State attorney won’t prosecute local guides; Tampa area captain’s fate uncertain

Capt. Jim Huddleston

FWC officers pull aside Capt. James Huddleston’s boat on May 15 after observing the Tampa-area guide fishing two illegal “breakaway” bottom-weighted jigs.

While high-profile Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler and charter captain James W. Huddleston continues to await his day in Lee County Circuit Court, prosecutors are moving ahead with plans to defer and ultimately dismiss all charges against two local fishing guides accused by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers of allegedly violating rules prohibiting the use of “breakaway” gear in Boca Grande Pass.

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The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight came through again. Great timing, guys. They chose yesterday to recycle an old Facebook post and plaster it across the top of their page. We saved it for you here because odds are it’s not going to last long over there.

The decision to halt prosecution came as Capt. Frank E. Davis, 53, of Placida and Capt. David C. Chatham, 35, of Port Charlotte entered not guilty pleas on Monday in connection with a May 28 FWC “boating safety and resource inspection” sweep that specifically targeted traditional live bait fishing guides operating charters in the Pass.

Assistant State Attorney Larry D. Justham, who spearheads the county court division, declined comment on the cases brought by the FWC against the two local guides. Justham referred all questions, including those concerning the as-yet unresolved Huddleston case, to the state attorney’s press office. Communications Director Samantha Syoen said she was unable to comment on an active prosecution, but noted the state attorney’s office is “working closely with the FWC” on the matter.

Huddleston’s next court date is June 27 when he is slated to appear before Judge H. Andrew Swett at 8 a.m. in Fort Myers. Charges against Huddleston stem from a May 15 incident when FWC officers say they spotted one of Huddleston’s clients fishing what they said was “an obvious illegal jig” in Boca Grande Pass. The bottom-weighted jig, popular among PTTS competitors, was outlawed by the FWC in September, 2013 when it was determined to be a foul-hooking or “snagging” device.

The FWC subsequently came under fire for opting to issue Huddleston a written warning rather than a formal second degree misdemeanor charge for violating the widely reported nine-month old jig prohibition.

FWC Capt. Guy Carpenter, who oversees the agency’s law enforcement efforts in Lee and Charlotte counties, has sought to defend the decisions his officers made in the Huddleston matter by noting the FWC’s “enforcement philosophy is to start out heavy on the education side” and that “we have to educate people.”

Critics have questioned the need for “education” in the Huddleston case, however, pointing to reports filed by both officers referencing Huddleston’s “knowledge and experience” and that the 44-year-old Palm Harbor man is and has been employed as a long-time professional fishing guide.

The same reports state Huddleston appeared to hurriedly instruct one of his clients to lower the illegal gear into the water when he saw the FWC officers approach to make their inspection.

The reports contain no indication Huddleston attempted to claim he was unaware of the regulation. Rather, the reports state, Huddleston sought to place blame for the presence of the banned devices being fished from his boat on his absent and unnamed “mate.” Huddleston did, however, receive a citation for using “breakaway” tackle in conjunction with the illegal jigs. Again, according to the reports, he offered no defense.

By contrast, reports show both Chatham and Davis vigorously defended the legality of their gear two weeks later when FWC officers selectively stopped and inspected more than a dozen traditional live-bait “Pass Boats.”

In Chatham’s case, an FWC officer was repeatedly unable to “break away” the gear the officer would later claim was designed to break away. Davis similarly objected, noting that the same gear that drew his break-away gear citation had, just moments earlier and in sight of the officers, successfully boated a tarpon without the weight breaking free. The reports state the officer who nevertheless issued the citation “took his objections into consideration.”

The FWC’s “boating safety and resource inspection” sweep of the local Pass Boat fleet came on the heels of an online uproar fueled by those in the Tampa area jig fishing community who contended Huddleston had been targeted by the FWC due to his notoriety as a PTTS jig angler.

The jig anglers’ complaints against the FWC ended abruptly when a Tampa-area newspaper reported the Davis and Chatham citations just hours after they were issued and days before the FWC was able to provide other media outlets with information concerning the two cases.

