Three bones are plenty

KEY LARGO, Fla. — Defending champions Ken Watkins and guide Dave Borras caught only one bonefish in the ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series Superfly event here Friday, a one-day tournament preceding this weekend's Redbone Series Baybone Celebrity Tournament.

The experienced saltwater fly-fishing anglers thought it would take at least four bonefish this year to repeat their first-place performance from one year ago at Key Largo.

So they were pleasantly surprised when that one-bonefish day was good enough for second place among the nine teams competing here Friday.

"Absolutely," said Watkins, who lives in nearby Islamorada. "With the weather we had today against the quality of the guides competing here, we're happy with that."

Watkins and Borras could also take some small satisfaction in their pre-tournament prediction. Four bonefish was exactly what it would have taken to beat the winning team of Memphis neurosurgeon Mo Smith and guide Mark Krowka, who took the Baybone Superfly competition title with three bonefish.

Smith was anything but surprised that — when teamed with legendary Florida Keys guide Krowka — they would win Friday's Superfly event, even if only with three bonefish and none of the permit species that were also eligible for point-scoring here.

"(Krowka) is the winningest Redbone (Series) guide there is," said Smith. "He's phenomenal. He's the reason for my success."

Friday morning dawned with an overcast sky, briefly cleared from about 10 a.m. until noon, then turned overcast again. That overcast sunlight is particularly a problem for fly anglers trying to see bonefish and permit in the shallow flats. It creates a glare that essentially narrows the window of opportunity to a mere crack.

"We caught all three fish before noon on a Merkin (fly) pattern," said Smith, who has honed his fly-casting skills by casting at duck decoys in his Memphis backyard pond. "Then we lost our light and couldn't see.

"You had to be in the right place at the right time. It was all strategy."

And it was a strategy that Smith attributed to Krowka, who has guided an average of over 300 days a year in the Keys for the past 20 years.

On a side note, but one that warrants mentioning, Krowka will not hit the 300-day mark this season because of, what else, the economy.

"Our November and December business is not going to be there," said Krowka, who met his wife Marcy 18 years ago, through this charity tournament series that Gary and Susan Ellis organized in 1988 to help finance research to cure cystic fibrosis.

But Krowka, now 49, managed to look at the bright side, saying, "I'm not 30 years old anymore either."

And 300-plus days a year of guiding in the Keys, or anywhere else for that matter, will tax the body of a 20-year-old.

Krowka and Smith left Friday's Superfly weigh-in to go buy shrimp for the beginning of the two-day Baybone event here, where 18 three-angler teams are entered. Among the celebrities competing is Major League Baseball Hall of Fame member Wade Boggs.

Neither member of Friday's second-place Superfly event is competing this weekend, when bonefish and permit fishing isn't limited to one fly pattern per day. Live bait, artificial lures and spinning tackle are also legal methods this weekend.

Since he's not competing, Borras, who has been guiding here for 24 years, could make an unbiased prediction: "It will depend on the light more than anything. The guides can handle the wind, but you can't do much about the light.

"But they will catch a lot more fish, because even if the light isn't good, they can go to the right areas and just put baits out. It's not the way it's normally done; it's a fall-back method.

"But a fly without the right sunlight conditions — that's tough."