The ‘banned’ Facebook video: Capt. Artie Price hand-feeds a live tarpon to a pack of sharks


The video appearing here was initially posted to Capt. Artie Price’s Facebook page late last month. Save The Tarpon re-posted the video to the group’s own 30,000+ follower page. In a few days, the video drew more than a half million views along with thousands of comments, shares and “likes.” Price and his video had clearly gone viral. Not everyone was pleased. Within hours, Price had scrubbed the video from his and other Facebook pages. But he and his friends didn’t stop there.

The video, shot by a client aboard Price’s boat, graphically shows Capt. Price feeding what appears to be a juvenile tarpon to a pack of sharks in Boca Grande Pass in mid-May. After about 10 days online, the video was removed by Facebook as too gory, grizzly, graphic and gruesome for the social media platform’s “community standards.” It was too late.

In addition to those 500,000+ views, a number of brands that had one “proudly” sponsored Price, his guide service and his tarpon fishing team promptly withdrew or renounced their support. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials wrote that they were outraged by what they witnessed happening in the video. The FWC’s Internet Crimes Division has launched an investigation. Save The Tarpon has been in contact with investigators and will continue to pursue and provide updates.

PTTS breaks its silence on its lawsuit fail … and you won’t believe what they’re saying now

PTTSTV.com Welcome Message

Above: The PTTS statement as posted to the tournament’s website Friday, Nov. 20. We pre-screened it for Tallahassee ‘dating’ site links.

The following was posted to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series website shortly before noon, Friday (Nov. 20, 2015), four days after tournament owner Silver King Entertainment LLC abruptly walked away from its lawsuit filed nearly three years ago against Save the Tarpon, its more than 28,000 members, its directors, its former directors and a number of names apparently drawn at random from the phone book. The PTTS decision to take a hike comes on the heels of a number of pre-trial setbacks, combined with an attempt by the tournament’s own lawyer to get out while the getting was still good,  and less than 24 hours before the case was set to go before a jury in Charlotte County Circuit Court. Feel free to pop some popcorn, crawl into a comfy chair and read all about it here.

Trust MeAfter nearly a week of silence spent dodging media calls seeking comment, the PTTS has now spoken. Although the following slice of twisted whimsy isn’t signed, it’s littered with You-Know-Who’s “controlled chaos,” sweet as honey fingerprints. And because it’s understandable that a wannabe would-be, make-believe barracks lawyer can become easily disoriented and confused by the most simple legal stuff, our comments, clarifications and corrections have been helpfully highlighted in big bold type, with replies from the three (former) remaining individual defendants (who had been patiently holding back for nearly three years and have never pretended to be lawyers) in ital.

The PTTS website post is cleverly headlined “Welcome.” That’s pretty much where the reality part ends and the fantasy stuff begins. The text follows:

This last Monday, November 16, 2015, Silver King Entertainment, LLC, locally known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) dropped two counts of its complaint against the Save the Tarpon organization and some of its individual directors.

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon board member) Mark Futch: That’s because there were only two counts left – out of how many? And those last two were about to get kicked to the curb. Did they forget the judge had gutted most of their case less than a week earlier? And that their own lawyer had attempted to bail on them? 

This decision was due to many considerations, but first and foremost let us be clear the case is not over, as the PTTS is appealing the Courts decision to grant a summary judgment on the PTTS defamation claim against the Save the Tarpon organization and its directors.

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon chairman Tom McLaughlin: Yeah, right. Good luck with that. So where’s your appeal? Oh, yeah. You don’t have a lawyer anymore. No problem. Joe (PTTS television host Joe Mercurio) can probably handle it. After all, he’s got three years of college. 

Futch: Don’t forget his Daddy … he’s a judge. When he’s not trolling Sarasota kwikie marts, that is.

The Court without record evidence …

McLaughlin again: Record evidence? Is there any other kind of evidence nobody knows about? Like maybe double secret, off the record evidence?

… ruled that Save the Tarpon and its directors were media defendants because their statements had been published in news outlets

Individual defendant (and Save the Tarpon board member Frank Davis: She did? No she didn’t! We never argued anything like that. She granted the motion because she found we WERE a news outlet by every definition of the term. That we WERE media defendants in the eyes of Florida’s courts. And that Gary Ingman, Mercurio and their little Silver King tee-vee thing didn’t follow the law. Right? (Yes, Frank. That’s exactly what Judge Lisa Porter determined.) 

We believe decision was clearly erroneous …

Futch: So file your (bleeping) appeal already!

… as Save the Tarpon and its directors are competing fishermen, who are not neutral media members …

McLaughlin: Neutral media members? You mean like Fox News? Like MSNBC? Like the Huffington Post? Where in the statute, the one you couldn’t be bothered to obey, do the words “neutral media members” reside?  Competing fishermen? When’s the last time a wrap boat has been spotted 50 miles offshore? Because that’s where I do the bulk of my fishing. 

… and who have a vested interest in damaging the PTTS, along with its sponsors and participants.

Futch: What? Your sponsors and participants have a “vested interest” in damaging the PTTS? You should get a lawyer and sue ’em! Anyhow, why would we have the slightest interest in damaging the PTTS, when Mercurio and Ingman were doing a perfectly good job of damaging the PTTS without any help whatsoever from us?

Further, the Court did not rule that Save the Tarpons statements were not defamatory, but only that Save the Tarpon and its directors should have been given the chance to retract the alleged defamatory statements prior to filing a lawsuit.

Davis: Wait! Didn’t Mercurio just say it was because we were quoted somewhere in some newspaper? Are you guys messin’ with me again? (No, Frank. That’s what he said. Yeah, he did. Really.)

On the morning of November 16, 2015, the Court heard two different Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) motions filed by Save the Tarpon attempting to show the PTTS lawsuit had no merit, and the Court denied both motions.