PTTS quietly pulls a flip-flop on the once-despised ‘J’ hook

Take a quick moment to compare these two short excerpts pulled from the current and past “rules” found on the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series website. First this:

From the 2013 PTTS rules: “Hooks: Only single ‘Circle’ hook rigs are permissible.”

Now this:

From the 2014 PTTS rules: “Hooks: Only single ‘Circle’ hooks are permissible for use when fishing with live and or natural baits.”

Can you spot the difference? (Hint: We italicized and underlined the language that was quietly added to the tournament’s 2014 rules when the PTTS rule writers reckoned nobody was looking.) It’s circle hooks only for “live or natural baits.” For the unnatural “baits” favored by the PTTS jig bombers, it’s anything goes. And in 2014, with the bottom-weighted jig now a memory (sort of), that “anything” includes the once-reviled “J” hook.

So what happened? Why the change? We know, of couse. So do you. And, obviously, so does the PTTS. Between the 2013 edition of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and its 2014 season, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met in Pensacola and unanimously voted to do this:

Actual headline from the September 8, 2013 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. We’re showing you the actual headline because if we didn’t, one of the “git ‘er done” wrap boat nut cases would probably go on Facebook or some fish forum and claim that this never happened, that the jig is still legal and that … What? Dave Markett already did?  Good grief.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune called it the “Boca Grande Jig.” The FWC called it something else: A device that is, and always had been “since the tournament’s inception” nine years earlier, designed and enthusiastically used by PTTS “competitors” to foul-hook or “snag” or “snatch” or “floss” tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. In other words, “illegal.”

The PTTS, according to the FWC, had spent those nine “organized chaos” years breaking existing laws prohibiting anglers from foul-hooking tarpon. Although the PTTS basic cable TV show existed only because the so-called Boca Grande ” jig” existed, tournament host Joe Mercurio didn’t appear to be the least bit concerned by the FWC decision when interviewed by his hometown paper.

This was plainly evidenced by the unrepentant and prophetic response he gave the Herald-Trib reporter:

New Baits

Clip taken from the Herald-Tribune story quoting PTTS host, vice-president and All-American boy Joe Mercurio.

We’ll find a way – we’ve already found a way?” Just one problem.  The redesigned “new baits that we can use” didn’t seem to work very well. Not like the old snatch hook jig. And certainly not as Mercurio’s “adapter” anglers had hoped. Further, it was discovered all those “new baits that we can use” didn’t work at all when they were lashed to a circle hook. Because, as Mercurio had explained two years earlier: Nbc2 Header Nbc2 Headline Joequote But true to his “we’ll find a way” promise, Mercurio, tournament owner Gary Ingman and the PTTS gang “found a way.” It was easy. All they needed to do was change the rules. Quietly.

With their bottom-weighted gear (required to change the circle hook’s angle of attack) now illegal, the “adapters” discovered their beloved circle hook was useless when mounted on one of the jig wranglers’ “new baits.” Take away the bottom weight, the adapters told Mercurio, and the damned thing absolutely refused to snag. Mercurio had been right all along.   Not without a half pound of lead weight dangling underneath it to point the hook at the fish. But, the “adapters” told the PTTS, the “new baits” sort of worked with a “J” hook. Same mechanics. Drop the rig to the bottom, reel up twice, wait for a tarpon to bump the line above, and let ‘er rip. Gills, anus, eyeballs – didn’t matter. Not when you’re making TV.

Although not nearly as good as a circle hook, a “J” hook gave their promised “new baits” a fighting chance, they said. Which, of course, was more than the jig bombers ever gave the tarpon. Without the “J” hook, they told Mercurio and Ingman, they could forget about filling the big screen with bent rod and dead tarpon shots. But this left Mercurio with a problem. And an awkward electronic paper trail.

“The PTTS remains one of the only inshore fishing tournaments that require the use of circle hooks, which have been found to greatly reduce the catch and release mortality on Tarpon.”

The author of this one, dated Feb 19, 2010, is identified as one Joe Mercurio, Professional Tarpon Tournament Series host and vice-president. It appeared on his short-lived “For the Record” blog, which he later read nearly word-for-word when he stood before the FWC in Tampa to defend his tournament and its style of fishing.

