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'The Big Kahuna'

11/6/2008

ISLAMORADA, Fla. — Bonefish and redfish are the targets this weekend as the ESPN's Saltwater Series Redbone Celebrity Tournament moves here for what is considered the third and final leg of "the trilogy." In other words, it's the Triple Crown of this saltwater fishing competition.

Since the initial Redbone event here in 1988, the series has grown to include multiple tournaments all over the U.S. that target various species, both salt- and freshwater.

But the backbone of the Redbone is the three tournaments at Key West ("The S.L.A.M.), Key Largo (the Baybone) and this weekend's Redbone. Thus, there is more than just a tournament championship at stake this weekend. An overall "Trilogy" grand champion will be determined as well.

"This is the the big kahuna," said Gary Ellis, who with his wife, Susan, founded this fishing tournament series that raises money to cure cystic fibrosis. "This is where it all began."

Memphis neurosurgeon Dr. Maurice "Mo" Smith surprised himself with last year's Triology Grand Championship.

"I didn't think I had a shot," said Smith, who has few opportunities to fish in The Keys because of his medical practice. "I hadn't looked at the standings."

But it's obvious from the two-event standings going into the Redbone, that Smith has a chance to repeat, although he's again going to have to come from behind.

Troy Pruitt, who won the Trilogy Grand Championship in 2006, and Jeff Parrish are tied for first place in the overall standings with 1,000 points. Smith and Adrian Gray are second with 750 points. Bonnie Christ and Linda Dinkert share third place with 500 points. Mitch Howell and John Timura are in fourth place with 250 points.

"We score this just like NASCAR," Ellis said. "It doesn't matter how many fish you catch in each tournament, it's where you place that determines the points."

While there will be more anglers entered here than in the two previous Trilogy events — at least 50 two-man teams and their guides — according to Ellis, it's those who compete in all three that demonstrate their true competitive nature.

"The real serious anglers fish in all three tournaments," Ellis said. "Some corporate-sponsored teams come and go, event by event. But the hardcore group fishes all three."

Smith would definitely have to be included in that group. He said he doesn't know when he'll get back to The Keys to fish.

"Not again this year, for sure," said Smith, who keeps his casting sharp by practicing in his backyard pond.

This weekend's festivities begin with a one-day Superfly event Friday, when only fly fishing tackle is allowed.

During the two-day Redbone, tackle may include live bait and artificial lures on spinning tackle or fly fishing gear. Point scoring is adjusted accordingly, weighted, respectively, from a high of fish caught on a fly to a low of bait-caught fish. (This is a catch-and-release tournament; all fish are released after they are measured for length and photographed.)

Smith said the combination in this event of bonefish and redfish puts a priority on decision-making.

"They aren't in the same places," Smith said. "You have to make decisions within the day and within the tournament.

"You might fish for redfish one day and bonefish the next. Or you might fish for redfish half a day and bonefish the other half. You also have to take the weather into account.

"That's all part of the strategy."

The optimum Redbone strategy will be apparent at Sunday's final weigh-in.