Capt. Bob Branham poles across a flat in Biscayne Bay. Photo: Carlton Ward
Captain Bob Branham and the late Captain Bill Curtis will be inducted April 22 into the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Circle of Honor, which recognizes legendary anglers, fishing guides and conservation leaders who have made significant contributions to the conservation of the bonefish, tarpon and permit fisheries.
“It’s fitting that these two pioneering guides of Biscayne Bay will be enshrined in the Circle of Honor,” said BTT President and CEO Jim McDuffie. “Not only did they help establish South Florida as a world-class fishing destination, they also played an integral role in conserving the resource and building BTT into the effective organization it is today.”
A Fort Lauderdale-area native, Branham began his fishing career in local canals and running a part-time flats guiding business with help from his fellow honoree, Curtis, an established guide who sent Branham his overflow business. Branham later left his day job to begin guiding full time in 1981.
An early proponent of banning nets in Biscayne Bay, Branham joined the board of the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, and soon became a well-regarded liaison between its members and BTT, engaging guides in the organization’s conservation and research efforts. As a member of the BTT board, Branham has donated his time to guide scientists on tarpon tagging expeditions and to collect bonefish for broodstock in the organization’s bonefish spawning research.
Innovator, prolific guide, and passionate conservationist, Curtis was born in eastern Oklahoma in 1925. He piloted F-7s for the Army Air Corps during World War II, had a successful career as an advertising photographer, and then had a life-changing encounter with bonefish on the flats of Miami’s Biscayne Bay in the early 1950s. By the late ‘50s, he was guiding anglers to bonefish, tarpon and permit.
As his reputation grew, he received the attention in 1960 of then U.S. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall and Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges who hired him to guide them in the Bay. From that fateful trip, and under Curtis’ subtle conservation influence, momentum built to establish Biscayne National Park, protecting the Bay’s fish-rich waters from what would have been a disastrous petroleum refinery on its shores. Noting a decline in bonefish populations in the bay in the 1990s, Curtis helped found Bonefish & Tarpon Unlimited, which later became Bonefish & Tarpon Trust.
Curtis is credited with developing the first poling platform for flats skiffs in the 1970s, and created the Bimini Twist and Curtis Connection fishing knots. His yellow Hewes Bonefisher named “Grasshopper” was such a fixture at Biscayne Bay’s Old Rhodes Key that the area is forever known as “Curtis Point.” He passed away at age 91 on October 24, 2016.
The BTT Circle of Honor is housed in the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center, located in Islamorada, Florida, and features an annually rotating exhibit on those honored as well as educational content about the significance of the flats fishery. Click HERE to register for the 8th Annual Florida Keys Dinner & Circle of Honor Inductions.