He further demanded the commissioners stop all this jig snagging nonsense and go after the real threat. The “J” hook.  The same “J” hook his jig bomber “adapters” were now telling him was their only hope in hell of catching, or capturing, a Boca Grande tarpon on camera. Oops.

Then, of course, there was the little problem known as Mark Maus, Craig Abbott and the PTTS mail drop front group with the catchy title “Florida Tarpon Anglers Association.”

Which, while all this “adapting” and “way-finding” was going nowhere,  had gone on its Facebook page, the only tangible evidence of its existence,  to echo the Mercurio “J” hook party line. Or, more accurately, what had once been the Mercurio “J” hook party line. Apparently Maus, Abbott and the FTA didn’t get the memo. They wrote: FTAA Circle Hook

Naturally, when the new PTTS rules – the rules that now covertly blessed the once-killer “J” hook – were quietly published to the PTTS website, Maus and Abbott and their mail drop non-profit could barely contain their outrage.

As promised, they stood tall for their members. They dropped the “J” hook hammer on Mercurio, Ingman and the PTTS. They ruthlessly, courageously and deservedly let ’em have it with:

Facebook Page Not FoundThe bullies.

The PTTS has yet to acknowledge it’s allowing “J” hooks to be attached to the “new baits” being used by its “adapters” under the “adapted” 2014 rules. The same  “J” hook the PTTS campaigned to have tossed from the Pass.  Just as the FWC did to them and their bottom-weighted, circle-hooked  jigs in September.

It was, they figured payback time. Instead, the PTTS discovered karma really is what they say karma really is.

This year, with all their major sponsors now gone, perhaps the PTTS might wish to consider a new promotional approach. Something far more appropriate than a few crappy boats and cheap watches. It’s called “product placement.”

 

‘The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true’

Maus 2

Florida Tarpon Anglers president and Simrad representative Mark Maus.

On September 5, 2013, Tallahassee lobbyist Lane Stephens addressed the seven members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Pensacola prior to their unanimous vote to outlaw the so-called “Pass Jig.”

Stephens spoke in opposition to the rule on behalf of Florida Tarpon Anglers Association vice-president and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler Craig Abbott as well as FTA president Mark Maus, a tournament angler best known for his association with Simrad Yachting and its parent company Navico

In his remarks to the FWC eight months ago, Stephens predicted exactly what we’re seeing happening today in Boca Grande Pass. His words were prophetic.

The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true,” he told the commission.

With the apparent blessing of Abbott, Simrad’s Maus, the PTTS (“our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs“) and others, Mr. Stephens told the commissioners exactly what they could expect. And he put his prediction on the record.

The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true.

As Mr. Stephens promised eight months ago, his prophecy has come true. Painfully true. And, as the PTTS also promised when the tournament put the FWC on notice following the jig ban vote, “we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed.” Designs developed for anglers who, as their own lobbyist admitted, can’t “easily switch to another lure.” We’ll let you connect the dots.

It appears we’ve found two promises Abbott, Maus and the PTTS have had absolutely no trouble keeping.

 

‘That sure sounds like snagging to me,’ Pinellas angler tells FWC cops

Capt Dave Markett of Team Power Pole

The Team Power Pole boat in the Pass with Capt. Dave Markett at the helm as he puts his clients on the fish earlier this month. But wait … take another look. What’s that ‘lure’ they’re fishing? Scroll down for a few photos you likely won’t find on Markett’s Facebook page.

Matt Selby is one of those down-to-earth kind of guys who, like the rest of us, enjoys fishing. On May 9, Matt made the drive to Boca Grande from Pinellas County where you can often find him on the water casting and jigging a variety of legal artificials.

Matt lawfully fishes his collection of time-tested jigs just as they were meant to be fished. As generations of anglers before him have done. And, in his local waters, they work. “They catch me small tarpon back home all the time,” he says.

Matt’s also one of many anglers who have taken the time to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s enforcement division through its “Wildlife Alert Line” this season. Like them, Matt wasn’t happy with what he saw happening around him in Boca Grande Pass that day. Or what he would later be told.

“I really don’t know what to call the kind of fishing I saw being done in the Pass that day,” he said. “It really upset me to watch these guys snag five to seven fish in a three hour span on multiple boats.”

