Lunch with a Legend.
In 1999, new Ocean Reef member Nancy Zakon invited a few angling ladies to a luncheon at The Point. The guest of honor was Nancy’s friend, Joan Wulff, the nation’s most celebrated woman fly fisher, and the enthusiasm evident on that occasion inspired Nancy to seek out more fishing ladies for camaraderie and fun adventures. Soon the group had grown to include Kathy Benton, Jean Geddes, Margery Hetzel, Patty Jacobson, Sis Kelm, Anne Klopman, Christine Patton, Helene Peddle, Aileen Sinclair and Adelaide Skoglund. Christine Patton became the “unofficial secretary”. This is an excerpt from the letter that she wrote for the group inviting others to join them:
“Ocean Reef offers all that we could need – ideal fishing water is minutes away, a flotilla of flats fishing boats is at hand, and most critical, we have a certified fly-fishing instructor, Nancy Zakon, who has taught fly-casting at Orvis schools around the country for a number of years. With the setting, the gear and Nancy’s support what more do we need.” … “Sounds good, doesn’t it? Here’s an opportunity to learn from an experienced fly caster, get together with like-minded friends, and pursue one of the world’s most exciting sports, all in our incredibly beautiful backyard!“
What’s in a Name?
In January of 2000 an organizational meeting was held to discuss general guidelines and potential names. Among them were: The Castaways, The North Key Largo Women Fly Fishers, Gals on the Flats and the winner, in honor of “Bonefish Bonnie” Laidlaw Smith, the Bonefish Bonnies.
In the late 1930s, the Georgia native, Bonnie Laidlaw married fishing guide Bill Smith of Islamorada, the developer of bonefishing on a fly (previously believed to be impossible). Bonnie took fly-fishing lessons with the dean of Keys guides, Preston Pinder, and in turn taught her sisters Beulah Cass and Frankee Albright. (See photo above in header of this page.)
In her book, Reel Women: The World of Women in Fishing, Lyla Foggia explains how Bonnie got her nickname: “In honor of her Midas touch with the game fish that everyone admired but few could catch, Bonnie became ‘Bonefish Bonnie’ within the saltwater fly-fishing fraternity.”
Together with her sisters she kept the guide business going through World War II while Bill served in the Armed Forces. After the war, “Bonefish Bonnie” and Bill Smith were guides to such stars as Ted Williams, Herbert Hoover, and Madeleine Carol. In addition to guiding and teaching “Bonefish Bonnie” was credited with the first recorded permit catch on fly by a woman.
Strawberries on South Road
Interest in fishing soon became paired with casting lessons, both fly-fishing and spin casting. Nancy, whose first love was fly-fishing, had been an Orvis and FFF certified instructor in her past life, so she held “Warm-up Sessions.” The group would gather to practice casting on a grassy vacant lot (now a home) at 21 South Road and they used hula-hoops as their “fish” targets. Nancy always brought strawberries that everyone would enjoy afterwards, sitting on the grass.
Lunches with Lessons
By 2001 the membership had grown to over 20. Nancy was the trip organizer and casting instructor, Christine Patton, the acting secretary and Margery Hetzel the treasurer. Christine became famous for her hand written postcards announcing the group’s meetings, casting lessons, fishing days and trips. Those postcards were the forerunner of our e-newsletter, Tight Lines.
The Bonnies’ early get-togethers evolved to monthly luncheons at the Key Largo Anglers Club, and in time, presentations by entertaining fishing speakers including Joan Wulff, Stu Apte, Billy Pate, Chico Fernandez, Flip Pallot and others were added to the mix. Next came wonderful fun programs such as “Fishing Fashion Shows” featuring apparel from local shops on Bonnie models and “How to Cook Fish” showcasing culinary tips from Ocean Reef/Anglers Club chefs.
Each focused on fish and fishing and was entertaining and informative. It wasn’t long before there was an annual Awards Luncheon to cap the year with prizes for a variety of feats both serious and humorous.
