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 >

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 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

Letter to FWC chairman from Dr. Justin Grubich regarding 2002-2004 Foul Hooking Tarpon study

Dr. Justin Grubich letter to FWC 2013Letter from Dr. Justin Grubich as PDF.

This letter, dated May 8, 2013, was sent to FWC Chairman, Kenneth Wright by Dr. Justin Grubich regarding the 2002-2004 Foul Hooking Tarpon study.

To read the entire article accompanying this letter, please see Expert named in FWC study speaks out: The jig snags tarpon.

 

 

Justin R. Grubich Ph.D.
Associate Director of Biodiversity Informatics

May, 8th, 2013

Ken Wright, Chair
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

Dear Mr. Wright,

Recently, I was contacted by Randy White and Bill Bishop in regards to my involvement with the 2002-2004 Foul Hooking Tarpon study in Boca Grande Pass. Their contention, as you are well aware, is that the unique jigging technique known as break-away jigs used in Boca Grande Pass to catch tarpon is an illegitimate method used to foul-hook or ‘snag’ these fish when they are not exhibiting feeding behaviors. They contacted me to ask if I would review the outcomes of the study and whether my involvement has been accurately represented in the FWC’s 2003 summary report.

I have to admit I have not followed this issue since I was first contacted by the FWC to provide expert testimony on the feeding behavior of tarpon. As you are probably aware, I was contacted by the FWC sometime around 2003-4 because of my 2001 research publication regarding the strike kinematics and jaw functional morphology of juvenile tarpon. 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.

Prior to being contacted by the FWC, I had no experience or background knowledge of the Boca Grande tarpon fishery or the techniques used, including what and how a break-away jig works which truth be told was not effectively communicated to me by the FWC representative during the interview. My lack of familiarity with the issue and jigging technique was correctly pointed out by Mr. White on his web page regarding my original testimony.

However, I would like to point out to the Commission and all parties involved that I am not just a scientist in a lab dissecting fish. I am also an avid angler and an IGFA International Committee Representative. I have been fishing for tarpon since the early 80’s in the Florida Keys and Everglades. As a teenager, I worked as a first mate on a Key West charter boat and after college spent two years as a NMFS observer on commercial longline vessels. So, beyond being a scientific expert in fish functional morphology, I think I am also uniquely qualified to review and comment on the ‘fishing’ side of this issue.

That said, I would first like to clarify some misrepresentations of my testimony that is now part of the public record on the FWC website regarding the 2002-2003 Boca Grande Tarpon Catch and Release Mortality Study results. I am quoted as saying that tarpon “can miss during the strike’ and ‘invariably turn their heads after the strike which is how they ARE getting snagged in their clipper plates”.

First of all, missing prey during the strike is a characteristic of all predators and is a quite common occurrence as any angler will frustratingly acknowledge. If predatory fish never missed, there would be no prey left and eventually no predators either. So that statement really is not unique to the discussion of tarpon feeding. I’ll elaborate more on this topic later in the letter. Second, my point about tarpon turning away after the strike and getting ‘snagged’ in the clipper plates should not be taken as a definitive statement to explain all hook placements in the clipper plate.

I was simply providing a plausible scenario from my knowledge of tarpon feeding behavior for why hook placement in the clipper plates MAY occur after a strike. That’s not to say there are not other plausible or more probable ways for hook placement to occur in the clipper plates depending on the specific fishing scenario and techniques being used. My statement was simply referring to the fact that the maxilla (clipper plate) is the largest bone of the upper jaw mechanism in tarpon with a broadly lateral orientation that consequently provides a large surface area for the hook point to snag, penetrate, or wrap around (in the case of large gap hooks).

Lastly, my use of ‘snag’ or ‘snagging’ at that point in time was meant to indicate a purely mechanical definition of the hook gaining purchase in the fish’s mouth region, head, or even body regardless of whether it was coincident with an intentional feeding strike or not. To be clear, it was not based on any previous knowledge of fishing definitions or FWC regulations regarding foulhooking or snagging. I was admittedly ignorant of such semantic issues then.

This brings up my last point regarding my testimony and its portrayal in the FWC report and website. Let me reiterate my whole involvement with this issue revolves around a single discussion. 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.

So, my original testimony should not be taken to support either position, as it was not based on a thorough review of the issue or any experimental evidence regarding fishing techniques and catch and release mortality in which I participated.

I have since tried to educate myself on the techniques of break-away jig fishing and the environmental conditions of the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery. I have also reviewed the summary report that includes more data from 2004 than the original FWC website 2002-2003 results where I am quoted. After reviewing both reports, I have to concur with Dr. Motta’s testimony reversal that the evidence indicates break-away jigs result in higher foul hooking percentages.

