Hage, Oneill lead Saltwater season opener

ABACO, Bahamas  Self-proclaimed amateur bonefisherman Eric Hage and Erik Oneill combined the right mixture of learning, listening and skill to take the lead in the season-opening 2009 ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series presented by TakeMeFishing.org from Abaco, Bahamas. The duo landed 12 bonefish, all on fly, for a total of 2400 points.

The event, dubbed the Baker's Bay Marsh Harbour Bonefish Classic, is part of the Redbone series of events. While execution is important here, a knowledgeable guide is key. The team had perhaps the best in Buddy Pinder, who has more than 15 years fishing the picturesque waters home to the Bahamas.

Being newcomers to bonefishing  this was Hage's third and Oneill's first experience  Pinder found the right mix of direction and personality.

"Everywhere he pointed there was another fish," said Hage. "He knew when and where they were coming from. Our success can definitely be directly attributed to Buddy. He also knew how to properly motivate us when we messed up. Staying calm was important because I have a tendency to get rattled. It was just the perfect situation."

The relative amateurs showed their stripes Saturday, missing an estimated 15 fish. Both are avid fly fisherman, mostly for trout, but have quickly fallen in love with bonefishing. Leading the event certainly had something to do with their positive attitude towards the elusive sportfish.

With heavy winds pounding the area Friday, Pinder knew that a spot that had been inaccessible for months would have refreshed with water. He visited there first thing and the crew never left, expanding on the area.

"This is such a great experience," said Oneill. "What a fight! It's just an exhilarating experience. I definitely am a huge fan of bonefishing.

Hage and Oneill, both 44, have developed a solid relationship over the years. They served as presidents in the same fraternity at Cornell University and both work in the financial industry. The two had an excellent rapport on the water that created an optimum situation for catching fish.

Trailing Hage and Oneill was Jimmy Faye and Geoffrey Jones, who tallied 2000 points, all from flies. Other participants included Jose Wejebe, host of ESPN's Spanish Fly, and ex-Denver Bronco Mark Cooper.

The two-day event will wrap up Sunday. Teams are randomly paired with guides each day of competition. Participants can use live bait, fly or jig plugs, with varying degrees of points awarded for each method.

Coinciding with this week's season opener is the debut of television coverage for the EOSS. Fishing fans can see Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and the EOSS event out of Key Largo, Fla., on ESPN2 Sunday at 8:30 a.m.