Wednesdays were organized fishing days. Those who wanted to fish would tell Nancy, who arranged for guides and partners if needed. Most fished all day, and there was often a noon picnic at the Ranger station. To encourage the pastime, any new Bonnie catching a fish was rewarded with a Bonnies’ fishing hat. Fishing days made it easy for first-time fishers to try the sport. Later, half days were offered. Then someone wondered, what about a tournament?
In 2003 Adelaide Skoglund and Patty Jacobson organized the Bonnies’ first fishing tournament, the Flats Tournament; the hope was that someone would catch a bonefish, a tarpon, or a permit. But with so many new anglers, points were also given for fish that were easier to catch. The winning team, Marjorie Smith and Vicki Goldstein, caught loads of sea trout, whereas Patty Jacobson, who had landed a bonefish, wasn’t even in the winner’s circle – we laughed! And, in 2004, the two tournament organizers, going along with the fun of catching any fish, added the first No Rules Tournament to the Bonnies’ schedule.
The idea was to catch any fish on anything – you just had to have a line and a hook. The idea encouraged as many women as possible to go fishing, and it was a huge success from the beginning! Early prizes were given, for example, for best lunch, smallest fish, not hooking your guide, and later for best costume.
In 2015 a third tournament was added to the schedule, the Offshore Tournament (Reel Women Love Sails.) This tournament gives members the opportunity to participate in a classic blue water contest under IGFA rules.
Organize-as-you-go became the motto (as well as pay-as-you-go). The organizers had started with no Board, and no Bylaws.
By 2005 the Bonnies were one hundred seventy-three strong and had elected officers. They were Nancy Zakon, president; Christine Patton, at last the official secretary; and Judy Brand, treasurer. That same year the logo was created (and updated in 2014) by graphic designer, Alina Wheeler, Christine Patton’s sister-in-law. The Bonefish Bonnies’ logo and name were registered and trademarked through the efforts of Lynn Rose.
In the 2006-2007 season, committees were formed, the first burgee created by Carolyn Ellis’ Bonnie Wear Committee and the first Bonnie booklet and roster developed by Christine Patton. Bylaws were written by Judy Brand and Joanne Wills and were presented to and approved by the membership.
Over the years the Bonnies have engaged with our Ocean Reef and Key Largo Anglers Club communities by participating in auctions and blood drives; Mardi Gras parades and shoreline cleanups among other activities.
Additional activities added to the schedule of events have included Cast & Blast, Book Club, classes in casting, fly tying, the art of Gyotaku (fish printing) and cooking with Chef Philippe Reynaud, Executive Chef and Senior Director of Culinary Operations at Ocean Reef Club. Fishing trips have included visits to other Florida waters as well as Belize, The Bahamas, Montana, Vermont and Cuba.
The Lady Angler Bronze
In 2017 the Ocean Reef Community Association approached the Bonnies with an invitation to sponsor a bronze statue to be donated to the Ocean Reef Community. ORCA director, Nanette Elenbaas, contacted Mona Brewer, then the Bonnies’ president, with the idea of commissioning a bronze sculpture of an angler who would represent all women anglers. Mona was encouraged by Nanette and the support of anonymous donors to lead the Bonnies in an effort to raise the funds necessary for the commission.
Nanette, representing ORCA, and Bonefish Bonnie, Teresa Holmes, Chairman of the Board of the Ocean Reef Club joined Mona Brewer and Nancy Zakon on February 26, 2018 for the unveiling of the statue in front of over one hundred Bonnies and friends. “The Lady Angler” as the statue is affectionately known was sculpted by artist Gregory Johnson and is located at the corner of Marina and Fishing Village Drives.
The dedication plaque reads:
Honoring Women Anglers
In the Spirit of Pioneering Keys Flyfishing Guide
“Bonefish Bonnie” Smith
Dedicated by the Bonefish Bonnies and Friends – February 26, 2018
The Bonnies celebrated twenty years of fishing, fun and friendship during the 2018–2019 season. A gala dinner dance in April, 2019 capped off the 20th Anniversary events. President Mary Bloom welcomed the Bonnies and their guests and acknowledged the founding members as well as the past and present Board members and all those who worked to make the evening so special. Board member, Laura Zausmer gave the invocation.
