Sapp, PTTS crank up the noise machine – let the damage control follies begin!

Seems Capt. Troy Sapp just might have some explaining to do. And this time, it likely won’t be on some obscure Internet fishing forum.

As we all know, dead tarpon are commonly found floating, beached, bloated and sometimes gutted in or around Boca Grande Pass in the wake of Professional Tarpon Tournament Series weekend events in May and June.

The televised tarpon tournament’s viewers are “treated” to shots of the self-described “organized chaos” of the fight, the catch, the gaff and the drag across the Pass to the scales. What those basic cable subscribers aren’t seeing, however, is what takes place the following day – when the cameras have stopped rolling and the tournament’s touted “Tires Plus Release Team” is nowhere to be found.

After the  PTTS packs up and moves on, the rest of us are, of course, left to deal with the tournament’s morning-after, dead tarpon hangover.  With the creation of the Save the Tarpon this past May, the group joined with state researchers to  focus on DNA sampling what was left of these fish in an effort to learn how – and perhaps why – so many were turning up dead in the tournament’s aftermath. This week the answers began to emerge.

Capt Troy Sapp, Team Yamaha

Capt. Troy Sapp, high-profile PTTS participant and VP of the Florida Guides Association, drags a tarpon to the weigh scale for Team Yamaha.

As most of us have already learned, on June 4  a gutted and dead tarpon was found floating in the Gulf of Mexico not far from Boca Grande Pass less than 24 hours after the PTTS, its cameras and NASCAR-clone wrap boats had left town. A DNA sample was taken and sent, along with several others that day, to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.  Months later, this gutted  fish was positively identified by its DNA as a ‘recapture’ that had been caught, weighed and DNA sampled by Capt. TJ Stewart of Team Castaway Charters and Edgewater Boats during the previous day’s PTTS event.

When last seen, this fish was being hauled to the deepest waters of the Pass to be “revived” by the Tires Plus Release Team. When next seen, it was dead. Slit open from tip to tail in an apparent and botched attempt to send the fish – telltale DNA and all – to the bottom.

Enter Sapp. He’s a Tampa-area fishing guide. He’s a  high-profile participant in the PTTS where he and his Team Yamaha Skeeter boat enjoy plenty of cable TV face time. He’s also senior vice president of the Florida Guides Association.  And in recent days, as the FWRI’s initial DNA study results were being released,  Sapp has taken the point as the damage control guy for the PTTS, his sponsorship deal with Yamaha and, of course, himself.

Here’s what Sapp scrawled on the Maverick Boat Company’s Internet forum on December 4, 2012. Let’s call this one Exhibit A:

“The STT campaign who’s (sic) sole purpose is to run out of town guides off are the ones that gutted that fish after they found it floating to promote their cause. Yes it died after release, but no one needs to hide anything.”

It died after release. A perplexing admission from someone who, just days earlier, was still beating the PTTS drum, repeatedly insisting the tournament can’t possibly be blamed for those schools of dead fish routinely found floating in the Pass or washed up on Boca Grande’s beaches in the immediate aftermath of PTTS events. Seems Sapp forgot all about those FWRI scientists in St. Pete who are still sitting on a small mountain of tarpon DNA samples.

And what Sapp also didn’t know as he flogged away on the fish forums, is that among those imaginary dead PTTS tarpon was a very real dead PTTS tarpon. And it was easily and positively traced back to Sapp’s Team Yamaha Skeeter boat. Sapp’s Team Yamaha, the DNA revealed, had scored its own PTTS tarpon kill.

He likely didn’t know that researchers had scooped the now-dead fish from the Pass less than 45 minutes after Sapp’s Team Yamaha Skeeter boat had towed the tarpon to the scales during Week 2 of the Women’s PTTS competition. That’s where the initial DNA sample was taken and recorded. And DNA doesn’t lie.

Dead Tarpon on Beach of Boca Grande Pass

This tarpon was found the day following a PTTS tournament.

Chalk one up to science.

But let’s get back to Sapp’s tin foil helmet claim that “the STT campaign … are the ones that gutted that fish after they found it floating.” It doesn’t merit a response. And it’s not getting one. Not here, that is. But let’s take a moment to revisit the facts:

1) The fish in question was DNA sampled during week 4 of the PTTS as having been weighed in at 124 lbs by Capt. TJ Stewart on June 3.

2) The fish in question was found dead and sampled again the next day,  June 4.

Sapp, however, is recklessly alleging the fish was gutted by some unknown but disgruntled local tarpon fishing captain trying to stop out-of-town guides, like Sapp,  from running carpetbagger charters on a part-time seasonal basis. It’s a dangerous stretch.

3) The fish in question was found floating on June 4 by a boater who seasonally fishes the Pass and surrounding water.

No, it wasn’t discovered, photographed and DNA sampled by some disgruntled “disenfranchised” local Save the Tarpon stooge, as Sapp wants you to believe. Kathy Guindon, PhD, who heads up the FWRI’s Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study, said the boater who found the fish – someone with no strong local ties or any affiliation with Save the Tarpon – decided to document the recapture with a photograph and DNA sample. Guindon said the boater – an experienced tarpon angler – knew immediately that the fish had been intentionally gutted.  And why.

