What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook?

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

Tired of tarpon yet?

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

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

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

Tarpon snagged with a circle hook in Boca Grande Pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read More from Waterline Magazine >

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarpon snatch hook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Homeless’ man ridiculed in PTTS Facebook ‘gag’ speaks out: ‘They failed’

PTTS participants mock recreational anglerChris Morelle says he’s just a guy who likes to fish. A guy who’s spent his entire life with a rod and reel in his hand. A guy who never sought the limelight, a modest kind of guy who’s never had a great yearning for the kind of “attention” he’s been getting these days courtesy of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the outfit the PTTS employs to produce its cable TV fishing show. Oh. And for the record, he isn’t homeless. Far from it, in fact.

Chris rose before dawn on May 19 to drive his center console boat from Cape Coral to Boca Grande Pass. “I sensed an injustice, that’s why I was there,” he says. He’d spent part of the night before transforming an old piece of cardboard he found laying around the house into a sign be planned on using the following day. He grabbed a can of lime green spray paint and went to work. There was nothing fancy about that sign, or the message it carried.

“PTTS: No Skill Needed,” it said. Chris and his handmade sign spent the next three hours quietly drifting in the Pass, all but lost among the nearly two dozen other boats that had turned out for Sunday’s protest. And, of course, the slimmed down field of wrap boats and Spandex “professionals” who made the equally long trek that morning to parade their sponsors’ logos (but not those two dead tarpon) before the cameras.

It wasn’t until nine days and a phone call later that Chris discovered the PTTS and REC Media Group had turned him and his simple cardboard sign into a bad Facebook gag. A photo of Chris standing alone on his boat with that simple cardboard sign had been posted to REC Media Group’s “Save The Tarpon” spoof page. The Photoshop Rangers at REC Media Group pasted one of those cartoon bubbles next to his head. “Time for another photo caption contest!” REC’s instructions read. “Winner gets 50 gallons of diesel fuel for the next protest.” Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Thud.

Protest Boat

Among the 56 eventual contenders was REC Media Group’s own entry. “Oh crap,” one of  REC’s junior high school interns wrote. “I just used my house to make a sign.” Jason King weighed in with “I shaved my balls for this?” Classy. Then along came David Harper, suggesting “Will protest for food …” Alligator meat, maybe? Peyton Powers contributed this gem: “Can’t wait to get home and see my wife. i mean sister.” Lee Longworth wasn’t quite up to the challenge. “What an asshole,” he wrote. And it appeared that noted “recreational angler” Craig Abbott wasn’t doing captions. He was doing chest thumps. Says Abbott, “we got close and he and I had a few words.”

“You know what? It could have been considered clever,” Chris says. “But if they are trying to get at me with this, they failed. They are only encouraging me more, they are only strengthening my resolve to see the day when people like me, average everyday guys like me, can return to the Pass and fish in peace. Anyone who would be on there (the Facebook page), anyone who would comment like that, I don’t value their opinion to begin with. So why should I care at all?”

Chris admitted he hadn’t seen what the PTTS crowd had written about him and his sign over there on that Facebook page spoof. And, he said, he didn’t much care. Yeah, he might take a peek. Maybe leave a message of his own. No, on second thought, why bother? Plus, he laughed, “they might ‘unfriend’ me.”

“It pretty much convinces me that this is all they have, you know … making fun of those who disagree. It tells me, and it should tell everyone else, that they know they are wrong. I mean, any rational person would have to wonder.”

Then there are those witty but bewildering homeless “gags” the crew at REC Media Group aimed at Chris. It seems Chris, his wife of 27 years and his two Brittany Spaniels (he left the pups at home on Sunday – “didn’t want them to get foul hooked”) are doing just fine, thank you. Today, at 52, he’s a successful self-employed inventory control consultant.

Home, he says, is Rhode Island. But no matter where he’s lived, from Cape Cod to Montauk Point to the smallest lake to the largest ocean, Chris has found a way to pursue his passion for fishing. It’s what would ultimately lead him to Southwest Florida. And to Boca Grande Pass shortly after sunrise on May 19.

“I’ve fished the Salmon River in New York, and I witnessed the snagging they were doing there first hand. It’s the same thing we see going on in Boca Grande. There’s no skill needed. That’s what the deal is. There’s no skill. Just like on the Salmon, they drop those bottom weighted hooks and snag the biggest fish that swims by. The state finally stepped in and stopped it on the Salmon River. The state needs to step in and stop it here. It’s criminal.”

(Here’s the anti-snagging rule adopted by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation: “Weight shall not be added to the line, leader, swivels, artificial fly or lure in any manner such that the weight hangs lower than the attached hook, artificial fly or lure when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod.” Sound familiar?)

Protest Boat

He scoffs at suggestions those who turned out for the May 19 “Protest in the Pass” were somehow coerced or otherwise “bullied” into getting up before the sun that morning. “Nobody contacted me, I came of my own volition because of what the PTTS stands for is wrong. Not only to the fish, but to the average Joe. They are making it (the Pass) inaccessible to the guy who simply wants to take his kid out fishing. They disrupt the Pass so bad those fish are gone for the rest of the day. There’s no way they should be able to exclude the public for a TV show. They are ruining this fishery, and they are profiting from it.”

Really Chris? Nobody put a gun, or a bullhorn, to your head? “Hell no. You guys inspired me to do something about it. I started following this situation when I was looking for tips on how to fish tarpon. Save The Tarpon was the first site that popped up. I did a lot of reading. Then I came to Boca Grande to see for myself. I finally said enough. Fisheries, particularly this fishery, are something I care a lot about. I don’t want to be pushed around when I go fishing. And they make it impossible. Pardon the French, but it pisses me off.”