McLaughlin: Uh … no. Judge Porter actually set aside SLAPP for procedural reasons. We just wanted to get it on the record. For later on. When the real fun begins. She never addressed the merits. Was Mercurio at the same hearing we were at? Oh, wait. Never mind. He never showed his face in court. Ever. My apologies, Joe.Pretend Lawyer

Silver King Entertainment intends to pursue prevailing party attorneys fees for both successfully defended SLAPP motions.

Futch: (Unintelligible through the laughter.)

McLaughlin: How in the hell are they gonna do that? They voluntarily dismissed their own case?

Davis: You guys are messin’ with me again, right?

After this hearing, the PTTS decided that it did not want to put its sponsors and participants through a trial on two counts that would have required testimony from its sponsors and participants, when the main defamation claims dismissal was being appealed.

Futch: What sponsors? What participants? They still got sponsors? They still got participants? 

The PTTS did not want to subject its sponsors and participants to any more inconvenience due to actions by Save the Tarpon and its leadership.

McLaughlin: Inconvenience? You frivolously sue someone in the wrong courthouse, in the wrong county, for half a million dollars in losses you couldn’t begin to prove, you go through three judges, you attempt every delay imaginable simply to run up the cost, you hire a lawyer who skips out on scheduled hearings without notice – and then quits at the 11th hour – and you’re suddenly worried about inconvenience?

Futch: The judge said it was the 12th hour.

The case is not over, and the PTTS feels strongly in its defamation claim winning on appeal.

Davis: Okay, now I know you guys are messin’ with me.

The PTTS may reconsider going forward, if after discussions with its participants and sponsors, it is decided it is better to take away the Save the Tarpons leaderships vehicle to enrich themselves at the continued detriment to civil discourse.

Davis: In other words, the PTTS and Ingman know they’re going to have to pay through the nose. And that they’ll likely take a few others down with them. Aren’t the rats always the first off a sinking ship? Unless you guys are messin’ with me again.

McLaughlin: “Reconsider going forward?” Good grief. Is quitting all they know? 

Davis: “Take away the Save the Tarpon’s leadership’s vehicle?” Well, I guess if they need it that bad, I reckon they can have the old pickup out back behind the shed. Gonna need tires, though.  

The PTTS has always taken the high road throughout the trial and has exhibited the utmost professionalism towards Save the Tarpon and its members. The PTTS will continue to conduct itself ethically, professionally and will stand up for the rights of all fishermen.

McLaughlin: Really? The high road? The only road the PTTS knows is I-75. 

Futch: Don’t forget the Skyway Bridge … 

McLaughlin: Okay, that too. But that $1.25 toll is kinda pricey. 

Davis: You guys gotta be messin’ with me. 

Are You Serious?

Game changer: Noted media law expert joins Save The Tarpon fight

In the face of renewed threats by Professional Tarpon Tournament Series lawyers seeking to silence Save The Tarpon and its more than 27,000 members and supporters,  we’re fighting back. And, thanks to you, we just changed the game.

Your resolve helped us raise nearly $25,000 – money we’re already putting to work, money we’re using RIGHT NOW to go toe-to-toe with  Gary Ingman and his stable of PTTS lawyers.

You sent them a message. Ingman and the PTTS now understand we mean business. That we won’t be bullied, we won’t be intimidated, that we won’t be financially handcuffed, that Ingman can’t buy back all that’s been gained, that we’re not going back to to the days of snag and drag, that we’re not going away and that we won’t back down.

Thanks to you, we now own the initiative. We’re doubling our resolve with the news that David M. Snyder, a game-changing nationally known media law expert whose clients have included CBS Broadcasting and the New York Times, has joined Save The Tarpon’s legal team. And make no mistake. The game has changed.

David M Snyder PA Meet David Snyder

Nationally known media law expert David M. Snyder has joined Save The Tarpon’s legal team.

As you know, Save The Tarpon has been embroiled in a prolonged and costly Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation brought against the group by Port Charlotte boat dealer Gary Ingman and his Professional Tarpon Tournament Series partners in October of 2013.

Ingman and the PTTS retaliated against Save The Tarpon with their SLAPP suit less than a month after Florida’s fish and wildlife regulators banned the notorious “PTTS Jig” from the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery. Save The Tarpon and its more than 27,000 supporters played a central role in outlawing the snagging device popularized by the TV fishing tournament.

Save The Tarpon’s supporters were also instrumental in pressing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to adopt rules making tarpon a catch and release species. FWC passage of the new regulations ended the tournament’s controversial “snag, gaff and drag” by prohibiting the PTTS and its participants from hoisting its harvest of large breeding females from the water to be weighed in front of the cameras and then posed for so-called “hero photos” by the event’s Spandex-clad competitors.

‘Intimidate And Silence’

The PTTS retaliatory SLAPP suit claims the efforts of Save The Tarpon’s supporters have caused the TV tournament to lose more than $500,000 in promotional and other revenue. A  SLAPP suit is a perverse legal tactic typically used by deep pocket plaintiffs to intimidate and silence advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon.

Judgefred

The PTTS seriously thought this stunt would work. It didn’t. But it was just the first of many … and they still haven’t stopped.

After nearly 18 months of expensive and unsuccessful legal maneuvering designed to spend the local advocacy group into submission, Gary Ingman’s day in court is now approaching. Initially filed in Sarasota County where (coincidentally, of course) tournament TV host and PTTS vice-president Joe Mercurio’s father Frederick P. Mercurio serves as a judge, the case was subsequently moved to Charlotte County. Punta Gorda Circuit Court Judge Lisa Porter will preside.

Snyder’s addition to Save The Tarpon’s legal team was, in part, the result of your support of our online “defense fund. As you know, we set an initial goal of raising $20,000 in seed money to help counter the tens of thousands of dollars Ingman and his boat dealership continue to pump into the ongoing PTTS attempt to financially handcuff Save The Tarpon and its future ability to protect and preserve the historic Charlotte Harbor fishery.

You Stood Up to Ingman and the PTTS

Within days of the online campaign’s launch, and after the group raised more than $5,000 in one 24 hour span, the PTTS once again attempted to retaliate – this time in a baseless and transparently desperate threat to sue Save The Tarpon over its fundraising efforts.

