MARATHON, Florida Keys — Steeped in a community’s tradition of giving and organized by dedicated volunteers, the Marathon International Bonefish Tournament celebrate its milestone 50th anniversary with the 2009 event, set for Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 17-20.
Believed to be the longest–running fishing tournament in the Keys, the MIBT was begun in 1959. At that time, Marathon’s prominent families and business owners wanted to support local fishing guides and buoy the usually slow season in June.
For nearly 20 years, the tournament was a five-day challenge. Anglers and guides fished for three days, then spent the fourth day in a raucous “switch hitter” in which the anglers fished the guides and guides competed among themselves. Day five was back to normal with the guides once again at the helm.
The angling challenge was eventually moved to September and shortened to three days. Over the years it has endured changing economies, postponements from hurricanes, new generations of anglers and guides — and even the advent of feminism that ended the tradition of crowning an attractive “Miss Bonefish” to bestow trophies on the tournament winners.
Notable and celebrity participants have included crooner Perry Como during the early 60s, former U.S. Representative Dante Fascell, Broadway actor David Wayne and Heublein Inc. magnate John Martin of A-1 Sauce fame.
Fifty years after its inception, the no-kill tournament continues to be popular with anglers drawn by its fun, community camaraderie and affordability.
According to longtime tournament volunteer and Marathon resident Bettye Chaplin, the MIBT has been an all-release tournament for 28 years — appealing to conservation-minded anglers like Dr. Neal Rogers, photographer and author of “Saltwater Fly Fishing Magic,” who returns year after year with his wife Linda Rogers.
Adding to the light-hearted competition, MIBT is one of the few tournaments that allow anglers to fish without a professional guide.
More than 20 locally donated trophies and prizes are awarded. Recipients include the individual and team champions scoring the largest bonefish and permit, and the top anglers in the new fly and grand slam divisions (for the top spin or fly angler who releases the largest bonefish, permit and tarpon “slam”). Awards also include the cheeky wet-pants champion titles for anglers wading from shore.
The funds raised at the tournament each year benefit a Marathon–area charity. Recipient in past years have included domestic abuse and women’s shelters, and even the family of a local guide family whose child was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Registration for the landmark 50th anniversary tournament is set for 4 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, at Chappy’s Steak & Seafood Restaurant, 7 Knight’s Key Blvd. at the world-famous Seven Mile Bridge. All social events are to be held at Chappy’s.
For more information, call tournament coordinator Lindsay Rabito-Leonard at (305) 481-4571 or e-mail [email protected].
Doyle Blumle, pictured here in 1967, was president of the Marathon Chamber of Commerce four times, a record unmatched today. Photos courtesy of Bettye Chaplin
Marge Street, pictured here with the trophy table in 1967 at the Buccaneer Lodge, today site of Tranquility Bay Resort, is one of the MIBT founders.
In an undated photo, angler and guide show off a tournament bonefish, with the historic Old Seven Mile Bridge in the background. Today, catch-and-release is a standard fishing practice.
Frank Street places a crown on Beth Anderson, one of the early "Miss Bonefish" queens, circa 1968.
2009 MIBT volunteers: (Standing, L-R) Clara Mayette, Mindy Gaines, Bettye Chaplin (Sitting, L-R)Nancy Ponzoa, Committee Chairman Lindsay Rabito-Leonard and Laural Keating.