About that sign? “Just why should I invest more than a can of spray paint and an old piece of cardboard on those guys?” he asks. “Actually, one of the PTTS guys said they were going to take up a collection and buy me a nice piece of plywood for the next one. Guess it got lost in the mail,” he says with a laugh.

“You know, I love to fish. For just about anything. But I just won’t snag. That’s not fishing,” he says. “There were some things said in the heat of the moment by both sides, but this is about a lot more than just a sound bite. They have this ‘gotcha’ mentality going. This isn’t about ‘gotcha.’ This is about saving what’s left of a fishery. I hope the state is paying attention and outlaws the bottom weighted jig just as they did on the Salmon. There’s no reason the PTTS can’t use conventional and ethical fishing means.

“And if this doesn’t make for good TV, if that’s what this tournament is really all about, then I guess the PTTS will just have to go away.” That REC Media Group, PTTS Facebook pillory page was a bad joke in search of a punch line. Kind of ironic that the guy they were ridiculing would wind up delivering it to them. Nine days and a phone call later.

REC Media Group is located at 1227 W. Colonial Drive in Orlando, Florida.  They may be reached at 407.283.7732.  Their list of clients include: the PTTS, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC)Bass2Billfish, Threadfin Boats, Skeeter Boats, Sea Hunt Boats, Scout Boats, and the World Fishing Network (WFN).  For the full list, please visit their “Clients” page.

A talk with Capt. Tom McLaughlin

This article was originally published in the May 23, 2013 issue of WaterLine Magazine.

By Josh Olive
Waterline Publisher

The Miller Lite Professional Tarpon Tournament Series season opener this past Sunday was protested by a locally based group called Save the Tarpon. I recently talked with Capt. Tom McLaughlin, the chairman of Save the Tarpon, about the protest itself and what the group has planned for the future.

WaterLine: Now that you’ve seen the PTTS’s new measurement system in action, what are your thoughts on what’s being done right and what’s being done wrong?

Capt Tom McLaughlin

Save the Tarpon Chairman, Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Capt. McLaughlin: Fish-handling related issues with the PTTS are not confined solely to the measurement system. There are welldocumented issues with the increased fight times required to bring a tarpon to complete exhaustion (a point at which it can be subdued on a 3-foot leader). Considering that the PTTS takes place in a pre-spawn aggregate area, during the peak time of pre-spawn activity for North America’s only mass migration of spawning tarpon. It’s about time they go to a catch-and-release format. While the idea of their measuring tools may be great under certain circumstances, they are simply not appropriate for Boca Grande Pass in May and June.

Little if any of the handling-related issues have been addressed by the new format. These changes seem to be more superficial and for political reasons rather than out of real concern for the well-being of the sometimes 50- to 60-year-old fish that bring the PTTS its revenue stream. Fish still had to be restrained using a gaff-like device, fish were still towed for extended periods of time, and handling was still excessive. At one point, a single fish was held for 29 minutes from the time the LipLock was attached until the time the fish was released. This included no more than 3 or 4 minutes of revival. The fish was immediately seen floating back to the surface, where an official PTTS camera boat accelerated hard in reverse while pointing at the fish in an obvious attempt to run the fish over. There was no attempt to retrieve the fish for further revival; rather, efforts were directed at concealing the fish using the vessel’s prop wash.

There were numerous fish that were sighted and photographed struggling, sinking or floating at the surface after being handled. Enough is enough — it’s time to start catch-and-release.

“…the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.”

WL: With so many Save the Tarpon supporters in the local area, why were there not more boats in attendance at the protest? Are there plans to bring in more boats for future protests?

McL: We tallied right around 25 boats for the protest. There were guides from various user groups, local community members, as well as recreational anglers who traveled for more than an hour and a half by boat to attend. We felt this was a sufficient number without being excessive. Our intentions were to disrupt the filming of the TV show and make those we feel are attacking our community as uncomfortable during their tournament as non-PTTS passgoers are. We did not, however, want to interfere with the actual fishing taking place. Based on feedback from FWC and independent onlookers, this goal was accomplished.

Though we have no ultimate control over the actions of those who attend a public protest, we do feel somewhat responsible for their actions. With that in mind, this was what we consider to be a manageable number.

Further, the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.

WL: Were the goals of the protest met?

McL: Absolutely. The filming of the PTTS was interrupted. The tournament was uncomfortable at times for participants and employees alike. Our boats operated safely, did not interfere with the fish or actual running of the tournament itself, and we captured a veritable mountain of footage showing many of the fish “weighed” in the tournament showing signs of extensive distress, likely resulting in death. Photos and videos were obtained of numerous fish hooked outside the mouth, not only in the clipper, but also in the septum of the throat (the area between the gills), the gill rakers and near the eye socket. According to official results, all of these fish were counted in the tournament.

Save the Tarpon Protest Boats

Protesters gather prior to the start of the 2013 PTTS opening event.

WL: Ethical objections aside, did STT observe PTTS participants doing anything that appeared to be illegal?

McL: Yes. There was at least one, and possibly two fish that appeared to be in severe distress, dead or dying that were transferred from the possession of participants who caught the fish to a non-participating boat, piloted by a participant of the tournament who was not fishing this day, for the purposes of being dragged away from the prying eyes of onlookers and our cameras. These fish were dragged away from the tournament area at a very high rate of speed. The vessel was approached, at which time they attempted to appear to be reviving the fish. However, this soon escalated to more high-speed circles in order to keep the fish on the side of the vessel where it would be obscured. The fish was eventually shoved under the boat into its prop wash. FWC officers on site agreed that the transfer of this fish was indeed illegal, but because they were not there to witness the actual transfer, they were unable to pursue any enforcement.