The current FWC definition identifies any hook placement in or around the mouth regardless of orientation as a non-foul hooked fish. Even with this more conservative definition, the results show that break-away jigs still have significantly greater foul hook placement in other parts of the tarpon compared to live bait, although the report suggests the percentage is not unusual compared to other foul hook estimates in other fisheries. However, IF hook orientation is taken into account to include foul hooking as when the hook is driven from the outside into the mouth cavity in either the upper or lower jaws, then the percentage of foul hooking associated with break-away jigs would be 7/26 (27%) for the 2003 results on the FWC website. This foul hooking percentage defined by hook orientation is substantially higher (> 10%
difference) than foul hook estimates in other popular recreational fisheries including salmon fisheries.

The reason hook orientation may important to the discussion of foul hooking is because it is indicative of the behavioral intent of the tarpon. Did the tarpon attempt to capture the lure or bait via a feeding strike? You see, in addition to
using swimming speed to overtake elusive prey, tarpon employ a suction feeding strategy whereby they rapidly expand their jaws and buccal cavity to literally suck the prey backwards into their mouths. Now, the thing about suction generation in fishes is that due to hydrodynamic constraints and the viscosity of water, it is only really effective in a small area just in front of the mouth aperture.

The amount of drag induced on a prey item (i.e. suction force) during a strike rapidly decreases as the distance to the prey becomes greater than 50% of the mouth’s maximum gape. So for even the largest tarpon that means their effective suction strike distance would be less than 6 inches. What does this have to do with hook orientation?

Well, if a tarpon is actively feeding, it will be employing these suction strikes in focused efforts directly in front of their opening jaws to maximize the suction force on the bait or lure in order to draw it into their mouth cavity. And, that means upon closing the jaws around the prey and then turning away, the hook set will most likely be oriented from inside the mouth cavity to the outside of the jaws as indicated by 100% of the live bait results from 2003.

In contrast, less than 50% of the break-away jigs’hook orientation indicate an active suction feeding strike may have been employed by the tarpon. But, in my original testimony, I was quoted as saying tarpon can miss the target during the strike and potentially still get hooked. Indeed they can and often do miss elusive prey, but that probability is greatly diminished with dead drifting tethered baits or lures that are not employing or mimicking escape behaviors.

Even with live baits that have some restricted escape mobility, the 2003 results show tarpon successfully engulfed the prey into the mouth cavity every time indicating an intentional feeding strike. So, with a non-moving or slowly drifting target, tarpon are even less likely to miss and be foul hooked in an outside/in manner during an intentional suction feeding strike.

Whether or not the flossing tactic commonly referred to in salmon fishing circles is also applicable to the break-away jigging technique used in Boca Grande Pass remains to be scientifically verified. Underwater video footage of the break-away jigging technique would be a good start to ascertain the validity of that claim.

However, I will note that the morphology and mechanics of the tarpon clipper plate have features that make ‘flossing’ a plausible scenario. For example, the maxilla of a tarpon includes a continuous ridge of small villiform teeth that line the entire ventro-lateral margin of this enlarged bone.

These tiny velcro-like teeth are very good at grasping slippery objects (usually fleeing fish prey) but are equally good with monofilament as any good tarpon angler can attest to their abrasive abilities on leader material. Even when the maxilla is in its resting (non-suction feeding) position these tiny teeth are exposed from the tip of the jaws to its posterior margin and could provide a roughened snag point for monofilament drifting past even when the fish is not exhibiting feeding behavior. Fish will often shake their head and/or quickly snap their jaws (not to the extent of a full suction strike) when something irritates their head.

Tarpon stacked up like cordwood facing into the current in Boca Grande Pass may be exhibiting such a snapping behavior of the head and jaws in response to the irritation of hundreds of lines of monofilament sliding past them and snagging on the villiform teeth of their maxillae. The angler might perceive this nonfeeding behavior as the tell-tale tap when using the break-away jig. In addition, keep in mind whenever the lower jaw of a tarpon is opened beyond a 10 degree rotation, it causes the maxilla to swing forward and flare laterally (the extent of which is directly linked to the amount of lower jaw rotation).

This lateral expansion and the gripping action of the villiform teeth can cause the monofilament to be threaded between the inside surface of the clipper plate and the cheek (aka suspensorium) facilitating a snagging hook set with an outside/in orientation. So, you can see how non-feeding motions and the morphology of the tarpon’s jaws could result in foul-hooking or snagging tarpon in the mouth when they are not actually intending to feed. This specific flossing scenario of how break-away jigs may work in the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery is of course a hypothesis that would need to be tested.

In closing, I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight regarding my original testimony and hope these additional insights into tarpon feeding behavior and functional morphology are informative. If I can be of any further
assistance regarding this issue, please feel free to contact me.

