However we were unable to hold our auctions, which are our bread and butter and would have helped to offset those expenses. It’s our hope that most of 2017 anglers will be generous enough to allow us to roll over their entries so we won't have to reimburse them.”
“We’re holding our breath that we’ll be able to hold the [Sunrise/Sunset] Tarpon Tournament in April,” Ellis said. A decision on the April 20-22 event, headquartered at The Islander resort, is expected in December.
Cheeca Lodge and Resort executives said this week that its All American Backcountry Fishing Tournament, planned Nov. 16-18, has been cancelled.
Held over Veteran’s Day weekend with invited guest military members, the backcountry tournament raises money for the local Guides Trust Foundation, a nonprofit organization “supporting Florida Keys fishing guides in need.” About 25 angler-and-guide teams were expected to compete.
Cheeca’s ownership, Northwood Investors, will donate $10,000 to the guides foundation. Currently the foundation is working to help “those Florida Keys guides and their families who were most impacted by Hurricane Irma.”
“We explored alternatives to move forward with the tournament but the impact of Hurricane Irma made it too difficult for us to deliver a tournament of this caliber in November,” Cheeca General Manager Bob LaCasse said in a statement. “We truly regret that we will not be able to host this year’s tournament and pay tribute to our war heroes, support our anglers and local fishing guides, and facilitate tourism in the Keys.”
The 28th Annual Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament will take place as scheduled Jan. 26-28 as the third leg of the Florida Keys Gold Cup Sailfish Championship series.
“We’re still working in the exact details but we will make the Presidential Tournament happen,” resort spokeswoman Julie Thornhill said.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206