First it’s a hard tug, then a fight ensues usually climaxing with high flying, leaping action as tarpon and angler meet in one of the most unique fishing tournaments in Florida. It’s the annual springtime Redbone@Large Sunrise/Sunset Tarpon Tourney, April 26 – 28, in the middle of the Sportfishing Capital of the World.

“It’s always an awesome weekend,” said popular celebrity guest host Bruce Melnick, a NASA astronaut of the Discovery and Endeavor space shuttle flights. “The tarpon seem to be everywhere and to catch and release them is something every angler needs to experience.”

The event raises funds and awareness for medical research to find a cure for cystic fibrosis and is part of Redbone@Large Celebrity Tournament Series now in its 25th year. The Redbone has grown to nearly 30 annual international events since 1988.

The competition is an all-release format. To count as a legal release all tarpon must be at least 48 inches in overall length to qualify among the three divisions of bait, artificial and fly.

The Islander Resort near Mile Marker 82 on the Atlantic side is the headquarters with registration kicking off Friday followed by a cocktail reception, hors d’oeuvres and silent auction. The next morning across U.S. 1 bayside, the Lore-lei Cabana Bar and Marina is the collecting point for the anglers in the three fishing sessions. With a skilled Keys guide the two person teams begin fishing at dawn from 5:30 -10 a.m., on Saturday and Sunday with a middle Saturday session at dusk, from 4 – 8 p.m., featuring what Melnick hopes for in a beautiful sunset and a near full moon rise.

The tournament closes with a Sunday awards luncheon at the Islamorada Fishing Club adjacent to the Lore-lei from 11:30 to 2 p.m.

No stranger to high flying action, the space adventurer who has released over 50 tarpon smiled as he recalled his biggest battle with a tournament record brute silverking two years ago.

Melnick said, “That year while motoring out at daybreak for the final round of fishing we were treated to a great surprise of watching the space station fly overhead for several minutes, followed by my lengthy battle with the 170 plus pound tarpon, and then a breath-taking sunrise.

“It doesn’t get much better than that,” he beamed.

Melnick will be joined by acclaimed tournament artist Pasta Pantaleo who’s original and limited edition artworks will be presented as trophies along with sandblast glass from Sandstone Art Studio. Both are exhibited at the Redbone Gallery in Islamorada. Awards will go to the grand champion angler, lady grand champion, team and runner-ups in those divisions.

For tournament information on this and other Redbone tournaments across the U.S., and several international sites, go to the Redbone website at www.redbone.org , or phone Redbone executive director Susan Ellis at 305-664-2002 or via susan@redbone.org.

Image courtesy Johnson Communications

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