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A redfish day

11/8/2008

ISLAMORADA, Fla. — It's the multi-species aspect of the ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series Redbone Celebrity Tournament that makes it special. In this Redbone event, it's redfish and bonefish that are targeted. And only five bonefish were caught Saturday.

That bonefish total was swamped by the redfish catches — 109.

And this makes Sunday undoubtedly a bonefish day.

"That's the plan, bonefish all day," said 22-year-old Jeff Howell, who racked up nine redfish on artificial lures and spinning tackle for a Day One total of 675 points.

However, those 675 points don't mean a thing if they ain't got that slam, so to speak.

Only two anglers achieved a redfish/bonefish slam Saturday — former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Mark Cooper, with guide Mike Hutchinson, had one of each species, as did Mark Purdy and guide Paul Hunt.

Howell, who has been fishing with his father, Mitch, in these tournaments since Jeff was 11 years old, explained the concentration of all 51 teams on redfish Saturday.

"Everybody was pretty much fishing in the same area for redfish," Howell said. "The second day after they've been hit on, they just don't react well to pressure."

Redbone Series founder Gary Ellis added another dimension to that strategy.

"They say wind is your friend when you're bonefishing," Ellis said. "When the wind is blowing, they don't see you as well, and it also moves bait. For some reason, they feed better. The 'gray ghost' is a very spooky fish."

Very little wind blew Saturday, but more is predicted Sunday.

Led by Howell, there are several other anglers in position to match their redfish catches Saturday with a bonefish slam Sunday. First of all, both species must be caught to even qualify for the individual and team titles. Second, every slam achieved after the first one adds 100 bonus points to both the individual and team scores.

In the race for the overall Redbone Trilogy championship — the combined scores of the Key West S.L.A.M., the Key Largo Baybone and the Redbone event here, 2006 Trilogy champion Troy Pruitt kept himself in contention. The Homestead, Fla., resident caught five redfish, all on artificial lures: a Berkley Gulp! Shrimp.

Pruitt entered this event tied in overall Baybone Trilogy points with Jeff Parrish of Buffalo, N.Y. Each had 1,000 points, but Parrish landed only two redfish Saturday. If Pruitt can match those redfish up with some bonefish Sunday, he's got the inside track to another title.

But last year's champion, Memphis area neurosurgeon Mo Smith, isn't going quietly in the Trilogy hunt. He came back to overtake Pruitt on the final day a year ago. And Smith caught eight redfish on bait Saturday.

If Pruitt's going to win the Trilogy, he'll have to do it with little sleep. He left Saturday's check-in on his way to Naples, Fla., a two-and-a-half hour drive away, for his uncle's birthday party. But it's not that surprising, given the band Chicago was booked to play.

"I'm going to drive back after the party, catch a couple hours sleep at (partner John Trimura's house), and be ready to go," Pruitt said.

At least Pruitt will be operating from a position of strength in the standings. Otherwise, sleep deficit might be his undoing Sunday.