But over in Sapp World, here’s what supposedly happened. A card-carrying member of Save the Tarpon found the bloated tarpon and gutted it. He’s not real clear how this Save the Tarpon type would know the fish had been caught the previous day by the PTTS. But we can let this one slide for the moment. Back to Sapp World, where Troy’s Save the Tarpon evil genius had cleverly calculated that, despite the hundreds of boats and boaters that were on the water that day, the one to stumble across the sabotaged tarpon would, miraculously, be armed with a DNA sample kit.

Makes sense to us. But strap on the tin foil hats. There’s more.

4) Chances of finding a dead intact tarpon floating near Boca Grande Pass in May and June are exceptionally remote.  The strong tides, high levels of shark activity, and many other variables mean an overwhelming majority of dead tarpon will, in fact, go unnoticed.  The odds of finding the same dead tarpon two times in less than 24 hours rival your chances of carting home the Powerball jackpot.

So once again, how did Sapp’s imaginary left-wing Save The Tarpon environmental extremist know this fish, among tens of thousands of other fish, came from the PTTS? Was it wearing a Team Yamaha tee shirt?  Unless, of course, the boater who discovered the fish already suspected  a majority of the dead fish found floating in or near the Pass are part of the collateral PTTS damage  Sapp and the PTTS noise machine say the tournament’s critics have invented.

Sapp repeatedly claims fish weighed in the PTTS are subject to the same mortality rate as all other catch and release fishing.  Unfortunately for Sapp, there’s the FWRI’s Dr. Guindon, the same Dr. Guindon whose seven-year-old study on tarpon mortality rates has, in the past, been repeatedly referenced by Sapp and friends. But that was then. Along came 2010, when the same Dr. Guindon did some additional research. Her newest findings?

“Preliminary results from research conducted in 2010 shows that the tournament weigh in procedures of the PTTS physiologically stress the Tarpon more so than catch-and-release recreational fishery that does not have a weigh in procedure that involves towing the fish.” Also, from the same source, “one can presume that mortality rates are higher in these weighed-in, longer handled fish.” For the record, Dr. Guindon was talking about the PTTS.

Two years later, after her newest study was published, Sapp and the gaff and drag gang at the PTTS  had suddenly put the now-inconvenient Guindon on Ignore. They continued to boast that they were, incredibly, doing what was “best for the fish.”  In fact, Joe Mercurio, general manager and host of the PTTS, looked into the camera on June 17 and told his audience that gaff and drag had “absolutely zero impact on the survival of the fish.” Kathy? Kathy who?

The PTTS noise machine, of course, doesn’t stop here. June 4, 2012 is a date Mercurio, Sapp and the PTTS would like to pretend never happened. And for good reason. In Part II, we’ll explain why. Stay tuned.

(NOTE: The moderators over at the Maverick Boat Company’s Internet forum apparently agree. Sapp’s post has been removed.)

NOTE: One week after publication of the original story, the PTTS broke its official silence and issued a statement denying any involvement or responsibility. The statement is contained within the comments that follow, or it can be found here





  1. Shane Sovan says

    Troy, not really sure how you got to be VP of Florida Guides Association with a statement like this. Please, Troy, read your comments out loud to yourself before you post them so you can see how far out there you are. Once again your response has no FACT to it.

    The STT site now has almost 7,000 members. These are just people sick and tired of what the PTTS is doing and what it stands fo. So again, Troy, please use some of the brains God gave you before you post any more of your BULL ****!

  2. Captain Mark Futch says

    I am surprised we haven’t heard from Colecchio in all of this. The FWC gives them the proof that they have been asking for, and all we get is this pathetic retort.

    • STT Contrib says

      Most of the regular suspects have been AWOL and laying low on the fish forums these days. For good reason. Where the issue has surfaced, opinion is running against the PTTS. Even from past defenders of the tournament.

      Here’s one of the more recent posts. “Tarponator” states: “Two weeks is a long time for a fish to be floating around. It almost certainly was decomposing …” Two weeks WOULD be a long time for a fish to be floating around. But it wasn’t two weeks. According to FWRI records, it was less than a day.

      Then there’s this: “And who is to say someone didn’t find the dead fish and stick a knife in it before the anonymous fisherman found it.” While this explanation can’t be entirely ruled out, it’s pretty unlikely. Anglers and guides who have fished the Pass for decades say it’s not uncommon to find dead tarpon. How many have ever stopped to gut one of these floating fish? None that we can find. Nature, they say, is a pretty good housekeeper. Plus, who wants to mess with a bloated and dead tarpon? Unless you have a very compelling motive, of course.

      “Does anyone have the name of the angler who found the fish and/or the pictures of said fish?” Save the Tarpon obtained the photo and published it online with the story. The information is public record. There are, however, thousands of DNA samples. You might want to pack a lunch.