WL: To your knowledge, were any STT protesters subjected to harassment by PTTS anglers? By PTTS supporters?

McL: There was little harassment, if any, on the part of the PTTS participants or anglers. While there was some harassment by PTTS employees and contractors, it would be considered fairly minor. There were, however, numerous clear and direct threats of violence by PTTS anglers towards protesters, as well as encouragement by PTTS supporters, anglers, and employees to carry out these threats after the tournament.

WL: The FWC appears poised to rule that the tarpon jig is a snagging device. If that happens and the PTTS is forced to stop using it, will STT’s opposition to the tournament persist? If so, why?

McL: First off, the FWC is not poised to rule a tarpon jig is a snagging device. The best available science indicates that the rigging of any hook with a weight attached directly the beneath the bend or belly of the hook is likely being used to snag fish without a feeding or striking action on the part of the fish. Simply moving the hook to a location that is concurrent not only with laws of numerous other states and countries, but also a position that is found on all other jigs in the industry, is not the same as banning the Boca Grande jig. It is simply modifying the gear restrictions to eliminate the intentional snagging of tarpon through the use of the device the way it is being fished in PTTS events as well as outside the events.

Again, the best available science shows that these fish are not attempting to bite or strike the lure, but are being intentionally snagged. This avenue is the least intrusive to other anglers and has proven to have little, if any, unintended side effects on other fisheries.

The issues with the PTTS and the pack that was created by the tournament run well beyond the snag-hook (jig is in fact a misnomer) that is being used. The domination of the resource, encouragement of chaos for the sake of TV ratings, excessive fish handling, exclusion of other user groups, and the extensive damage done to the public perception of the community and the fishery all will likely take more time to work out.

The PTTS has shown a clear disregard for the destruction they cause, it is likely that elimination of the snag-hook will only serve as a single step in a very long walk to a peaceful and cooperative Pass that can be enjoyed and shared by all.

WL: If the jig is outlawed, do you think that will eventually bring peace back to the Pass?

McL: It will not be a silver bullet. The changes that will need to take place in terms of public perception, instilling respect for other users of the Pass, other anglers and the fish will not be an easy task to take on. It will likely take much more in terms of effort, education, and advocacy — but little in terms of regulation — to return some form of peace to the Pass.

WL: Besides the push to end the PTTS, is STT doing anything else aimed at improving the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery?

McL: We recently agreed to provide both logistical assistance as well as funding for the Rosenstiel School of Marine Biology satellite tagging program at Boca Grande for 2013. This will be the most extensive single satellite tagging effort in the history of tarpon research. Despite mounting legal fees, we feel confident that we will still meet our goal of raising an additional $15,000 to $20,000 for this program.

We are also working on creating a video archive of interviews with some of the area’s longest residents, fishermen, guides and community members. We are working to make these interviews, photos and documents easily accessible via the internet. This will serve as an important educational and outreach tool as well as an avenue to disseminate accurate and historically significant information.

WL: If someone wants to learn more about STT or become a supporter, what should they do?

McL: Please take the time to visit SavetheTarpon.com. You can read our mission statement and access articles, videos and photos.

To continue reading, please visit: http://wlf.eed.sunnewspapers.net/olive/ode/waterline_swflorida/

A trail of gaffed, dragged and dead tarpon – and you care about WHAT?

PTTS Protest May 19, 2013PTTS host Joe Mercurio has seemingly convinced himself the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers who were on hand Sunday to, in their words, “observe and report,” are going to rush back to Tallahassee where they will breathlessly report they observed someone yelling something through a bullhorn.

A bullhorn? Seriously? Sorry Joe. The FWC didn’t send those officers all the way to Boca Grande for bullhorns. These are trained and experienced professional wildlife officers. Bullhorns?

They are going to report on the tarpon they observed being dragged through the pass rather than, as you promised, measured immediately and released unharmed. They are going to report on the hook placements you, they, and everyone else observed and photographed. They are going to report on the two fish that didn’t make it. They observed that, too.

They are, of course, also going to report on the way your guys and your camera crews were observed “handling” those boats. This is what they are going to report. Because these are all problems they know the FWC commissioners can readily fix with a simple voice vote and a stroke of a pen.

Snagged PTTS Tarpon

This tarpon, snagged in the neck by a “Boca Grande tarpon jig,” was one of many fish documented by Save the Tarpon protesters. Although the PTTS rules clearly call for disqualification of any fish hooked outside of the mouth, this tarpon was still weighed for points.

As far as those bullhorns go, that’s a more difficult nut to crack. If you would rather make bullhorns the issue, the FWC officers won’t be left with much choice. If asked, they’ll have to tell the seven commissioners the truth. They will tell the commissioners, if asked, there’s really only one practical way within their power to get rid of the bullhorns. Because the FWC is a fish commission, not a constitutional convention, the only sure (and legal) way to get rid of the bullhorns, they’ll quietly suggest, is to get rid of what the bullhorns are pointed at.

And yes Joe, that would be you. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? But either is dragging those dead and dying tarpon on clandestine sightseeing tours of the pass. Either is breaking the promise you made to those seven commissioners to immediately measure and release those tarpon unharmed.

And, of course, those two dead tarpon might argue with your promise to the commissioners that your TV tournament is all about conservation. Don’t bother trying to promise away the foul-hooking. The folks who didn’t have bullhorns in their hands on Sunday were wielding cameras. Lots and lots of cameras. You did a good job trying to hide and sink the evidence. Just wasn’t quite good enough.