Matt’s story is, of course, a snapshot, an important snapshot. One taken from the perspective of a true sportsman. It’s a picture we’ve seen so many times that maybe it takes a fresh set of eyes to serve up a jolting reminder of the direction this storied fishery was, and still could be, headed.

Perhaps it’s also a snapshot of how the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World” is being viewed by that world – more than two decades after the bottom weighted snag hook arrived in Boca Grande Pass.

Matt says the old reliable “back home” lures he was casting in the Pass weren’t catching anything that day. The fish, he says, weren’t feeding. It happens. And as any sportsman will tell you, it’s frustrating. Matt tried everything he’d learned over the years. Didn’t matter. Not even an angler with his knowledge and experience could entice those tarpon to bite.

Matt looked around. He saw he wasn’t the only angler struggling that day. But he wasn’t expecting what was about to happen, he says. “One guide was next to me,” Matt clearly recalls. “One of his clients started complaining about not catching a single fish in two hours.”

And there you have it. Just as Matt had described. The rig in the side rod holder looks an awful lot like the old (and now illegal) Boca Grande Jig.

And there you have it. Just as Matt had described. The rig in the side rod holder looks an awful lot like the old (and now illegal) Boca Grande Jig.

Matt heard it. Matt saw it. Here’s what Matt later told the FWC:

“He (the guide) looked around. He pulled out a pole from somewhere underneath, under the side. The pole was rigged with the exact snatch jig that was just banned.”

Matt knew the FWC had outlawed the bottom weighted “Pass jig” late last year. And this one was hard to miss. A weighted head attached to a bright green plastic tail. Along with what Matt described as a “a giant hook.” Just like in the photos he’d seen online. Except now he was seeing one up close and personal.

As he later told the FWC, he watched from just feet away as the “old jig,” the one outlawed by the FWC, was fired to the bottom of the Pass.

The fish still weren’t biting, but Matt knew it didn’t matter. “Guess what?” As Matt told the FWC, there was no guesswork required.

Under the proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass, a bottom weighted hook such as this, would be illegal.

The illegal “Boca Grande jig” is actually a bottom-weighted snatch hook.

Under the current gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass, a bottom weighted hook such as this, is  illegal.

“They snagged one on the next drift. And they wound up with seven total on the day. I know for sure he was fishing the illegal one on that drift.”

But that’s not all he told the FWC when he made that call to the “Wildlife Alert Line.” And it was far from the end of the story. Matt also told the FWC about “the funny thing” that happened later that day when he encountered the same guide he’d seen in the Pass a few hours earlier.

Both fished artificials. So, Matt reckoned, the guide likely figured he was talking one brother to another. He wasn’t. Not even close. Here’s how Matt describes it:

“He unknowingly admitted to me he snags the tarpon,” Matt told the FWC. “I said to him that I didn’t even get a bite with what I was using.” Matt said he asked the guide, the one who suddenly landed all those tarpon, “what’s your secret?” Matt said he already knew. There was nothing “secret” about it.

The guide’s advice: “Use clear line that they can’t see, drop the jig to the bottom with the line completely straight up and down, then when you feel a Tarpon bump into your line reel up fast and that sets the hook.” And that’s how Matt described their little chat when he called the FWC.

“That sure sounds like snagging to me.”

Matt had more than a story to relate to the FWC during that phone call. He also had a name to go with that face. And all that “secret” boat ramp advice that name and face had shared.

The face wasn’t hard to find. It was, he said, impossible to miss. Matt quickly discovered he’d been keeping company that day with a cable TV star. A high-profile Professional Tarpon Tournament Series captain whose name and face were all over the Internet. Along with his Team Power Pole PTTS wrap boat.

No, you won’t go blind looking for Capt. Dave Markett. And Matt didn’t have to bother spelling the name for the voice on the phone.

“They told me that have received several tips about these PTTS boats in the Pass, and that they will make especially sure to keep an eye on Markett’s boat,” Matt was told.

Matt, of course, didn’t go looking for lawbreakers on his first trip to the Pass that day. He went looking for tarpon. And he never imagined he’d find himself making a call to the FWC. He also found he wasn’t alone.

He said he was surprised to learn the FWC knew all about what was happening in Boca Grande. So did we. And, naturally, we followed up.