Following dinner and before the dancing, President Mary Bloom narrated a slide show of the Bonnies twenty-year history. Kathy Weiland, Board member and Chair of the 20th Anniversary Dinner Committee, introduced each of the past presidents and presented them with beautiful bouquets in recognition of all they have done for the Bonnies.
All four of the past presidents, Nancy Zakon, Adelaide Skoglund, Christine Patton and Mona Brewer shared their memories with those present evoking lots of laughter and a few tears. Attendees received a 20th Anniversary Memory Book.
The 20th Anniversary season ended with one hundred ninety-seven members still working to keep the organization true to what the founders envisioned…a place for women learning and laughing together, stepping outside of our comfort zones, supporting each other and striving to be the best we can be.
The 2020-21 season saw continued strict COVID protocols and so the Board continued to meet via ZOOM and the Holiday Party was cancelled, another first. The first ever ZOOM membership meeting was held on January 13, 2021.
In January, the Board announced a contest to rename the No Rules Tournament as conservation efforts had changed the ethics of fishing tournaments and out of concern for the fisheries, changes would have to be made. The new name chosen, Fishin’ Funatics, an amalgam of the entries submitted by Kathy Weiland and Denise Anderton, reflects the original spirit of the No Rules Tournament as a fun tournament while acknowledging the need for some rules.
The Offshore Tournament was held on February 17th and in lieu of a Captain’s Meeting the night before, a drive-by pickup of the swag bags was organized and in lieu of an awards dinner, breakfast and lunch were provided to the teams, again, via a drive-by pickup.
While the February Membership Luncheon was cancelled, Past Presidents, Nancy Zakon and Mona Brewer, brought an idea to the Board of Directors for a safe way for the Bonnies to meet in person.
By this time a COVID vaccine had become available that made it possible for everyone to begin feeling safer about meeting out-of-doors.
On February 23rd the Bonnies held their own Presidents’ Day. Nancy and Mona organized a golf cart drive-by/cocktail party in the Cultural Center parking lot. Bonnie gift bags that included Prosecco, strawberries and Bonefish Bonnies facemasks were handed out by all of the masked past presidents as the masked Bonnies took turns driving by.
On March 10th the Bonnies held their first Membership Luncheon in a year, out-of-doors of course, at Town Hall Waterside and on March 22nd the inaugural Fishin’ Funatics Tournament was held. And, after missing a year, the Flats Tournament was once again on the schedule and was held April 12th.
An important opportunity came up for the Bonnies during the 2020-2021 season. It was an invitation from Key Largo Anglers Club to use one of the trophy cabinets in their newly remodeled club house. The Bonnies would be able to have a home for their tournament trophies at last which also meant that permanent trophies would have to be purchased.
A traditional sailfish trophy was purchased for the Offshore Tournament and a beautiful glass bonefish sculpture was found for the Flats Tournament. But what to do for the No Rules, now Fishin’ Funatics tournament, which would need both? Many have considered trophies as art but now the Board decided to use art as the tournament’s trophies. Two talented Bonnie artists donated their oil paintings to the Bonnies. Denise Bermant painted the Flats trophy and Denise Anderton the Offshore/Reef trophy.
Gregory Johnson the sculptor of the Lady Angler bronze was approached by the Board to create “Spirit of the Bonefish Bonnies” a smaller version of the Lady Angler that would be permanently installed in the new trophy case. In addition, he suggested offering a limited edition of the statue to the membership which the Board did and which was promptly sold out.
On April 14th the members met for the Annual Meeting in the Key Largo Anglers Club Butterfly Garden, a very special setting to celebrate the end of the season and more importantly to acknowledge and celebrate the spirit of the Bonnies in meeting the challenges of the previous eighteen months. Fishing, fun and friendship binds us together. Forward.