Snagged PTTS Tarpon - 2013

The lip-lock, aka clip-on gaff, moves in to officially weigh a foul-hooked tarpon in the opening event of the 2013 Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. The leader was cut and the hook was left in the fish during the measuring process.

The “report” part of “observe and report” should make for some interesting reading. We’ll get you a copy. And who knows? Buried among the gaffing, the dragging, the dead fish, the foul-hooking, the wrap boats and REC Media’s full reverse slice and dice job on that tarpon, you might just find a few words about bullhorns. Don’t bet the gold chains on it, however.

The new PTTS is the same old PTTS – May 19th 2013 protest from Save the Tarpon on Vimeo.

A decade later, expert cited in FWC study speaks out: The jig snags tarpon

A decade ago, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission researcher and doctorial candidate Kathy Guindon was under the gun. She had just spent two years and more than $200,000 of taxpayer money on an abortive Boca Grande Pass tarpon mortality study that had been hurriedly reshuffled and morphed into a hook placement project that focused on live-baiting, jigging and, of course, snagging.

In a recent letter to FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright, Dr. Justin R. Grubich – one of the world’s leading authorities on tarpon feeding habits – implodes the myth Guindon’s hook placement “study” created when it was rushed into print a decade ago. A copy of Grubich’s letter has been obtained by Save The Tarpon Inc. In his letter, the associate director of biodiversity at Chicago’s respected Field Museum provides a revealing glimpse into how $200,000 worth of research was warped into $200,000 worth of junk science. And how the jig went from an obvious snagging device to a legitimate fishing lure as a result of a brief 30 minute phone call.

Dr. Justin GrubichIn 2004, Guidon  (her emails would later become public)  understood the numbers she had collected weren’t going the way the jig community wanted. The data showed a significant difference between the two methods of fishing. The data Guindon had gathered in the Pass clearly showed the live bait technique employed by Boca Grande’s traditional tarpon guides wasn’t foul-hooking fish. The same data made it equally clear the jig was. Guindon’s jig angler “friends,” who were leaked the study’s unpublished results in advance, weren’t very happy. And when the media went after Guindon’s raw data, they panicked.

Emails later obtained and published by a local newspaper showed the young doctorial candidate was being bombarded with pleas from jig guides begging her to find a way to “massage” the data to bring the foul-hooking numbers under the threshold the FWC commissioners had previously said would trigger a finding that the jig was a snagging device. Guindon couldn’t change the data. It had already been made public. But she could change the message the data was sending.

Enter Dr. Grubich. “I was contacted by the FWC (Guindon) sometime around 2003-4 because of my 2001 research publication regarding the strike kinematics and jaw functional morphology of juvenile tarpon,” he writes in his letter to the FWC chairman. Grubich was a recognized expert. He was the authority. He was the scientist anyone researching tarpon feeding habits would want to undertake a thoughtful and analytical “peer review” of  their findings. It’s a process that can take weeks, if not months, to do right. Guindon, under pressure to “publish or perish,” gave Dr. Grubich a half hour. Over the phone.

Even as recently as May 10, 2013, The PTTS has defended the use of "tarpon jigs" by citing the FWC 2002–2004: Tarpon Catch-and-Release Mortality Study, Boca Grande Pass

Even as recently as May 10, 2013, The PTTS has defended the use of “tarpon jigs” by citing the FWC 2002–2004: Tarpon Catch-and-Release Mortality Study, Boca Grande Pass as can be seen by this Facebook comment.

“My recollection of that phone call was approximately a 30 minute discussion where I was briefly informed of the Boca Grande jigging issue and asked a series of questions of how tarpon jaws work during the strike and whether it’s possible these jig’s hook placement in the clipper could be the result of feeding behavior.”

Possible? To his credit, Dr. Grubich answered the question honestly. Possible, yes. Anything’s possible. That’s pretty much all Guindon needed, or wanted, to hear. It was “possible” the foul-hooking observed with the jig, but not with live bait methods, was the result of normal “feeding behavior.” The jig, her study concluded, wasn’t really snagging those snagged tarpon. Dr. Grubich said so.

Since its hasty publication, the study and Dr. Grubich’s phoned-in observations have  been repeatedly offered up as “proof” by jig anglers and the PTTS that the jig doesn’t, as its critics contend, snag tarpon. (The hits just keep on coming. The Friday, May 17 edition of the Boca Beacon reports that University of South Florida tarpon expert Dr. Phil Motta has said the information he gave to the FWC was also improperly and incorrectly used in the study.)

Fast forward to May, 2013. Dr. Grubich is contacted by author Randy White and noted tarpon angler and artist Bill Bishop. Dr. Grubich, who had never reviewed the data Guindon collected and whose opinion was cherry-picked from what he was told during a rushed phone call, was urged by White and Bishop to take a closer look at the study. He did.

And an entirely different story emerged.Dr. Justin Grubich letter to FWC 2013

First, about that quickie phone call that formed the basis for the study’s eventual conclusions: “At no point in time was any background material of the break-away jig issue, the tarpon fishery at Boca Grande Pass, or the initial 2002-2003 results of the catch and release mortality study ever provided to me before or after my interview.”

But now he’s seen the data. He’s been given the time to study it. And a decade after the fact, he’s formed an opinion. A real opinion. One based on his training, his experience and his expertise. His conclusion leaves little room for debate. The jig, he says, is snagging tarpon.

“The evidence,” Dr. Grubich writes, “indicates break-away jigs result in higher foul hooking percentages.” And, “the results show that break-away jigs still have significantly greater foul hook placement in other parts of the tarpon compared to live bait.” What percentage of foul hooking did the study actually uncover? Was it 10 percent? Maybe 15 percent? Dr. Grubich’s examination of the data puts the number well above what the FWC once said was acceptable. “The percentage of foul hooking associated with break-away jigs would be 27 percent for the 2003 results.”