The photos that accompany this story were the result of Matt’s FWC call and others like it. Old habits die hard. And when the fish aren’t biting and the charter clients aren’t happy … some folks will tell you a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

But, as the photos taken a day or so later confirm, the man seemingly couldn’t stop doing what a man’s gotta do. It’s not just the FWC doing the watching. We’re also out there, of course. Just like Matt. There are lots of Matts out there in the Pass.

It’s something one guide has already learned. The hard way. A second degree misdemeanor hard way. Plus, if convicted, a criminal record, a possible $500 fine and, depending on the mood of the judge, up to six months in jail. We can probably toss in three very ticked off charter clients. Let’s also not forget the 100,000 or so social media and website hits. Consider them a bonus.

Who’s really in that boat a few feet away? There’s an easy way to find out. Drop an “old jig” into the Pass. Or a “new jig” that, as FWC law enforcement has clearly stated, is just a quick wrist flick away from becoming the same “old jig” their bosses banned by a 7-0 vote late last year.

So go ahead. It’s like they say. You’ll never know until you try. It’s not like anyone’s watching. Right?

But if you are, the number for the FWC’s “Wildlife Alert Line” is 888-404-3922. You can choose to remain anonymous. The FWC offers rewards for information leading to a prosecution and conviction. Save the Tarpon is also chipping in more than $1,000 on top of the FWC reward.

And, if you’re wondering, Matt has declined any reward resulting from his call to the FWC. He said seeing the new rules aggressively enforced is all the reward he needs.

PTTS captain facing FWC criminal charges for fishing ‘new jig’

Capt. Jim Huddleston

FWC officers are shown detaining Huddleston and his charter clients May 15 in Boca Grande Pass. Huddleston is facing criminal charges as a result of the stop that allegedly turned up two modified bottom weighted jigs.

Just days after the so-called “new jig” made its debut in Boca Grande Pass, a Tampa Bay area fishing guide and prominent Professional Tarpon Tournament Series team captain quickly found himself – and his “new jig” – on the wrong side of the law.

James W. Huddleston, 44, of Palm Harbor is scheduled to make a June 3 court appearance in Fort Myers where he’s facing second degree misdemeanor charges, up to six months in jail and a $500 fine if convicted of using illegal gear, according to records provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. His arraignment is set for 8 a.m.

According to the FWC, officers approached Huddleston’s charter boat around 8:50 a.m. in Boca Grande Pass on Thursday, May 15. The officers said an observer in a nearby boat had tipped them off that Huddleston and his clients were using a form of bottom weighted “jig” outlawed as a foul-hooking device last year by the commission.

Officers said they saw “an obvious illegal jig” on a rod being held by one of Huddleston’s three charter clients. “The weight was clearly below the hook,” the officers said.

As they drew near Huddleston’s boat, officers said the client dropped his line and its bottom-weighted hook into the water. Officers said they immediately instructed the client to reel up, secured the jig aboard their patrol vessel and observed a weight attached to the bottom of the hook.

Capt Jim Huddleston

Huddleston is also a Tampa Bay Times fishing writer.

A second Huddleston client was then told to reel up, according to the report.  The FWC officers said it was discovered this line was also illegally rigged.

Police said Huddleston attempted to place the blame on his absent and unnamed mate who, he claimed, “rigged those poles for me this morning.”

He also told the officers the hooks his clients were using had pulled out of the jig’s soft plastic tails. Officers said they told Huddleston the rig was still unlawful as it “allows the weight to slide down the hook with a simple manipulation from the angler.”

Critics of the “new jig” agree, noting the hook was designed, as Huddleston told the FWC, to be pulled from the jig’s tail to allow the weight to break free and slip under the hook.

Huddleston’s clients were not cited. According to the FWC report, “Huddleston is a guide and at the time on a paying charter fishing trip. His clients hire him for his knowledge and experience.”

Capt Jim Huddleston

Huddleston, aka ‘Captain Hud.’

The officers noted that Huddleston’s use “of a lighter monofilament to attach the weight … shows clear intent to violate the rule.”

