IGFA gives Ellis his due

The fishing career of Islamorada guide Gary Ellis charted a new course nearly three decades ago when Ellis and his wife Susan founded what would become the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series.

Now the success of the benefit series has earned Ellis the Tommy Gifford Award, to be bestowed in February at the International Game Fish Association’s Legendary Captains and Crews Awards at the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame and Museum in Dania in Broward County.

“Gary is more than a great fisherman. He’s a hall-of-fame person,” said charter Capt. Skip Bradeen, who hired Ellis as neophyte mate in the late 1960s. “He and Susan have done so much to help people through the Redbone.”

“It’s a very great surprise and I’m very humbled,” Ellis said Friday. “This actually should go to all the captains and anglers who have supported the Redbone for so long. But it is a very cool deal.”

When daughter Nicole Ellis was born in 1984, Gary Ellis was a veteran Keys guide of 14 years, after earlier work in acting, modeling and television news. Nicole suffered from cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease that then typically claimed victims in their teenage years.

“Not someone to sit on the sidelines, Gary wanted to do more — something, anything — to help speed medical research,” says the IGFA nomination for the award that recognizes “an outstanding example of their trade.”

“I had a thing for tournaments and guiding celebrities,” Ellis said. “Our local guides donated their time.”

The first Redbone event in 1988 raised $16,000 for the research and support efforts of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Popularity of the Redbone concept spurred new Redbone tournaments in the Keys, throughout the country and internationally.

By 2003, the Redbone donated more than $1 million to fight cystic fibrosis and research its causes.
Donations “over a quarter-century have totaled nearly $18 million as medical scientists are hoping to soon close in on a cure for a majority of the CF patients,” says the IGFA.

Winners of the Tommy Gifford Award are honored in the IGFA Hall of Fame, along with Hall inductees. Florida Keys anglers in the IGFA Hall include early Redbone supporter Ted Williams, anglers Billy Pate and Stu Apte, and guides Jimmie Albright and Steve Huff.

The latest Redbone tournament was the bonefish, permit and tarpon Robert James Sales S.L.A.M. Celebrity Fishing Tournament that ended Sept. 8 off Key West. It’s part of an annual Keys trilogy of Redbone challenges that raises money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

The series continues with the Baybone Celebrity Tournament Oct. 11 to 13 in Key Largo and the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Nov. 1 to 3 in Islamorada.

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