The jig anglers and the PTTS have spent the last 10 years demanding science. Read Dr. Grubich’s letter to the FWC chairman. It’s called science.

Useful links:

FWC Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon
in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004

2002-2003: Incidence of Foul-hooking in FMRI* Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Catch and Release Mortality Study

Boca Beacon: FWC break-away jig study refuted by originating scientist

Boca Beacon May 17 2013

 

 

(The following was originally published in the Friday, May 17, 2013 edition of the Boca Beacon.)

By Marcy Shortuse
In the summer of 2004 Dr. Justin Grubich picked up the phone to take a call from a woman who said she was with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The woman, Kathy Guindon, talked with Justin for about 30 minutes foul-hooking tarpon, and he was asked to provide expert witness testimony on how tarpon feed.

He didn’t give the conversation much thought.

You see, while Justin is a Florida boy born and bred, he had never given much thought to using a piece of rubber or metal to catch a tarpon. And Guindon didn’t tell him that was what the study was about.

But he gave his opinion, for what he thought it was worth, all about how a tarpon’s mouth parts work, how they approach prey, and their feeding habits in general.

It wasn’t until this year that he realized just how important his offhand comments had become to tarpon fishing regulations in Boca Grande Pass.

After all, he thought he was just having a casual conversation.Dr. Justin Grubich letter to FWC 2013

Justin is a fish-functional morphologist. He figures out how fish work, and he applies that knowledge to researching their evolution and ecology.

“I deconstruct how a fish eats, how they breathe, how they move,” he said. “But primarily how they feed.

My original work was based on tarpon suction-feeding kinematics, and my findings were in a paper I published in 2001.”

That may have been how the FWC tracked Justin down at the Field Museum in Chicago in 2004, or it may have been through his mentor, Dr. Phil Motta. Either way, when Justin picked up that phone and had a 30-minute conversation with an FWC representative, he didn’t even know what a Boca Grande jig was, or how it is designed to work.

It is abundantly clear he had no clue just how important his answers were to the Florida fishing community.

For years he didn’t know what had become of the research. He was out of the country for many years, studying Red Sea lionfish and Nile perch in Egypt and teaching biomechanics, evolution and environmental science at the University of Cairo. When he came back to the United States he served in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary Hillary Clinton, and as a foreign affairs adviser on scientific issues such as climate change, coral reef conservation and international fisheries to the Cairo Initiative unveiled by President Obama in June 2009.

So when he returned to the Field Museum in Chicago just weeks ago, it was out of sheer coincidence that author Randy Wayne White and angler Bill Bishop tracked him down there. They used his old email address, which wasn’t even re-activated until a couple of weeks ago.

Randy explained through his email to Justin that he just wanted to talk to him about his input on the foul-hooking study. When Justin looked up Randy’s web page, he found his name there … and not in the most positive light.

“Then I started to get inquisitive,” Justin said. “So Randy and I started an email conversation, I explained my brief involvement in the study, and how it was just a short phone call. Then they sent me the complete study.”

Justin was pretty shocked to see himself quoted in great detail throughout the study.

“Reading through it, to see how I was quoted … considering in 2004 I had none of the information available to me about what kind of jig was being used, what kind of place Boca Grande Pass was … I feel the information I gave to the FWC was used improperly,” he said.

Justin said that now that he knows more about the fishery, the jig, and the situation, he said it doesn’t seem to him that the tarpon are responding to the jigs with the intention of feeding. Because they don’t eat rubber or metal.

“They’re pretty discerning fish,” he said. “They wouldn’t have lasted 300 million years if they weren’t. With the scientific evidence obtained from tagging in the Boca Grande fishery, it shows the tarpon are down at deep depths during most of the day, then they come up and feed at night. Those guys who are fishing at night know that they’re feeding on the pass crabs coming in. So you can imagine how the fish feel during these tarpon tournaments during the day, these flotillas of boats dropping things on them.”

Justin likened it to the flossing situation with salmon on the west coast. “When the salmon are coming up the rivers they’re stacked so thick, they had to make rules to apply to foul-hooking there. That’s a more probable scenario of what’s going on here.”

He continued.

“I grew up in the Florida Keys, and have been fishing for tarpon since I was a teenager. I know how difficult they are to catch, and that every time you catch one it’s something special.”

As a sidenote, Dr. Phil Motta has also declared that the information he gave to FWC was improperly used in the study.

Justin has served as the Associate Director of Biodiversity Informatics at The Field Museum in Chicago and assistant professor of Biology at The American University in Cairo. He received his doctorate in evolution and ecology from Florida State University in 2001. He is a researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where he worked on reef fish biodiversity. 

In the summer of 2009, he was featured on the National Geographic Channel series “Hooked: Vampire Fish.”

The FWC will be meeting on Wednesday, June 12 in Lakeland to discuss Boca Grande Pass tarpon-fishing gear. The proposed rule would address the definition of snagging tarpon, and would prohibit gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook. It would also enhance the definition of “snagging” and “snatch-hooking” within FWC regulations for tarpon.

See page 5 of this week’s Beacon for Justin’s letter to FWC Commissioner Ken Wright.

Useful links:

FWC Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon 
in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004

2002-2003: Incidence of Foul-hooking in FMRI* Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Catch and Release Mortality Study

Drum roll, please…

Need a bedtime story for the kiddies?  Or perhaps some bathroom reading material?  Well, we’ve got you covered.  Enjoy.