Huddleston is a veteran PTTS captain who has been sponsored in the past by World of Beer and Safeco Insurance. His 2014 PTTS sponsor, according to the TV show’s website, is Hendrick Roofing Inc. His website notes Mercury Marine Outboards, G Loomis Rods, Optima Batteries, Shearwater Boats Mirrolure and the Big Fish Tackle Company as additional sponsors.

Huddleston’s 2014 PTTS team includes anglers Randy Hendrick, Brad Bond and Jayson Brandgard, according to the PTTS website. In 2012, Huddleston took sixth place in the PTTS “Team of the Year” competition. He also posted a Week 5 win that year with a tarpon that tipped the PTTS scales at 174 pounds. His 2013 fortunes sagged as he and his Safeco Insurance team finished 32nd on the season, well out of the money.

Officers said Huddleston was not taken into custody and was allowed to complete his charter – with whatever legally rigged gear he had on board. Huddleston is also a Tampa Bay Times correspondent who writes a regular fishing column for the newspaper entitled “Captain’s Corner.”

(How does the “new jig” become the “old jig?” All it takes is a jerk. And a quick tug on the line. Check out the video below.)

Incident Summary Report Salem Perry 1 6

Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission

FWC rules ‘new jig’ is illegal

Illegal "Jig"It’s official. And it didn’t take long. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is telling its law enforcement officers that the “new and improved” tarpon jig (see photo) that turned up recently in Boca Grande Pass isn’t new and it isn’t improved.

It’s illegal.

And like the vote that banned the bottom-weighted hook last year, the decision was unanimous.

Thomas Graef, the FWC’s regional director for Southwest Florida, agrees. Capt. Guy Carpenter, FWC law enforcement supervisor for Lee and Charlotte counties, agrees. And Nick Wiley, executive director of the FWC, agrees. And they’ve put it in writing.

They all agree. And there’s no wiggle room on this one. It’s simple. Use the new jig and you’re breaking the law.

“The jig depicted in the drawing (the photo above) is not legal as the weight appears to be designed to slide down the shank,” Carpenter wrote.

“If a fisherman in Boca Grande is found to be in possession of one, it’s prohibited use will be explained and properly documented.”

Carpenter continues. “If the fisherman is found to be fishing it, the violation will handled appropriately based on knowledge and prior contact.”

Translation: Use the “new jig,” get caught using the new jig, and the FWC will give you a warning. Do it twice, and the FWC will give you a second degree misdemeanor prosecution.

The determination was made and announced by Carpenter late Monday night. “A tug pulls the eye of the from under zip tie and hook point rips from plastic soft body tail,” the FWC said. In other words, a flick of the wrist turns the “new jig” into the “old jig.”

A memo detailing the FWC’s determination has been circulated among the area’s FWC law enforcement officers. According to the FWC, those law enforcement officers will be in the Pass and they’ll be looking for violators.

Unless stowed out of reach, just having a new jig or an old jig while in Boca Grande Pass – whether it’s used or not – is also a violation.

(How does the “new jig” become the “old jig?” All it takes is a jerk. And a quick tug on the line. Check out the video below.)

Incident Summary Report Salem Perry 1 6

Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Tarpon statewide snagging definition, gear rules in Boca Grande Pass changes effective Nov. 1

Tarpon Jig

Changes that will add language to the current statewide snagging definition for tarpon and modify what types of gear can be used when fishing in Boca Grande Pass will go into effect Nov. 1.

These changes will provide further protection for this iconic fish.

The first part of the adopted changes includes adding language to the snagging definition to prohibit catching or attempting to catch tarpon that have not been attracted or enticed to strike an angler’s gear. This change will apply to tarpon fishing statewide. The current definition for snagging or snatch-hooking is the intentional catch of a fish by any device intended to impale or hook the fish by any part of its body other than the mouth. Adding language specifying that gear must entice the fish to strike with, and become hooked in, its mouth will help further protect tarpon from the act of snagging.

The second part of the changes prohibits fishing with gear that has a weight attached to a hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod (see photo below). This change will apply to fishing for all species year-round within Boca Grande Pass.

If this prohibited gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed. This change will further reduce the likelihood that tarpon in Boca Grande Pass will be snagged.

These changes will provide further protection for tarpon.

To learn more, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Tarpon.”

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.