Refusing to be intimidated and spent into submission by Ingman and his flotilla of lawyers, nearly 150 individual donors – both locally and from across North America – came together to help Save The Tarpon not only equal, but surpass, its initial legal defense funding goal in less than two weeks. You got their attention, and you got it in the only way Ingman and his SLAPP-happy lawyers understand.

In the face of escalating PTTS legal threats, efforts on the organization’s behalf will continue even more vigorously, Save The Tarpon chairman Tom McLaughlin promised.

“David’s extensive expertise and experience, combined with his tenacity and reputation as a widely respected champion of free speech, will be used by Save The Tarpon and its supporters to bring Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS to account,” McLaughlin said.

“We didn’t pick this fight, Ingman and Mercurio did. But there are more than 27,000 people who are going to finish it. With David’s help, and the continued support of our members, this is where it ends. We’re putting it all on the table. No more bullying, no more intimidation, no more lies.”

Tauna Bogle, the former prosecutor who serves as Save The Tarpon’s local lead counsel, said Snyder will be a formidable addition to the legal team being brought together as Ingman’s day in court – and his day of reckoning – approaches.

“The free speech aspects of this case, and the potential impact of the issues involved, are beginning to resonate among Florida’s First Amendment community and beyond,” she said.

“David understands the First Amendment implications of this case, and the threat it poses to our fundamental right to speak openly and without fear here in Charlotte County and wherever people unite to affect a common good. That’s what this case is truly all about.”

A Need And A Right To Know

McLaughlin said the importance of bringing the case to trial goes beyond obtaining a verdict.

“There’s a tremendous amount of information gathered throughout the course of this case that our members and supporters have a need and a right to know. And make no mistake, the unfiltered truth is coming out. Inside that courtroom, there’s nowhere to hide. Not for Ingman and certainly not for Mercurio,” McLaughlin said.

“Our supporters ARE Save The Tarpon. They’re the people Ingman and Mercurio have dragged through one court after another. They’re the more than 27,000 voices Ingman and Mercurio are seeking to silence. This is, and always has been, their fight. And given the resources, Tauna and David can and will finish it.”

Your continued support matters

Ingman, Mercurio and their PTTS partners know they don’t have a case.  But SLAPP suit lawyers don’t care. They know money trumps merit. And that all-volunteer, grassroots advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon are easy targets. Because they often lack the resources to keep pace, groups like Save The Tarpon are being spent into surrender by big money interests across the nation. It’s not how the system was meant to work. That’s why Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation are illegal in a growing number of states. Florida isn’t on the list. Until the legislature acts to end this abuse of our state’s legal system and send the SLAPP-happy lawyers packing, we’re on our own. Together.

The message you’re sending goes beyond Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS. It goes beyond Boca Grande Pass. It goes beyond Charlotte County and Southwest Florida. It’s now being heard nationwide. The SLAPP suit industry is watching this case with interest and alarm. Why? Because here, right here in tiny Charlotte County, you’ve stepped forward. You’ve drawn a line at the courthouse door. You’ve made your voices heard. “Not here,” you’ve told them. “Not here.” They’re listening.

It was a defiant Gary Ingman who, little more than two years ago, told a fledgling Save The Tarpon that he and his PTTS would stop “when someone makes us stop.” You met the challenge. Gaff and drag – stopped. The PTTS snag hook jig – stopped. The lucrative promotional deals – stopped. Thanks to you and your support, Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS have been stopped at nearly every turn. Except one. It’s now time to make it end. To finish the fight Ingman brought upon himself and his fishing tournament not so very long ago. “When someone makes us stop.”

 

Meet David Snyder

In addition to publishing hundreds of articles during his stint as a metro reporter for the former St. Petersburg Times, Snyder has written on a wide range of legal topics from habeas corpus to voting rights. He co-authored “Rediscovering Florida’s Common Law Defenses to Libel and Slander,” which has been authoritatively cited by the Florida Supreme Court. He graduated summa cum laude from Stetson University College of Law where he was selected by his peers to edit the school’s law review.

Enlisting fresh from high school, Snyder worked his way through the ranks until his retirement from Navy reserve duty in 2001 with the rank of captain. His military resume includes the Navy Meritorious Service Medal (three awards), the Navy Commendation Medal, the Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Expeditionary Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the National Defense Medal (two awards), the Armed Forces Reserve Medal (three awards), Navy Overseas Service ribbon, Rifle Marksmanship (Sharpshooter) and Pistol Marksmanship (Expert).

In addition to his media law practice, Snyder is an adjunct professor of communication law at both the University of Tampa and Florida Southern College. His professional affiliations include the American Bar Association, its litigation and business law sections, its Forum on Communications Law as well as its committees on First Amendment litigation, professional ethics, and torts and insurance practice.

Snyder also serves on the Florida Bar Association’s Media and Communications Law Committee. He has also worked with the Florida First Amendment Foundation to encourage public participation and open access to government throughout the state.

Best-Selling Author Randy Wayne White Crusades to Protect Tarpon

This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine.

Written by Sarasota Magazine contributing editor, Tony D’Souza.

Randy Wayne White

Best-selling Southwest Florida thriller writer Randy Wayne White crusades to protect the region’s tarpon.

To hear author, restaurateur and angling activist Randy Wayne White tell it, as he recently did at his Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on Sanibel Island, all of us Southwest Floridians are here because of a fish. Because of its fight, the lightning-quick way it rolls and leaps when it strikes, and because of its strength and beauty. That fish is Megalops atlanticus, an archaic, cow-eyed, thick-jawed feeding machine that can reach eight feet in length and weigh 250 pounds. Tourists call it “tar-pon.” The rest of us say “tarp-in.” No matter how you pronounce the name, the tarpon with its silver-dollar scales has always meant money, and that’s at the heart of a recent controversy that embroiled White and the organizers of a high-stakes fishing tournament down in Boca Grande.

