ISLAMORADA, Fla. With their first-day guides in the three-day event, 28 fly and light-tackle champion fishermen, two of them from as far away as Africa and Australia, launched at daybreak to begin the seventh annual IGFA Inshore World Championship.
Dubbed the "super bowl of inshore fishing," the celebrated world-class inshore catch-and-release format features the 22 men and six women anglers stalking the surrounding waters Monday-Wednesday, for bonefish, tarpon, permit, snook and redfish.
The competitors gained entry by winning one of more than 55 fly and light tackle IGFA sanctioned tournaments during 2006 held in eight countries around the world and representing nearly 3,000 anglers on four continents who were vying to be in the "tournament of champions." Fourteen of the champions are first-time invitees o the championship.
"I'm impressed with the quality of the anglers," IGFA IWC tournament director Mike Myatt said. "We have 28 true champions from as far away as Uganda and Darwin, Australia. During weekend pre-fishing on Saturday and Sunday several anglers reported lots of fish including bonefish on the flats and tarpon on the Atlantic Oceanside."
One noted Florida Bay guide believes whoever wins it will be based on their releasing more "back country" fish of snook, reds and tarpon. Capt. Larry Sydnor of Key Largo said "the bonefishing has been great closer in but based on past experience the back country fish will make the difference." The hardest of the five species to target is usually permit.
On Sunday night the anglers participated in a captain's draw matching a different guide and angler for each day. The IWC features three days of fishing with the contestants vying for engraved timepieces in the prestige tournament.
The four major award categories include: Grand Champion (the angler who accumulates the most points for all five targeted species); and first places in the fly, artificial lure and bait casting divisions. There are also trophies and merchandise for second- and third-place divisional winners in the three categories as well as to the top three guides.
The point value of the fish is determined by species and the angler's preference choice of fly fishing, artificial lure or bait, added Myatt.
"There's always lots of strategizing and mind games," Myatt says. "Some anglers will use one approach or all three over the three days. With so many different fishing disciplines represented by the qualifying champions, this format levels the on-the-water playing field. The rotating guide and angler format relieves the 'home field' advantage to a degree and lends itself to maximizing not only the angler's strengths, but also the guide's."
"July is a great time to fish in the Keys for the five species. The one big variable will be the weather," as the anglers have dodged storms and hurricanes in past years, he added. "But the weather is supposed to be great over these three days."
Robert Collins of Naples, Fla., who won in 2005 said, "I love the format because of the tough challenging competition plus you're working with great guides. It makes you think and plan and use the attributes of the guide and angler each day. It's always tough for the fly anglers especially with a couple of species like permit and snook."
Like the Masters in professional golf, past champions are invited perpetually. Jose Lopez of Miami will defend his title though Collins, "re-qualified," by winning an IGFA sanctioned event.
The Islander Resort is the tournament headquarters, while fishing and daily scorekeeping takes place from the World Wide Sportsman marina. Both are located near mile marker 82.
The daily results of the IGFA IWC along with photos of the previous day's round will be posted each morning on the IGFA's home page at igfa.org.
The IWC is the second in a series of world wide competitive fishing events that includes the eighth annual IGFA Offshore World Championship held in May in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
In that tournament 62 winning teams of anglers representing tournaments in 30 countries caught and released 337 billfish (striped marlin and sailfish). A team representing Spain's Marina Rubicon Marlin Cup 2006 in Lanzarote won by posting 10 releases the final day.
The International Game Fish Association is a not-for-profit organization committed to the conservation of game fish and the promotion of responsible, ethical angling practices through science, education, rule making and record keeping. It was founded in 1939 and has members in over 125 countries. The association welcomes visitors to their 60,000 square foot IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum in Dania Beach, Florida. The IGFA web site is igfa.org.
Pasta Pantaleo is the official artist of the IWC.
Sponsors include Mercury Outboards, Bacardi, Costa Del Mar, G. Loomis, Hook and Tackle, Islamorada Fish Co., Islander Resort, King Sailfish Mounts, Rapala, Shimano, Stiffy Push Poles, 3M Scientific Anglers, Reel Life Art, World Wide Sportsman, Zane Grey Lounge, KD & G Sea Life Masterpieces, Redbone Gallery, Image Graphics 2000, Momoi and Daiichi.
For further information, contact Ms. Hartman at the IGFA, 300 Gulf Stream Way, Dania Beach, Florida 33004; (954) 927-2628; Fax (954) 924-4299; Email: DHartman@igfa.org.