(Click here to see the PTTS Complaint as a PDF)

 

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PTTS claims $500,000 boycott loss, wants court to silence Save The Tarpon

PTTS LawsuitClaiming it has lost more than $500,000 in sponsorship, TV advertising, entry fees and other revenues, the company that owns and operates the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) has gone to court in an attempt to silence Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its more than 20,000 members and supporters.

Silver King Entertainment, Inc., which operates the PTTS, is seeking an emergency injunction against the organization in a 235 page civil complaint filed April 29 in Sarasota County Circuit Court. In addition to the injunction aimed at restraining Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its board members from speaking out on issues concerning the PTTS and the Boca Grande tarpon fishery, Silver King Entertainment, Inc. is seeking unspecified damages from the non-profit advocacy group and selected members of its board of directors.

Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save The Tarpon, Inc. and one of the defendants individually targeted in the complaint, said that he is not particularly surprised that Silver King Entertainment, Inc. filed the PTTS lawsuit given the apparent effectiveness of the group’s efforts in making the voices of its members and supporters heard.

McLaughlin, who referred legal questions to Save The Tarpon, Inc.’s attorneys, said the PTTS charted its own course nearly a year ago when tournament organizers told the fledgling organization it would continue engaging in practices the conservation group considers harmful to the fish and the iconic fishery until “someone tells us to stop.”

Noting Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s claim that it has since lost more than $500,000 attributable to the actions of Save The Tarpon, Inc., McLaughlin characterized the tournament’s stated injuries as “self-inflicted” and contrary to Silver King’s prior public comments that the group’s efforts were having no impact on the PTTS, its sponsors, or its participants.

“They refused to listen to the voices of those whose only goal was to preserve, protect and grow this storied fishery,” McLaughlin said. “And now they want to make those same voices shut up and go away. As the courts have repeatedly and clearly stated, this isn’t how it works in this country.”

Save The Tarpon, Inc. is represented by Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, P.A. Beason declined comment, noting that the lengthy PTTS complaint is still being reviewed. According to court records, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Silver King Entertainment, Inc. by Tampa attorneys Mitchell L. Feldman and Dennis A. Creed.

In addition to McLaughlin and Save The Tarpon, Inc., board members Lew Hastings, Frank Davis, Chris Frohlich, Mark Futch, Walton “Tommy” Locke Jr. and Rhett Morris are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Richard Hirsh, who no longer serves on the Save The Tarpon, Inc. board, is also listed as a defendant. Hastings, recently appointed executive director of Save The Tarpon, Inc., also serves as executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.

McLaughlin said Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s lawsuit and its request for injunctive relief ask the court to invoke the rarely successful legal tactic of “prior restraint,” a maneuver designed to prohibit Save The Tarpon, Inc. and the individual defendants from publishing or voicing opinions or concerns that could potentially cast the televised tarpon tournament in a poor light.

McLaughlin noted that former Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, in the Supreme Court’s 1976 landmark Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart ruling that declared the tactic unconstitutional, wrote that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

Pointing to a lengthy list of sponsors who have withdrawn their support of the tournament in recent months, Silver King Entertainment, Inc is also asking the court to force Save The Tarpon, Inc. to end its member-driven online boycott of businesses that support the controversial event. McLaughlin said the legality of the group’s voluntary boycott efforts was affirmed in yet another landmark ruling, one that dates to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that a peaceful boycott was a constitutionally protected form of legitimate free speech under the First Amendment.

McLaughlin cited the words of Justice John Paul Stevens who, writing for the majority, stated “concerted action is a powerful weapon. And yet one of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

Characterizing the PTTS lawsuit as “an act of obvious desperation,” McLaughlin said Save The Tarpon, Inc. will “aggressively defend the ability of our members and supporters to have their voices heard on this and any other issue that impacts the future of our fishery and our community. We will continue the fight to protect, preserve and grow this vital public resource. We won’t be silent, we aren’t going away.”

A Line Drawn: Captains and community members work to ban the Boca Grande tarpon “jig”

By: Capt. Chris Frohlich

A line has been drawn in the sand. I believe that on one side is the moral high ground, a rich history, respect, and tradition. On the other side sits a group of opportunistic vultures, ready to poach when the time is right. They have long since abandoned any moral compass that they once used to guide their way. They are merely pawns, following the gospel of a few greedy individuals who will stop at nothing in the pursuit of fortune.

Save the Tarpon Air Force

A group of community members and Save the Tarpon board members attended the recent FWC Commission meeting in Tallahassee.

In the past year, our movement to protect and preserve the tarpon fishery has gained both membership and momentum. When we first started this movement, we were chastised repeatedly by advocates of the PTTS and those hoping to preserve “jig fishing.” They derided our efforts, ridiculed our members, and tried to break us down. But instead, we grew stronger. Our collective voice became louder. We used the greatest weapons we had in our arsenal; we used patience, and we used the truth. As we began exposing more of the truth, we were bombarded with accusations and labeled as “hippies,” “tree huggers,” and just about any name you can think of. Because in the end, personal assaults became their only method of counter attack. Those individuals who supported the PTTS and the use of the Boca Grande Jig resorted to childish tactics like name calling and cyber bullying. Simply put, their sole tactic centered around diverting the public’s attention from the issues. It became about distraction, interference, intimidation. For a while, this tactic worked. But it’s not working any more.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to the FWC meeting with a group of very unique individuals. This was a diverse group from all walks of life. On the agenda that day were two issues of concern to our group. The first issue that was addressed was whether or not both bonefish and tarpon should become catch and release only species. This proposal saw very little opposition, if any.