“When the first tarpon was landed on rod and reel in 1885 in Sanibel,” White, sitting before an opened laptop in his bar where I’ve caught him writing, tells me, “it made headlines. This was the only big game fish that one could land in a rowboat. Industrialists began to come to this pioneer mangrove coast. Thomas Edison wanted to catch a tarpon, he came here. The Charlotte Northern Railway extended its service to Boca Grande; that began hotels. The tarpon changed the destiny of this coast.”

White is an amicable guy, a youthful 63, a baseball-playing Midwest farmhand who came to Sanibel in 1972 with a high school degree and a yen to write. He earned his salt as fishing guide and adventure magazine columnist, raised two sons and wrote every day. After churning out 18 novels under pseudonyms, he finally found a character, a former NSA agent and marine biologist named Doc Ford, which led to a best-selling series of thrillers, the first of which was 1990′s Sanibel Flats. The series’ popularity has allowed White and his business partners to commercialize the Doc Ford name into three restaurants, a hot sauce line, T-shirts and golf visors. And last year, White used his literary muscle to weigh in on what many here see as the ugliest chapter in the tarpon’s history.

The “Boca Grande jig” masquerades as a traditional jig hook but is designed to sink steel into tarpon even when the fish aren’t biting. When a fish strikes a true jig, it’s hooked inside the mouth; with the belly-weighted Boca Grande jig, an angler drops the hook to the bottom, waits for a fish to bump the line, then reels as fast as he can. The line “flosses” beside the fish, often sliding through its gill plate, and the heavy jig streaks up like a fist and punches its hook into the fish’s face or body.

In a special commentary in the Tampa Tribune in April, White wrote, “In the early 1990s, when tarpon tournament purses in Boca Grande Pass climbed to $100,000 or more, two local anglers revived an old poaching technique that guaranteed they would boat tarpon and also fill their pockets…. Among guides, ‘jig fishing’ became the accepted euphemism for snag fishing, but always in a wink-wink sort of way because boating fish is key to making money…. The technique wasn’t illegal, but most of us knew it wasn’t ethical…How do I know this is true? Because, as a fishing guide, I did it.”

Prior to the new gear restrictions passed by FWC in 2013, most of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers relied on the unethical "Boca Grande jig" to snag tarpon and earn valuable "face time" on TV for their sponsors.

Prior to the new gear restrictions passed by FWC in 2013, most of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers relied on the unethical “Boca Grande jig” to snag tarpon and earn valuable television “face time” for their sponsors.

The “Boca Grande jig” masquerades as a traditional jig hook but is designed to sink steel into tarpon even when the fish aren’t biting. When a fish strikes a true jig, it’s hooked inside the mouth; with the belly-weighted Boca Grande jig, an angler drops the hook to the bottom, waits for a fish to bump the line, then reels as fast as he can. The line “flosses” beside the fish, often sliding through its gill plate, and the heavy jig streaks up like a fist and punches its hook into the fish’s face or body.

“Snagging is taboo in the world of sport fishing,” White tells me as he leads me around his restaurant. “It’s the equivalent of harpooning or using dynamite.” The island-themed Doc Ford’s is packed for dinner, the genteel patrons dressed in polos and khaki. White spends a few minutes chatting with two couples from Kansas City, Dee and Frank Mana and Kathie and Phil Ziegler, who tell me they’re here because of the Doc Ford series. White signs a book, “Dear Dee, Doc’s Pal!,” then urges the group to, “Try the hot sauce.”

Out in his truck, White riffs on the surreal success of his books and the restaurants, which has come later in life for a writer whose early days often did not include hot water or A/C. “I did many years with no safety net,” he tells me as we pause to let some beach tourists scamper across the road. “Every day now, it just feels dreamlike. Peter Matthiessen [the National Book Award-winning author of the Watson Trilogy] gives me a hard time about being commercial. He says, ‘So, Randolph, are you going into real estate?’ I say to him, ‘A Killing Mister Watson oyster bar. Think of the T-shirts.’”

Soon we’re at Doc Ford’s on Captiva Island, a cavernous 400-seater, and White winds his way to the back bar, greeting fans and staff alike. At the bar, I ask a red-haired lady sipping a cocktail if she reads the Doc Ford series. She takes a hard look at the man beside me and says, “Are you the Randy White?”

“If you knew me, you’d run like the wind,” he tells her. Soon, he’s posing for a picture, and then we’re talking tarpon again. White says, “When they first started using [the Boca Grande jig], I had a client who would book me every year during tarpon season. I told him about it and he said, ‘Let’s go out and try it.’ I wired a very heavy weight, probably three ounces, to the hook. He landed two fish; one was hooked under the lateral fin. They’re almost all hooked outside the mouth [using the Boca Grande jig].”

The practice might have continued if not for the 2003 entry of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series into Boca Grande Pass. Hosted by Sarasota’s Joe Mercurio, the PTTS and its sister series, the Women’s Professional Tarpon Tournament, have the richest tarpon purses in the world. This year, they’ll offer more than $500,000 in prizes.

From the beginning, the PTTS drew criticism. “The Pass’s characteristics are such that the tarpon are contained in an area and must stack up,” explains White. “To snag fish effectively, you need a very fast boat, and during the tournaments we’re talking a hundred or more. It’s day after day of these high-speed pursuits of these fish who are there to feed and fatten and do this little-understood ceremony that’s prelude to their mating. It’s just a circus.”

Like White, the PTTS and Joe Mercurio are commerce-savvy, though the tournament targets a different audience. Its marketing videos highlight the very things White and other PTTS critics abhor: teams of sponsorship-clad fishermen in sponsorship-wrapped boats, all in a frenzied pursuit of fish. The videos’ background music is high-octane synthesizer, the feel is NASCAR. “The PTTS pits 50 teams in a head-to-head gunnel-to-gunnel battle,” the announcer intones in the 2010 video. “The playing field can only be described as controlled chaos.” The PTTS TV series reaches 42 million viewers and is co-hosted by a Sarasota-based blond bombshell, Sheli Sanders. Prominent in the videos are bull and hammerhead sharks chomping through tarpon even as the anglers reel them in.

What White and groups like Save the Tarpon of Boca Grande Pass argue is that the tournament uses the doctored jig and harasses the fish at a critical time in its breeding cycle. Bowing to pressure from Boca Grande guides, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) conducted a $200,000 foul-hooking study from 2002-2004. Surprisingly, the FWC did not find that the Boca Grande jig was hooking tarpon outside the mouth.

White says: “In the study, 75 percent to 80 percent are hooked in the mouth. But people did not ask what constitutes ‘mouth.’ The study’s definition is essentially this: Any bone in the tarpon’s head connected to its mouth [is its mouth]. The study has done more to harm tarpon in the last 10 years than any number of tarpon fishermen.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Pro-jig Tallahassee lobbyist seeks clarification

Lane Stephens

Tallahassee lobbyist Lane Stephens lost his case before the FWC in September. He was hired by the pro-jig Florida Tarpon Anglers Association, a group closely tied to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. His pro-jig stance was also mirrored by the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association.

The following correspondence from Lane Stephens, a partner in the Tallahassee lobbying firm SCG Governmental Affairs, is dated October 2, 2013:

I need to point out a couple of inaccuracies in your report of the vote on the jig in Pensacola.

First, I never “demanded” that the FWCC hold workshops. I made a request, on behalf of my client, the FTTA, that workshops be held. This is allowed by Chapter 120, Florida Statutes. After the initial publication of a notice of proposed rule development (which occurred in August), affected parties are allowed to request public hearings. My request was not out of the ordinary and was not a demand.

Second, you indicated that “lobbyist” Tim Atkinson represents the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association. This is not true. He is an attorney and is not registered to lobby for FTTA, and he has never represented FTTA legally or as a lobbyist. Please do not attribute his statements that he made on behalf of his client to my client, or try to insinuate that he speaks for FTTA, or that my comments to the Commission are in any way associated with him.

Lastly, I never threatened the Commission with any of my comments regarding potential action that could occur. I respectfully pointed out that Florida law allows small businesses certain protections during the rule development process, and in my opinion, FWCC failed in its economic analysis of the potential impact of this rule.

I would appreciate your correction of this misinformation on your website.

(Editor’s note: Save The Tarpon stands by its reporting.)

Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant Atkinson, P.A. Environmental Law, Regulatory Law, Administrative Law, Governmental Law, Licensing Attorneys Counselors

Excerpt from Mr. Atkinson’s bio on the Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson website. Note the last sentence.

 

Sorry, Joe – but the FWC vote really does change everything

By Bill Bishop

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is the importance of a person’s reputation. Without that, success is virtually impossible.

The “success” of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series is no different. The way I see it, the unanimous vote sent a message throughout the state and beyond that the commissioners believed the evidence brought before them was credible and something needed to be done to stop snagging. They were and will remain dead serious about this.

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

I recall a quote, “we won’t stop until we are told to stop.” They were just ordered to stop by the FWC commissioners. They were previously told they must stop gaffing, roping, dragging and weighing fish. They have now been told they must stop using the jig designed to snag fish.

They must also stop bypassing the process of enticing a fish to strike the lure. Earlier this month, the unanimous vote in favor of the proposal – and the change of the definition – changed everything. Any attempt to re-invent a lure that meets the guidelines – but is still used to snag fish – will be dealt with swiftly. Any attempt to sidestep the law will be done under a microscope and in the light of day.

Left to right: Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Mr. Bill Bishop.

Bill Bishop, at right, with (from left) Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams and Capt. Tom McLaughlin.

Yet, here we have PTTS host Joe Mercurio was quoted in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as saying: “We’re Americans, we’re anglers, we’re adapters, we’ll find a way, we’ve already found a way. If anything, this has united some of our fishermen in using the new baits that we can use.”

How about this, Mr. Mercurio? The WAY is to realize that at the very core of honest angling is the art of enticing a fish to strike. It takes a lifetime to master this art. Those who have bypassed this art by way of snagging fish have wasted time that could have been used to learn and become more proficient as anglers.

The WAY isn’t easy. It’s complicated and challenging, but it is also one of the most gratifying experiences a person can have.

Not one thing that lives inside an honest angler has anything to do with harming the fishery or offending other anglers. At the end of each day I know whether I fished well or not. I know if my conduct was becoming. I know if the decisions I made were fair and honest.

I also ask if a young budding angler looked at me – would I be a good example to follow or not? Adapting… to me means to continue to improve my skills as an angler while staying within the boundaries of good sportsmanship and fair play.

We have already found a “way” as well. It’s called angling. If you haven’t tried it, you should.

(Bill Bishop is a noted wildlife artist and an ardent tarpon angler. He is the author of “High Rollers: Fly Fishing for Giant Tarpon” published in 2008.)

Is a bottom weighted hook a snagging rig?

By: Norman Duncan

Boca Grande tarpon "jig"

The Boca Grande Pass tarpon “jig.”

The controversy regarding the use of the “Boca Grande Pass Jig” or “jig rig” has become contentious, vociferous and sensational in the communities of the region and on line. It has social, cultural, conservation and political / legal impacts that are guided by the socioeconomic relationships that exist there.

There can be more scientific studies of the interaction of a loaded hook and a tarpon’s jaw that will give some degree probability as to whether the fish was intentionally / unintentionally snagged. On the other hand, the mechanics / physics of any rig that has a weight attached below the bend of the hook should be analyzed to determine the snagging ability.

Let’s start with the leader, if the leader engages any protrusion or ledge it will slide along until the hook eye also engages. If there is any bulbous mass in the area of the hook eye the hook would be deflected and most likely not snag. If there is a weight on the hook shank at the hook eye, as most conventional jigs are configured, the hook is also less likely to snag. However, if a mass / weight is attached directly below the bottom of the bend of the hook the rig becomes an efficient snagging tool.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

Snagging is a very old method used around the world to capture fish. It could be eels in a mud bottom or schools of mullet on the surface. The usual device employs a multiple (treble) hook or gang hook with a weight or mass at the bottom. This mass forces the alignment of the point of the hook out past the hook eye and therefore enables it to snag more effectively. This can make any rig with this configuration a snagging tool if used properly.