 

FWC votes 7-0 to ban controversial ‘tarpon jig’ in Boca Grande Pass

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC's historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC’s historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

This time it wasn’t even close.

After narrowly surviving a preliminary vote in June, a regulation banning the use of bottom weighted “tarpon jigs” in Boca Grande Pass was adopted by a unanimous vote Thursday, Sept. 5 by the seven-member Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Pensacola.

The new rule will take effect on November 1. Despite some initial confusion over which way Panama City lawyer Adrien “Bo” Rivard had actually voted, the final tally was eventually set at 7-0. Bottom line, it passed.

Before adopting the Boca Grande “jig” ban on Thursday, the commissioners shot down an 11th hour bid by Florida Tarpon Anglers Association lobbyist Lane Stephens who sought to delay action on the proposed rule by demanding the FWC first hold a series of public workshops and conduct an economic impact study prior to voting on the measure.

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

Stephens, speaking for FTAA vice president and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler Craig Abbott, unsuccessfully repeated his “economic impact” argument later in the meeting. “The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true,” Stephens said, adding that adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Responding to Stephens and his claim that “a ban on this tried and true method used by 65 fishing guides” could cost the state an estimated $8 million annually, Save The Tarpon Inc. Chairman Tom McLaughlin noted that the potential impact on a few dozen guides pales in comparison to the big picture.

“We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

“In my lifetime I’ve seen several regulations that decreased the effectiveness of certain fishing techniques,” he said. “We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

Commissioner Ken Wright agreed. “When you consider the effectiveness of a device or method, if it’s indeed snagging then it shouldn’t be a consideration at all,” Wright said. “This rule is not intended to change human behavior, it’s designed to protect a fish that lives to be as old as 80-years-old.”

But the jig lobbyist hinted that his clients might not be done despite losing Thursday’s vote. Stephens noted that state law “allows small businesses impacted by a rule to challenge (the FWC’s) findings.” In June, a lobbyist representing the same group and the PTTS threatened the commissioners with a lawsuit and budget cuts if the jig ban was adopted. That lobbyist, Tallahassee attorney Timothy P. Atkinson, did not appear at Thursday’s meeting.

The majority of those who spoke at Thursday’s meeting were individual anglers or representatives of a number of groups who urged the commissioners to adopt the anti-snagging regulations. Representatives of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association voiced their opposition to the measure.

Following the meeting, McLaughlin said a lot of hard work went into the effort to ban the jig. “Our more than 21,000 supporters and their combined voices clearly made a difference. This has been a long time coming, and our members and supporters, our core group of volunteers, the Boca Grande Community, the people of Florida and the people around the world who embraced this cause finally made it happen,” he said.

“The FWC’s action today is more than just a message, it’s a historic step forward in protecting this iconic fishery for generations to come.”

UPDATED: The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, via its Facebook Page, has issued a response to the FWC’s vote to ban the bottom weighted hook favored by its competitors.

In an apparent contradiction to the “economic impact” argument put forward by lobbyist Lane Stephens on behalf of the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association and its vice president Craig Abbott, the PTTS statement predicted no economic problems for the tournament or its anglers.

“This ruling will have no impact on the future of the PTTS. As demonstrated during this past season, our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs that have proven to be very productive, and we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed that meet the new definitions. In addition, anglers will still be able to utilize live bait,” according to the PTTS.

Stephens, however, told the seven commissioners that “the assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true.” Stephens also predicted adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Meeting Notes

What’s the score? 6-1? 7-0?

Florida has a long history when it comes to counting votes. Thursday’s FWC meeting was no exception – minus the “hanging chads,” that is.

So, was the vote 6-1 or 7-0? While the math wouldn’t have changed the outcome, the actual tally remained a mystery for about five hours on Thursday. It took FWC Marine Fisheries Management spokesman Amanda Nalley, who initially said 6-1 based on what she saw on the record, to solve the numbers puzzle by going directly to the source.

Why the confusion? When the vote was called, there was some question whether commissioner Adrien “Bo” Rivard had been a yea or a nay. Sensing this, Rivard apparently replied “no, I’m with you guys.” Unfortunately, the clerk only heard the “no” part, and Rivard became the “one” in a vote that was officially recorded as 6-1. Meanwhile, new FWC Chairman Richard A. “Dick” Corbett was thanking the commissioners for their “unanimous” vote.