      “p.s. On the bright side, isn’t the underlying issue resolved? Hasn’t the PTTS agreed to stop weighing fish and go to a more normal release format?”

      You don’t create public policy based on a promise from Joe Mercurio. The PTTS says it’s adopting a form of catch and release. So why is Mercurio fighting the creation of a rule that formalizes the same catch and release policy the PTTS says it now endorses? Promises, if kept, are fine. But this is the PTTS. In this case, rules are better.

  3. Joe Mercurio says

    NOTE: The following response to this story from the PTTS is being posted without modification or comment. It was also posted by the PTTS on Save The Tarpon’s Facebook page:

    On behalf of the owners, volunteers and participants of the PTTS we expressly deny any participation in the intentional killing of tarpon, as well as the alleged cover up involving any dead, gutted Tarpon. The only connection to the dead tarpon is the fact that it was caught by a PTTS angler, released and last seen alive, after having been released by a PTTS release team.

    Any suggestion that a tarpon was intentionally killed, or gutted in an effort to cover up its death by representatives of the PTTS is complete and utter speculation. If there is any proof to support the allegation that any PTTS owners, employees, PTTS participants, be they anglers, members of PTTS teams, members of release teams or any one in any way affiliated with the PTTS participated in that behavior, we demand that you immediately turn copies of that proof over to us. After a thorough review, if there is proof, we will take appropriate action.

    The intentional gutting and killing of tarpon was not and never will be condoned by our tournament. We denounce the intentional killing of tarpon and would never knowingly or willfully participate in the intentional killing of tarpon, nor in any efforts to cover up the intentional killing of tarpon.

    From the inception of our tournament, we have tried to protect tarpon. We have rules and regulations that have evolved over the years to protect tarpon. For example, we require participants to use circle hooks, we have minimum line test requirements, we require that eligible fish to be weighed only be hooked in the mouth, we set boundaries in an effort to reduce fight time of the fish. We continue to review our rules every year and take steps to improve them with the health of the tarpon and the tarpon fishery at the forefront of those changes. For the next Tournament year we have adopted the following rule changes to protect and enhance the tarpon fishery:

    1. Winners will be determined by measurement of length and girth. No longer weighing fish.
    2. No Gaffing of fish.
    3. No dragging of fish.

    More importantly the PTTS brought in the FWC and its research arm, the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) as early as 2005 in an effort to gather as much scientific data and information as possible. This allows all of us to learn about tarpon as well as the effects of our tournament on tarpon. We started with “fin clipping” and have evolved to the point where our anglers are encouraged to take DNA swabs/scrapes of every Tarpon caught, not just tarpon weighed in. We encourage this behavior by awarding bonus points for DNA swab/scrapes submitted to the FWC/FWRI. If we were intent on harming, killing tarpon and participating in covering up that behavior, why would we allow DNA samples to be collected? Why would we encourage and reward anglers to submit DNA swabs/scrapes? If we were intent on harming tarpon, it makes no sense for us to provide the FWC, FWRI or the general public, which has access to their data, with the scientific evidence to prove we are harming tarpon. In addition to FWC biologists, we have FWC law enforcement present at each of our events to ensure our participants are following all State, Federal, and local laws. This further illustrates we have nothing to hide.

    Based on current FWC research data, in 2012, DNA samples were submitted to the FWC for 99 fish that were weighed and released, and 225 fish that were caught and immediately released, for a total of 324 samples of fish caught during PTTS events. This represents nearly 32% of all tarpon DNA samples submitted in 2012 for fish caught in Lee and Charlotte counties. Of the 1,003 total fish sampled in Lee and Charlotte counties, seven were recaptured and classified as “Not Survived”. It should be noted that numerous tarpon sampled during PTTS events were recaptured healthy and thriving, days, weeks, months, and miles away from Boca Grande Pass.

    Having said all of the above, fishing is an inherently dangerous sport for the fish. Any time a tarpon or any other fish is caught, or attempted to be caught, with hook and line gear there is a danger the fish will be harmed and killed. No matter the precautions taken to catch and release it alive. This is illustrated by the known Catch and Release mortality of Tarpon in Florida, which is an average of 13 percent. Absent of predation, the Catch and Release mortality rate falls to 5 percent. Based on the current data from the ongoing FWC Genetic Recapture Study, the incidences of mortality of sampled fish caught during PTTS events and recaptured in 2012 was less than 1%.

    The PTTS abides by all State and Federal laws when conducting its tournaments. We will continue to review our rules and regulations, which go above and beyond state and federal law, and make any appropriate changes/improvements in an effort to protect and conserve tarpon and the Boca Grande tarpon fishery.


    Joe Mercurio
    Silver King Entertainment, LLC

  4. RJ Kirker says

    After reading Mr. Mercurio’s response, I have a number of questions:
    1. Are there denials that aren’t expressly?
    2. Can something be complete speculation without being utter speculation?
    3. How does one willfully participate without it being knowingly?
    4. Your tournament was incepted?
    5. “Fishing is an inherently dangerous sport for the fish.” Fish fish?

    I will be expressly and knowingly awaiting the inception of your answers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *