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?

Ingman, PTTS walk away from $500,000 lawsuit against Save the Tarpon

FireShot Capture 5 Outlook

After a nearly three year battle waged in two counties and before three judges, the PTTS surrendered in a two-paragraph motion to dismiss on Monday.

After seeing its case gutted and its lawyer publicly called out by a Charlotte County judge, the owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series capitulated and walked away from its nearly three year old lawsuit aimed at silencing Save the Tarpon and the group’s more than 28,000 supporters. The sudden PTTS surrender on Monday came less than 24 hours before the case was set to go before a jury the following morning.

Silver King Entertainment LLC, headed by Port Charlotte boat dealer Gary Ingman and his front man Joe Mercurio, had sued Save the Tarpon and its officers for $500,000 in losses it attempted to claim were pegged to the group’s boycott and other efforts aimed at preserving and protecting the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery. Ingman and Mercurio’s Silver King owns and operates the controversial Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, a NASCAR-style fishing event described by its lawyer as a cable TV reality show.

Following a brief hearing Monday (November 16, 2015) in Charlotte County court, Silver King’s Tampa attorney Dennis Creed – who had unsuccessfully sought to withdraw from the case following a string of preliminary losses the previous week – filed a terse two paragraph motion dismissing the lawsuit, ending a protracted and costly legal battle that had drawn the attention of free speech and First Amendment advocates nationwide.

Save The Tarpon was represented by Punta Gorda attorney Tauna Bogle. It is anticipated Bogle will pursue costs, fees and additional recovery against Silver King and others who could be found personally and jointly responsible – along with their businesses – for bringing the ill-fated lawsuit. Although an amount has yet to be determined, estimates place Save the Tarpon’s potential claim at more than $200,000.

“I am extremely proud of Save the Tarpon and the individuals named in this lawsuit,” Bogle said. “Like the Minutemen and those who founded our nation many years ago, they stood their ground and refused to back down. They stayed true to what was right. They held firm to their mission to protect the tarpon fishery and to exercise the right we all share – our constitutional right to free speech and assembly.”

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Frank Davis and Tom McLaughlin celebrate Monday’s win at a local watering hole.

Save the Tarpon had characterized Ingman and Mercurio’s case against the group as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, a tactic outlawed by the Florida Legislature in July. A SLAPP suit’s purpose is to silence opposing voices by dragging them through the courts with frivolous claims and endless delays as the costs continue to mount. The side with the most money, not the most merit, typically prevails. In testimony taken prior to the scheduled trial date, Ingman and others associated with the PTTS and Ingman Marine admitted the lawsuit’s goal was to silence Save the Tarpon.

The local community and the group’s supporters worldwide were quick to rally to Save the Tarpon’s defense. In one instance, the group raised $25,000 in less than two weeks in an online funding campaign as the case crawled through two courthouses and three judges – including a botched bid to have the case tried in Sarasota County where PTTS TV host Joe Mercurio’s father sits as a judge.

Judgefred

Judge Frederick P. Mercurio’s week wasn’t much better than his son’s. The Sarasota County judge found himself under investigation for shoplifting. Police declined to press charges after learning their suspect was, in fact, a judge.

The elder Mercurio was recently investigated for shoplifting a snack from a convenience store. Police declined to press charges against the judge who frequently presides over criminal matters brought before him by law enforcement.

“The PTTS tried to stifle this group’s right to free speech, but the community stood behind Save the Tarpon and said ‘no, our voices will not be silenced’.” Bogle added. “Because of their unwavering stance, free speech is alive and intact in Charlotte County. The tarpon will remain protected in Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass.”

At an upbeat gathering of board members, supporters and others held in the aftermath of Ingman’s capitulation earlier in the week, Save the Tarpon Chairman Tom McLaughlin – who was among a number of community members individually and seemingly randomly targeted by the PTTS lawsuit – echoed Bogle’s characterization of the PTTS case.

“This case was ultimately about free speech and the growing threat these frivolous SLAPP suits pose to your right, our right, to speak up and speak out on matters of public policy that are vital to this community and, in a larger sense, this nation. The danger is real, and what happened with us could happen to anyone. But this week the good guys won, the people of Boca Grande won and the people of Charlotte County won. ”

McLaughlin said it was his belief there was an expectation within the PTTS ranks that Save The Tarpon would roll over, be silenced and abandon its efforts to preserve and protect Charlotte Harbor and the iconic Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery.

“Ingman, Mercurio and the PTTS underestimated Save The Tarpon’s resolve as evidenced by efforts to caricaturize us as little more than a ragtag mob of unsophisticated dolts,” he said. “It’s no secret Mercurio fancies himself as some sort of make-believe barracks lawyer who likely convinced Ingman that Save the Tarpon would cave in and go away the moment those lawsuit papers were served. It didn’t happen. Instead, it was Ingman and Mercurio who did the caving and the going away.”

In the 18 months following Save the Tarpon’s formation, the PTTS found itself on the receiving end of a sophisticated social media and public advocacy effort that resulted in nearly all of the tournament’s sponsors – including beer giant MillerCoors – disassociating their name and withdrawing their support from the televised tarpon tournament. Save the Tarpon also spearheaded efforts to end the PTTS practice of gaffing and dragging tarpon, and was successful in having the “PTTS jig” banned as a foul-hooking device employed by many tournament participants.

“We didn’t drive sponsors and PTTS participants away, we simply showed them what was happening in Boca Grande Pass and what they were underwriting,” McLaughlin said. “Most didn’t know. And they shared our outrage once the truth was explained to them by us, by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and by some of the world’s most noted tarpon experts. The PTTS didn’t like what was being said so they retaliated with a frivolous lawsuit designed to spend us into submission. They clearly didn’t anticipate the community’s response to this attempted tactic. Unfortunately, it took Ingman, Mercurio and their lawyers nearly three years to figure out that their SLAPP suit wasn’t working.”

McLaughlin said the PTTS and its lawyers knew or should have known the lawsuit had no possible expectation of success. In a landmark ruling dating back to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, the Supreme Court held that a lawful boycott similar to Save the Tarpon’s effort was a fundamental and essential right. “History and the law were against them from the start. They brought this lawsuit in the knowledge they had little or no chance of prevailing. And, as every lawyer was taught, that’s pretty much the definition of frivolous. And when we get to fees and costs, that’s what we’re clearly going to show based on the evidence, the PTTS’ own admissions and long-established law. It’s kinda hard to win when you have the United States Supreme Court standing in your way.”

McLaughlin noted that “the right to speak freely is the first among our rights. This is something every citizen, every Southwest Florida editorial board, every organization that advocates for a cause clearly understands. There is an opportunity for a statement to be made by the court that this nonsense won’t be tolerated here in Charlotte County.”

Prior to Monday’s decision by Creed and the PTTS to walk away from the case, Judge Lisa Porter had summarily tossed defamation and conspiracy claims against Save the Tarpon and removed a number of individual defendants for Silver King’s failure to make a case against them. One former defendant, Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lew Hastings, was sued simply because he posed for a photograph with McLaughlin. McLaughlin, along with board members Frank Davis and Mark Futch, were the only remaining individual defendants when Creed dismissed the suit.

Creed dropped the two remaining counts of contractual interference in his motion to the court on Monday. Neither Ingman or Creed have responded to media attempts to obtain comment. Mercurio texted Save the Tarpon with a demand no contact be made.

 

Slapping back at the SLAPP-happy PTTS

SLAPP Jpg 800x1000 Q100

A SLAPP suit is a perversion of the legal system eagerly embraced by Gary Ingman and the PTTS.

Eighteen months ago, the owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and their big money lawyers lodged a retaliatory lawsuit against Save The Tarpon, its directors and a number of people they seemingly picked at random from the phone book.

The PTTS action quickly revealed itself to be little more than a transparent ploy – one largely bankrolled by Gary Ingman, his Port Charlotte boat emporium and its unwitting customers – commonly known as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.

A SLAPP Suit is a tactic of last resort typically employed by deep pocket plaintiffs, a maneuver designed to spend advocacy groups like Save The Tarpon into submission by endlessly dragging them through the court system – and keeping them there until they ultimately run out of money.

Two counties and two judges later, that’s where Save The Tarpon finds itself. The people who brought us gaff and drag, the Boca Grande Pass snag hook, the wrap boats, the Spandex ballet and, of course, the “controlled chaos,” have now brought us dangerously close to the point where our ability to SLAP(P) back could be in jeopardy.

The Public Participation Project is a non-profit coalition dedicated to enacting anti-SLAPP laws. The group has assembled an excellent primer entitled “FAQs About SLAPPS.” Take a moment to check out why these PTTS-style lawsuits are so potentially destructive:


1. What is a SLAPP?

The rights to speech and petition are enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Free speech and healthy debate are vital to the well-being of a democracy. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has said that the right to petition the government is the very foundation of our democracy.

SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.  These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.

SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits.  SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice.  Rather, SLAPPS are intended to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources.

(Read More …)

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.

Ftafbphoto

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