With her cell phone overheating from media calls all asking the same question, Nally said FWC staff eventually decided to take the bull by the horns. They asked Rivard. And the vote went from an official 6-1 to an unofficial unanimous. But even though the Boca Grande rule is a done deal, it appears Rivard will have  to wait until November 20 when the FWC meets in Ft. Lauderdale to correct his vote and officially close the book on this one.

So, if you read somewhere that the vote was 6-1, it was. Even though it was actually 7-0. It’s a Florida thing.

Are we still in Florida?

Many local supporters of the FWC’s rule banning the bottom weighted hook had no choice to make the 520 mile trek across the state to Pensacola for Thursday’s meeting. But for Ryan Hawks, the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel was little more than a commute. Hawks, an avid angler and supporter of Save The Tarpon’s efforts, lives in nearby Fort Walton Beach. Needless to say, his 41 mile drive was the envy of everyone with a Southwest Florida Zip Code.

Ryan made an effective local case – local for those in the Central Time Zone, that is – for the new anti-snagging rules. “On behalf of all the tarpon anglers in the area, we strongly endorse the proposed gear restrictions,” he told the commissioners. “We share the same fishery. As the Pass goes, so goes the entire fishery.”

On the other hand, when tarpon season rolls around next year, Ryan gets to make the 520 mile drive to Boca Grande Pass. But no matter. Pensacola, and those 520 miles, turned out to be well worth the trip.

2015 Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Fishing Regulations

Tarpon

Florida Regulations:

Tarpon is a catch-and-release only fishery.One tarpon tag per person per year may be purchased when in pursuit of an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) record. Vessel, transport and shipment limited to one fish.

Fishing with gear that has a weight attached to a hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited. This change will apply to fishing for all species year-round within Boca Grande Pass. If this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed. Natural bait is not considered to be a weight. If the jig fishes in an illegal manner it is prohibited. Any jig that allows the attached weight to slip down the shank so that it hangs lower than the hook while the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited, and must be stowed so it is not readily accessible.

Boca Grande Pass Regulations:

  • During the months of April, May and June, no more than three fishing lines may be deployed from a vessel at any one time.
  • During the months of April, May and June, no person shall use, fish with, or place in the water any breakaway gear.

FWC law enforcement is patrolling the waters in Boca Grande Pass, assessing what types of gear are being used and educating anglers about the recent changes. Without properly inspecting it, it is impossible to know with 100 percent certainty if the gear in question is legal or not.

Unsure if the gear is prohibited? Call the FWC regional office at 863-648-3200.

Map of Boca Grande Pass

Boca Grande Pass Map

 

Gear Requirements:

  • Legal Gear: hook and line only.
  • Snagging, snatch hooking, spearing and the use of a multiple hook in conjunction with live or dead natural bait is prohibited

Which rigs are prohibited?

When fishing for tarpon, gear is limited to hook and line only and you cannot use multiple hooks in conjunction with live or dead natural bait. When fishing in Boca Grande Pass (for any species, year-round), gear that has a weight attached to a hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited. For the purposes of this rule, live or dead natural bait is not considered to be a weight. If this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed.

This is an example of prohibited gear:

bottom weighted jig

What rigs are legal?

Here are some examples of gear that are considered legal.

Jig tied to weightJig with bead

These jigs would be allowed so long as the weight cannot slip down the shank to the bottom of the hook while being fished.

But if the weight can slip down the shank to the bottom of the hook, as demonstrated in this video, it is prohibited.

 

Examples of other gear that are allowed:

Jigs

Jigs, such as the ones pictured, are still an allowed gear.

Hi-Lo Rig

Hi-Lo or Chicken Rig used with live or dead bait to target bottom fish and reef species.

Bottom-rig

Bottom rig used to target a variety of fish species with live or dead bait.

Jigs_and_spoons_2013.jpg

Butterfly jigs and spoons used to target a wide variety of fish species.

These regulations were pulled directly from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee website on 5-4-15. Here is a link: http://myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/tarpon/.
Please check for updates.