Mullet run sngging rig for snook.

Mullet run snagging rig for snook.

During the fall mullet run on Florida’s East Coast the most effective way to catch large snook is on the bottom where the fish are busting up from below through the schools of bait. The “rig” used for this was a 7/0 Mustad O’Shaughnessy hook on a four foot wire leader to a swivel. The hook must have a ¼ ounce or ½ ounce sinker wired to and hanging below the bend of the hook. This rig is cast out into a school of mullet and jerked through the school, if your hook is filed sharp you can snag a mullet 9 out of 10 times. With the same rig the mullet is hooked up through the lips with the sinker riding below the throat. When the fish are being busted, the mullet is cast out and worked slowly along the bottom. When a fish takes, you quickly try to lip hook it so they will be easier to release. My best morning was 12 snook over 20 pounds and 2 over 30 pounds.

Several groups of fishermen from Miami fished Boca Grande Pass in the 1960s using the same lures and jigs that are successful in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami’s Government Cut; we had very poor results unless we used live bait. The artificial lures that are successful elsewhere don’t seem to work as well in the Boca Grande Pass area unless you fish the beaches and bay side flats.

This “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook.

These large snook were harvested during the "mullet run" in October of 1964.

These large snook were harvested during the “mullet run” in October of 1964.

The point here is that this “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook. In my opinion, the Boca Grande Pass and PTTS Tournament “jig rigs” are used with the primary intention of snagging tarpon, and that this type of rig should be regulated throughout the State of Florida.

Read the full article from Norman Dunan at flylifemagazine.com.

Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford: ‘Coon Pop’ vs. the bottom weighted ‘Pass Jig’

Lance “Coon” Schouest

Lance “Coon” Schouest, inventor of the “Coon Pop” lure.

The following question concerning the “Coon Pop” lure and any possible similarity to the bottom weighted Boca Grande tarpon jig was presented to Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford on Saturday, June 1 by M, Lane Stephens, a partner in the Tallahassee lobbying firm of SCG Governmental Affairs. Stephens has confirmed he has been retained to lobby on behalf of the  Florida Tarpon Anglers Association.  The organization’s board is comprised entirely of Professional Tarpon Tournament Series participants.

Mr. Stephens’ former and current clients include the Florida Airboat Association and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series sponsor Miller Brewing Company. PTTS team leader Capt. Dave Markett serves on the Airboat Association board.

Markett is an outspoken opponent of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation’s Commission’s proposed rule banning the use of bottom weighted lures in Boca Grande Pass. In a press release announcing Mr. Stephens’ affiliation with the Florida Airboat Association, the organization noted Mr. Stephens’ experience providing “governmental consulting services” on issues before the FWC. (UPDATE: A spokesman for the Airboat Association says Stephens is no longer employed to lobby for the group.)

Alford’s Project Tarpon is based in Texas where the Coon Pop lure is commonly used.

Tarpon snatch hook

Unlike the Coon Pop, the “Boca Grande Tarpon Jig” (above) is fished vertically and is rigged with a weight below the hook making the hook point the first point of contact with the fish.  Historically, any lure weighted at the belly or bend of the hook has been defined as a “snatch hook” or “snag hook.”

Here is the text of Mr. Stephens’ email to Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford:

I was reading some of your posts on Youtube regarding the different use of the Coon Pop in Boca Grande Pass vs Texas and Louisiana. I understand it is generally slow trolled or cast in Tx and LA. However, I’ve read some articles about fishing for tarpon (in) Texas that talks about presenting the lure in a vertical jigging fashion in deeper water in Texas. You seem to be very knowledgeable on this subject and I’d appreciate information you have on the vertical technique used in Texas.

Thanks
Lane Stephens
SCG Governmental Affairs

Here is the text of Scott Alford’s reply:

There really isn’t much “vertical” usage of the jig in Texas in deep water or in Louisiana for that matter. The coon-pop is not really jigged. There are a number of ways it is used over here. I’ll go through each of them with you and explain how it is very different than the Boca Grande Pass.

"Coon Pop" Hook Placement

In this photo you can see the most common hook placement when a tarpon eats a “Coon Pop” fishing lure.

(1) Trolled – we troll up to seven baits with gas inboard boats or with electric trolling motors. The baits are staggered by letting them out for 30 seconds down to 5 seconds (i.e. 30, 25, 20, 15, 10 and 5 seconds – then a three second line sometimes – they are staggered with odd counts on one side and even counts on the other.) The five second line is only about four feet under the water and we are fishing in 35-45 feet of water usually in the open Gulf. The fish are in schools but the fish come to the baits. Most fish get hooked from the inside out, not on the outside of the face – the majority are hooked in the button. The speed these baits are trolled is between 1.5 to 2.5 knots. The rods don’t get picked up until after a bite.

(2) Drifted – this is really just drift trolling. Set up the same except the baits are set on the side of the boat and drifted and we don’t use as many baits. This is just a slow troll. Rods are in rod holders, not held. Same is true for hook sets etc.

(3) Casting – the bait is thrown and then reeled in. Again, this is in the open Gulf and the baits are usually retreived in the upper half of the water column.

Coon Pop Hook Placement

Another example of the most common hook placement found when using the “Coon Pop.”

(4) Use in Pass Cavallo – there is only one natural pass along the Texas coast that frequently has tarpon in the pass where you can fish for them consistently. The pass is relatively narrow and only about twenty feet deep. One guy fishes the pass using coon-pops. He does not hold the rods. The baits are suspended from a few feet off the bottom almost to the surface in rod holders the entire time. Tarpon do not get in the pass in schools as they do in Boca Grande and these fish are usually all post spawn, late summer fish that move into the pass in late afternoon early evening to feed. The fish move in in usually as singles. The fish are eating the jigs from below and the rod is not picked up until the fish is hooked. The boat drifts with the tide, is not maneuvered on top of the fish and the boat drifts over a fish as it goes in or out with the tide. No tide and you have no fish.

