Voice of the Billfish.
When there's a hot sailfish bite, Bonnie Powell is often the first to bring the news.
Powell is the voice behind the committee VHF for a number of prestigious billfish tournaments--including the Palm Beach Gold Cup, which saw an epic bite in January 2017. She's a leader in the International Women's Fishing Association; runs a unique global event, the International Light Tackle Tournament Association; and there's more on her agenda.
Powell's service was brought to the attention of Florida Sportsman by The Billfish Foundation, which awarded her--along with two other angling luminaries--a 2016 John Rybovich Lifetime Achievement Award. We caught up with Powell en route to the Reef Cup in Key Largo, for insights into a fishing life.
As Bonnie tells it, when she married Tampa Bay-area angler Billy Powell, the minister told her, "You better learn to fish and like it!" A few months later, Bonnie caught a 116-pound tarpon out of a 13-foot Whaler, taking third in the 1962 Tampa Tarpon Tournament. "I got hooked," she said.
Soon, she and Billy were making forays with a 23-foot SeaCraft in tow. "Billy's vocation was plumbing, but his avocation was fishing," she said. "We started going to Stuart and we got interested in the sailfish."
One year, Bonnie was invited to help with the Stuart Sailfish Club Light Tackle Tournament. That forged a bond that has remained intact.
Bonnie expresses sporting sentiments which harken back to a time when events could be judged on the honor system.
"I'm not an advocate of tournaments where money is involved," she said. "When they pay big bucks, that takes the sportfishing out of it--it becomes a business. Concentrating on video proof takes away from the experience, and this bit of having lie detector tests--that's big money tournaments that brought that about."
Bonnie favors all-release events which specify proper handling of billfish.
"Either cut the leader as close to the hook as you can, or remove the hook if you can--don't jerk the leader," she said. "Tournaments with rules like this are doing a good job of taking care of the resource."
As Executive Secretary of the International Light Tackle Tournament Association (ILTTA), she coordinates an annual event which moves from nation to nation. Representation is global--Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, South Africa and others--and reflects traditions rooted in 1946.
"The friendships formed here can't be beat--people look forward to ILTTA, they like the international flavor," Bonnie said.
Bonnie expressed openness to livebait fishing, now standard fare in many Florida events, but her own orientation leans toward traditional dead-bait trolling.
"I had an experience in Cancun. I got to pull a white marlin off a teaser, bait and hook it. I'll never forget that moment, looking up, saying to the crew, 'Is that what this is?' 'Oh yes!' was the answer. White marlin are so hard to catch. You're trying to mimic what's natural, and if you can entice and hook the fish, that's the thrill."
--Jeff Weakley, Editor
Caption: Bonnie Powell receives TBF Rybovich award, with Capts. Red Bailey (L) and Ernie Foster (R).