The second issue discussed was the issue of gear restriction in Boca Grande Pass, and the issue of snagging tarpon. When all was said and done, the Commission directed staff to re-examine the definition of snagging and redefine what gear can be used in the Pass. This issue will be discussed further at the next FWC meeting. But the purpose of writing this article is to tell you how we got there. Because let’s be honest, the naysayers, and there have been many, told us that this issue was never going to be addressed again. Yet here we are.

The public commentary time allotment at FWC meetings is used to facilitate discussion about whatever issues are on the agenda. The Commissioners listen intently as members of the community present their case as to why something should, or should not happen. As we sat and waited to speak, I looked around the room to see who would be speaking for the continued use of the Boca Grande Jig. As it turns out, not too many people.

Those that did speak on behalf of the PTTS or the use of the jig presented their arguments to the Commission and the Commissioners listened. And I listened too. What I heard from pro- jig fishing advocates was truly laughable. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the pro-jig advocates became the voice of the “recreational angler.” According to these individuals, (you can count them on one hand) the recreational angler will be excluded from fishing if the Commission bans the use of the Boca Grande Jig. HUH? I certainly take issue with that argument. I must have missed something along the way. This isn’t about the continuation of the PTTS or the continued use of the jig for all those Captains? These guys travelled all the way to North Florida to ensure that the recreational angler can continue to use the Boca Grande Jig in the Pass? Oh, well that’s just downright swell of them.

Let’s break down that argument for a minute and see what’s really going on.

First of all, I believe the use of the Boca Grande Jig has spawned a culture of aggressive, thoughtless, and reckless fisherman. I think they make Boca Grande pass a nasty place to be while they are “fishing.” Fishing Captains and recreational fishermen that don’t use the jig (live baiters), that attempt to fish the pass have trouble getting anywhere near the fish. Anyone who does try to fish amongst the jig fleet quickly learns that your lines will get run over, boats cut each other off, you get yelled at, screamed at, cursed at, and will probably even have the honor of being the recipient of various hand gestures. So you can imagine how many recreational fishermen are anxious to go fishing in Boca Grande Pass amidst all that ridiculous behavior. I would say that based on the number of recreational fishermen that showed up to the meeting to argue for the continued use of the jig, the number is somewhere around zero.

Can’t you just picture it? Mom, Dad, the kids, and the family dog out on a Saturday or Sunday morning during a PTTS tournament. Everybody jig fishing in perfect harmony. Like I said, laughable. In my mind, the truth is that jig fishing is the most exclusionary fishing tactic of all. A mere 20 jig fishing boats can ruin tarpon fishing in the pass for EVERYONE else in a matter of minutes, and I think they do it every single morning. Except that it’s generally way more than 20 boats. Recreational fishermen don’t realize how good they could really have it. I grew up as a recreational fisherman before I became a guide. Boca Grande Pass was always an intimidating place to fish as a young kid. But I started fishing on my own when I was about 12, often running a boat from the Peace River to Boca Grande Pass, just for a shot at some tarpon. I can tell you from personal experience that it was a different place to fish back then. It was a place that any recreational fisherman could go and feel comfortable and could catch fish. But now, jig fishing has changed the fishery, and I believe it has adversely impacted the way people fish.

I concede that a few recreational guys might desire having the option of using the jig. I even understand why people want to use it. It’s very effective when the fish won’t bite. All you have to do is wait for the circle hook to bury itself into some part of the tarpon’s body, and fish on! Jig fishing tactics are overly aggressive and push the tarpon pods around all day long. In my observation, the fish don’t feed when they are being pushed. They won’t hit any live bait or fishing lure known to man when they get spooked by the jig boats, or any other boats for that matter. But since the jig is capable of snagging them, it’s the perfect choice if you have long ago sold your soul. It’s easy “fishing.” But the simple fact that a few recreational guys might want to use the jig does not hold sufficient weight to allow its continued use. Some people will do anything if you tell them it’s legal. However, the credo of ethical angling dictates that certain methods of fishing be banned. It’s why we have certain regulations in the first place.

Banning the Boca Grande Jig would not amount to exclusion or excessive regulation.

Think about it like this for a moment. The aforementioned catch and release proposal would regulate the way in which tarpon can be caught. Under the new proposal, only hook and line can be used to catch tarpon. Which means that under the current tarpon regulations, you can legally cast net them. And yet, nobody cried out “what about the recreational fisherman” when this proposal was introduced. Nobody from the PTTS showed up to make sure the recreational guys could continue to cast net tarpon. Because it is a ridiculous concept, and one that nobody bothered to defend, even if a few recreational guys actually do want to cast net them. Yet, in the big picture, it’s no more ridiculous than using a device capable of successfully snagging tarpon. And that’s exactly why few recreational anglers showed up to the FWC meeting of their own volition to defend the jig. Maybe the PTTS advocates had other motives when they showed up to speak after all.

You see, the use of jig has essentially created a paradox. The style of fishing is so disruptive to the fish that they constantly get pushed around and do not feed the way they normally would. So fishing with traditional baits or lures becomes way less effective during that time. So what’s the one tactic that’s most effective when the fish won’t bite? You got it, the Boca Grande Jig. It’s not uncommon to see the most “hook ups” when 50 jig boats push the fish into about 30 feet of water. Imagine a tightly packed school of tarpon, all trying to weave into the middle of the school for protection. 50 outboards hover above them, slamming in and out of gear. 3 lines go down per boat, or roughly 150 Boca Grande Jigs with the hook leading the way. Now imagine the ensuing chaos as the fish literally cannot avoid being impaled by these jigs. This is what jig fishermen call a “good bite.”