The reason a coon-pop works is because a tarpon comes from below and behind the bait to eat it. It can’t see the hook. On trolled baits, I use 150 lb piano wire leader. Casting baits, we usually (use) 120+ lb. mono leaders.

This is not to say that a tarpon won’t eat a jig in Boca Grande Pass. Likely they will.  But as I’ve seen the jig fished, I am skeptical that it is regularly eaten. I’ve seen the hook-up numbers on jigs versus using live bait. A tarpon is more likely to eat a live bait presented than a jig (coon-pop or otherwise). If the jigs are working more consistently than bait, that should be a red flag.

I have advocated that there is a simple way to solve the issue. Get a number of tarpon photographs showing hook placement in tarpon caught with coon-pops in Texas and Louisiana and take a similar, unbiased representation of tarpon caught in Boca Grande Pass using the jig. If there is a difference, you’ll have your answer. Personally, I think they’ll be an obvious one.

Bottom line, our fish are not as concentrated and not vertically concentrated as they are in Boca Grande Pass.

Scott Alford
Project Tarpon

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook?

Waterline Magazine June 6, 2013This article, written by Josh Olive, Publisher of Waterline Magazine, was originally printed in the June 6, 2013 edition of the magazine.

Tired of tarpon yet?

We’ve been talking a lot about tarpon fishing in the past few editions of WaterLine. For those of you who have no interest in these fish, I apologize. However, we’re smack in the middle of tarpon season, and our silver king obsession will continue for a little while yet. Hey, that’s why we have 32 pages — even though there’s an abundance of tarpon talk, there’s still plenty of other information and entertainment for those of you who just don’t get all the fuss about an oversized sardine.

This coming Wednesday will be a big day for anyone with an interest in local tarpon fishing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be meeting in Lakeland to (among other things) hold a public hearing for draft and final rules that affect tarpon both statewide and locally. The final rule would make tarpon a catch-and-release-only species, with possession legal only in pursuit of an IGFA record, and then only with a $50 tarpon tag. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in favor of no one keeping tarpon, but the record exemption is silly and unfair — why just tarpon? If you catch a record redfish or snook, law says it’s got to go free.

The draft rule is in two parts: First, it would change the definition of snagging only for tarpon. The gist is if the tarpon does not actively participate in being hooked, it’s snagged. I’m OK with that, and I would think any other sportsman would be as well.

Tarpon snagged with a circle hook in Boca Grande Pass.

This tarpon was snagged with a bottom-weighted circle hook under the pectoral fin during a PTTS tournament.

Second —and this is the part that’s got a whole bunch of people in a tizzy — the draft rule would ban the use of a weight attached to a hook and hanging lower than said hook when the rig is suspended vertically. It’s a big deal because that’s exactly how the Boca Grande Pass tarpon jig is commonly rigged, and the jig is fished by a fairly large number of people. I’ve always said that there’s no proof the jig is snagging tarpon. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how that device works, and talking with people on both sides of the debate about why it works. Absolute conclusive evidence that favors either camp is hard to come by, but I’ve got some questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered.

See, I’m certainly no expert on tarpon or tarpon fishing. In fact, I still have yet to actually catch one (came close, though). So I have to ask those who do this day in, day out, all tarpon season long. And a lot of what I hear just isn’t adding up.

Why does the jig have to be fished so close to the bottom? In jig fishing, you drop your rig to the bottom and then reel up 2 to 4 feet of line. The schools of tarpon you see on the fishfinder while you’re doing this are stacked sometimes 20 or 30 feet from the bottom. What I’ve been told is that the fish at the bottom of the school are the ones that are feeding. Why, then, is the traditional presentation of a live bait above the school of fish, not below them? Many jig fishermen switch over to live bait in the afternoon. Why don’t they put those live baits right on the bottom, if that’s where the fish are feeding?

Why does it take so long to feel the fish after you get a bite? I’ve jigged the Pass on a handful of occasions. After you drop the jig down, you wait to feel tiny taps on the line. When you feel that, you reel like crazy. I’ve only hooked two fish doing this. One of them took about four reel cranks — let’s call that 20 feet — before I felt the weight of the fish. The other took about two cranks (still 10 feet). I’ve been told it’s either line stretch or the fish racing toward the surface with the jig. I know monofilament stretches, but 20 feet of stretch fishing straight down in 50 feet of water? It’s fishing line, not a gummy worm. And what possible reason does a not-yet-hooked tarpon have to race toward the surface, jig in mouth?

Jigs OK to use if FWC moves forward with gear restrictions.

All of these jigs would remain legal under proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass. In fact, there is not one commercially manufactured rig we would find which would be banned if the proposed rule is made law.

Why are jig fishing leaders so short? Most anglers use tiny leaders, maybe 18 inches long. Perhaps it’s because they don’t need long leaders, but in the tournament — where leader touches count for points — wouldn’t a longer leader be an advantage? The anti-jig guys say it’s because the knot spooks fish as it runs across their bodies, so they know they must be very close to the hook. I don’t know if that’s really true, but if it isn’t, why not use longer leaders and prove them wrong?

Why does the jig only seem to work on tightly packed schools of fish? Obviously, you’ll have a much better chance of hooking a fish of any kind if you present a bait to a bunch of
them, but I’ve watched jig anglers choose to not fish because the schools of tarpon weren’t thick enough. I would rather find a school of redfish to cast on, but if I can’t I’m still going
to fish. Why would you not fish at all — surely if the jig is mistaken for food, you have a reasonable chance of a tarpon spotting it and pouncing on it even when the fish are scattered very thinly.

I’d love to have verifiably truthful answers to these questions. But there’s one more, and it’s the one that matters the most:

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook from above the weight to behind it? The guys who are saying the Pass jig snags fish say the only reason it can do that is because when the line is reeled past the fish, the hook is the first thing that makes contact. OK, that’s plausible. The guys who defend the jig say that the fish are biting it. OK, that’s plausible too.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook.  By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed FWC rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook. By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

So why not shut the anti-jiggers up for good by moving the hook? The anti-jig crowd’s entire argument falls completely apart if you can move the hook literally two inches and continue to catch fish. Several people have told me they’re working on just this type of rig, but I’ve not heard from anyone that they’re actually using it successfully. Of course, they might be doing just that and not talking to anyone about it. But I can tell you that if I were one of those guides whose livelihood depends largely on being able to jig fish for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, and I had a rig that would catch tarpon as efficiently as the jig but couldn’t be accused of being a snagging device, I’d be on the 6 o’clock news that night crowing about it and telling them all to stuff it.

The fact that this hasn’t happened lends credence to the argument that jigs snag fish. It makes it harder to believe the anglers who say they’re not snagging but can’t explain why minor changes — changes that don’t affect the jig’s presentation in the water — render it ineffective. Many jig fishermen have told me they don’t believe that they’re snagging tarpon. And I believe that they’re being sincere. But it seems to me that not looking for real explanations is a problem. Saying, “I know I’m not doing anything wrong because I know I’m not doing anything wrong,” just doesn’t cut it.

When I first became involved with the jigging debate, it seemed very simple to me: It just couldn’t possibly be that all these fishermen were somehow snagging tarpon in the mouths. Anybody who said so must be carping about sour grapes. Besides, the state had done a study that didn’t find tarpon were being snagged. Anyone who said tarpon were being snagged would have to prove it.

Things have changed a little. The study has been cast into doubt, with two of the quoted experts now saying they didn’t say what the study says they said. One of them, Dr. Justin Grubich, has provided a plausible (that word again) explanation for how at least some of the tarpon might be snagged in their mouths. Other fisheries have turned up that snag fish in the mouths — admittedly, salmon fisheries.

But still, there are all these unanswered questions. I have little doubt the FWC is going to move forward with the draft rules — perhaps with minor changes, but probably to close loopholes rather than open more. If they do, a final vote will probably be held in September. The new regulations would likely go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. The burden of proof now lies on those who fish with the jig. If the commissioners look solely at the evidence they currently have — which, taken as a whole, says it’s more likely jigs are snagging tarpon than not — I don’t see how they would have any choice but to outlaw the Pass jig.

If anyone has that evidence, I’m sure it will surface at the meeting this Wednesday. And let me tell you, I would be very happy to see it. I don’t at all like the thought that jig fishermen, many of whom I know well and have formed close friendships with over the past few years, are knowingly or even unknowingly doing something as unsporting as snagging not just any gamefish but the ultimate Southwest Florida gamefish. Unfortunately, I have a heavy feeling in my gut that says that might be exactly what’s happening.

Read More from Waterline Magazine >

Read the Boca Grande Pass: Tarpon Gear Review and Discussion by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission >

Caller are you there? ‘If they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter’

When you’re finished reading, make sure to watch the video following the post. 

Capt. Chris O’Neill, host of The Reel Saltwater Fishing Show on WENG-AM, spent 47 minutes of airtime Friday shilling for the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the virtues of the bottom weighted “tarpon jig” in an interview with PTTS team leader Capt. Dave Markett and Florida Tarpon Anglers Association vice president and PTTS booster Craig Abbott.VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

Along with FTAA president, PTTS captain and FWC auxiliary police officer Mark Maus, they spent their 47 minutes of local radio fame deriding the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s proposed rule designed to curb the foul-hooking epidemic in Boca Grande Pass.

FWC staff supports doing this by requiring the jig’s weight be attached above rather than below the hook. At various times during those 47 minutes, O’Neill’s “new friends” even attempted to equate their “association’s” opposition to the FWC plan with the same principles that drove the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Seriously.

Tarpon snatch hook

Often referred to as a “Boca Grande Tarpon Jig,” this weighted hook is nothing more than a snagging device used during the peak time of pre-spawn activity for North America’s only mass migration of tarpon.

As his show neared its end, O’Neill opened the phone lines and uttered four words he would instantly come to regret.

“Caller, are you there?” In less than 30 seconds the voice on the phone wiped out those previous 47 minutes of hype with one simple, unprompted, direct and apparently innocent question.

“If they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter how the hook was placed. Would it?”

Oops. Maus and Abbott, who obviously weren’t expecting the obvious and who likely figured listener questions were being screened as carefully as the show was scripted, were caught off guard.

Agree,” said one. “You’re absolutely correct,” said the other.

Their mouths had momentarily gone rogue, ‘fessed up and allowed the truth to slip out. Taken by surprise, you can hear what happens when Maus and Abbott weren’t able to duck the question with yet another pre-fabricated civil rights reference. Yes, they both admitted, it doesn’t matter where the weight is located. Not if the tarpon are really biting the jig.

“Well that was my point,” the voice on the phone managed to say before O’Neill could kill the call. “We’re going to have to step out and go to break,” the quick-thinking and clearly rattled host jumped in, cutting off the caller and rescuing Maus and Abbott from themselves as he watched 47 minutes of infomercial airtime circle the drain.

O’Neill’s show was taped, complete with background chatter soundtrack, at the Waterside Grill at the Gasparilla Marina, conveniently located next to PTTS operator Gary Ingman’s Ingman Marine boat dealership in Placida, Florida.

Because those 30 seconds of “Caller, are you there?” near the tail end of the broadcast likely aren’t going to find their way into the next PTTS highlight reel or onto the Florida Tarpon Anglers’ website, here’s what happens when the best and the brightest are confronted with “if they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter …”

Considering O’Neill’s panicked reaction – and Maus and Abbott’s unrehearsed and candid response – it apparently does.