The beautiful and yet equally frustrating thing about traditional tarpon fishing is that it takes the cooperation of the fish. If the fish don’t bite, you have to be patient. You have to outsmart them. You have to induce them to strike. And sometimes you just plain fail. It’s what keeps anglers coming back for more. In that scenario, the tarpon is Queen, and you play by her rules. If she chooses to ignore you and focus on some biological response like mating or swimming around aimlessly, then it is her choice. But jig fishing takes that choice away. Tarpon cannot avoid the Boca Grande Pass Jig. This jig, and this style of fishing disrupt the tarpon’s long inherited, evolutionary, and innate patterns. It robs them of their ability to act on instinct and impulse. It has long been the right, sometimes seemingly the duty, of the silver king to embarrass, frustrate, and confuse the angler. Jig fishing snatches that right away. Instead of biology dictating when and how a tarpon will behave, a group of reckless fishermen now holds that power.

I think that it is important to note that nobody will be excluded from fishing if the jig goes away. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. More people will be able to fish the pass, and do so more successfully. Just like I used to be able to do, and just like I want my kids to be able to do. To clarify, this would not be some blanket ban on the use of artificial lures, or even regular “jigs.” This would only outlaw the Boca Grande Tarpon Jig. This is a unique jig designed for use in Boca Grande Pass, and is widely considered a snagging device. Not everyone believes this to be true, but it is certainly my belief. That is why so many people wish to see it banned. But it’s important to recognize that nobody is advocating for restrictions on the use of any other lure, or according to some, all artificial lures. So please don’t buy into the rhetoric being spewed by pro-jig advocates about the slippery slope of regulations or the exclusion of fishermen. This unfounded contention is a farce, a smoke show designed to undermine the efforts of those who want to see the Boca Grande Jig banned. That is the same tactic of distraction and diversion already mentioned.

The Boca Grande "jig" may come in many different shapes and colors but the "jig" is in fact, by definition, a "snatch hook" or "snag hook" based on the attachment location of the weight directly beneath the bend or "belly" of the hook. Most all fisheries where snagging of densely packed fish is illegal have prohibited this type of "snag rig" for many years.

The Boca Grande “jig” may come in many different shapes and colors but the “jig” is in fact, by definition, a “snatch hook” or “snag hook” based on the attachment location of the weight directly beneath the bend or “belly” of the hook. Most all fisheries where snagging of densely packed fish is illegal have prohibited this type of “snag rig” for many years.

Before the PTTS, and before the widespread use of the jig, fisherman actually had to learn how to catch fish. They had to learn the patterns of the fish, the behavior of the fish, the tides, and the right bait to use. They had to respect the fisherman who had been there before them, had to watch them fish and learn from their successes. You had to pay your dues if you wanted to learn how to catch tarpon in the pass. You respected seniority; you gave the right of way to boats with fish on. You kept a level head, and you respected the drift. You did all this, and you caught the hell out of the fish. I know, it’s hard to believe based on what has become commonplace in the Pass today. But I have seen it. And I have done it.

I think the real fear that most jig fishing Captains feel is the fear of the unknown. How will they ever survive without the jig? I suspect it keeps them awake at night. Jig fishing is a zero-skill game. It does not require the participation of the fish. I personally believe that many of the Captains that exclusively use the jig couldn’t catch a tarpon using another method to save their lives. I know this because I have witnessed some of them trying to do it. They appear to be clueless and talentless individuals whose entire skill set consists of the ability to play follow the leader, drive a boat (although this is debatable at times), and tie a good enough knot to attach a jig. That’s about what it takes to be a successful jig fishing Captain. Well, on second thought, that’s not an exhaustive list. It does take some creativity. In addition to that list, it is imperative that you possess the ability to make up new excuses to tell your clients each time they ask why their fish was hooked in the eye ball, tail, or anal fin. Or why a sea turtle “ate” a fancy tiger tail jig. It has to be hard to explain that after a few years and several “caught” fish.

There are some fantastic Captains that both jig fish and also fish traditional methods. These are Captains that I have watched and even learned from at times. They will be perfectly fine if the Boca Grande Pass Jig goes away. They are tarpon experts. They know who they are.

And then there is another group. It is the group of Captains who have never actually caught a tarpon. Indeed, they have probably snagged tarpon by the hundreds, even thousands. They cannot picture a world in which they would actually have to learn to catch a tarpon. Such a daunting task seems almost inconceivable to these Captains. They cannot reconcile in their minds the idea that day in and day out they would be forced to utilize skill rather than a snatch hook to keep clients on fish. What an injustice this style of fishing has done to tourism over the years. Literally thousands of clients pass through Boca Grande every year hoping to catch tarpon. What a dreadful reality and utterly despicable disservice it is to those clients to dupe them into thinking they truly caught a tarpon, when in reality they likely just snagged one with a jig. I think those Captains should be embarrassed to call themselves fishing guides, and should personally apologize to every client they ever took fishing with a jig. I think they have sullied the reputation of this storied fishery with their unrelenting deception and unethical fishing style, and have made this amazing fishery a place that some people now avoid.

This is all information that many of us hold to be true. So we presented this information to the Commissioners, and they listened. They asked questions. They wanted to know more about this issue. And they seemed to want to do something about it. I suspect the June meeting will be interesting to say the least. I personally believe that the PTTS is a sinking ship, and the Jig is its precious cargo. They are both sitting atop a boat that is weighed down by lies, and the lies keep piling on. It will be interesting to see who will speak on behalf of the Boca Grande Jig, and how far they are willing to go. How many individuals are really going to sacrifice their reputations, their ethics, and their time in order to bail a few buckets of water out of a boat that is inevitably going to sink. We shall see.