Kindest Regards,

Justin Grubich

 

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

Randy Wayne White: FISHING’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

Critics say tarpon actually are snagged with this popular style of Boca Grande Pass fishing.

By RANDY WAYNE WHITE

(The following was originally published in the Sunday, April 14, 2013 edition of the Tampa Tribune.) Randy Wayne White is a New York Times best-selling novelist and resident of Pine Island, Florida. To learn more about Randy, visit his website or Wikipedia page

On Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) will consider a draft rule amendment to protect tarpon that, if approved, will be the first step in addressing among the most brazen cons in our state’s fishing history, and a dirty little fishing secret that has, for a decade, caused one or more FWC biologist to appear naïve or, at best, as an unwilling dupe or dupes.

It is an ugly story, dark with irony, but brighter days are ahead — if the commission takes that first bold step on Wednesday and designates  tarpon [but not bonefish] as a catch-and-release-only species.  The tarpon isn’t considered eatable, yet it’s an iconic game fish, so this sounds like a no brainer, right?

Randy Wayne White

New York Times best selling author, Randy Wayne White.

Wrong.   The sad fact is, this is the first incarnation of the FWC’s seven member commission to exhibit enough fishing savvy to acknowledge a problem exists.  By my reckoning, though, the amendment could be a vote or two shy of passage which is why I’ve decided to throw some sunlight on the dirty little fishing secret, expose the con, and hope that Florida’s thinking anglers will make their voices heard.

Here’s the ugly back story:  In the early 1990s, when tarpon tournament purses in Boca Grande Pass climbed to $100,000 or more (not counting side-bet calcuttas) two local anglers revived an old poaching technique that guaranteed they would boat tarpon (even when tarpon were not feeding) and also fill their pockets with lots and lots of modern hundred dollar bills.

“Floss-fishing,” was the technique, a throwback to the days when European peasants fished for survival, not sport — a deliberate method of snagging trout and salmon in fast flowing rivers.  As the two innovators proved, floss-fishing worked equally well on tarpon that school in the fast tidal rips of Florida’s west coast.

“We thought we were being clever, but there’s nothing sporting about what we did,” Mark Futch, a third generation Boca Grande fishing guide, remembers now.  “A buddy and I grew-up fishing that pass.  There were days when tarpon would stack by the thousands in the deepest holes, but they wouldn’t hit a bait, no matter what you threw at them.  With so much tournament money on the line, I decided to try something different.”

For Futch and his boyhood friend, George Melissas,  it meant designing a specialized rig consisting of a heavy lead weight wired to the bend, or “belly” of a hook that had already been canted off-center with pliers.  To disguise the rig’s true intent, a colorful rubber adornment was added to make it look like a legitimate fishing lure.

“Mark still has the prototype, ” Melissas (now one of the country’s foremost experts on sea mollusks) told me.   “We named it ‘The Prom Dress’  as a joke because it came off in a hurry when we hooked tarpon.  Personally, I didn’t go out there with the intent of snagging fish, but I’d guess about ninety percent of tarpon landed using that technique are snagged.”

Seahunt Ptts Tarpon Jig

Something else the men did was name their creation a “break away jig,” which added to the illusion of legitimacy because actual jig lures (which are weighted at the eyelet, not the belly of a hook) are used world-wide, and considered among the most benign of artificial lures.

The ruse worked, and so did floss-fishing.  Futch and Melissas won or placed in the next fifty consecutive tarpon tournaments using their homemade “lures”, and piled up more than a quarter million dollars in prize money.

“We were landing tarpon when no one, I mean no one, could even get a bite,” Futch told me, “and good fishing guides aren’t dumb.  They saw what we were using, and saw that every tarpon we landed was hooked outside the mouth, not inside the mouth.  Soon, there were a hundred boats in the pass using rigs similar to ours, and we were seeing more and more dead tarpon floating or on the beach.  I know I’m partly to blame for this mess, and that’s why I’ve been working so hard to make it right.”

Because I was a Sanibel fishing guide during that era, I knew Capt. Futch only by reputation (although he is now a good friend) but I can tell you from personal experience what happened next, and how that dirty little secret was transformed into a purposeful con.  Among guides, ‘jig fishing’ became the accepted euphemism for snag fishing, but always in a wink-wink sort of way because boating fish is key to making money in what is a very tough business.  The technique wasn’t illegal but most of us knew it wasn’t ethical, so a do-it-until-they-banned-it approach was embraced by some, rejected by others.  How do I know this is true?  Because, as a fishing guide, I DID it.

In 1998, a half million dollars in winnings, and three years later, Futch and Melissas returned to traditional methods when the Boca Grande Guides association did, indeed, ban “jig fishing” in tournaments.   Instead of following suit, however, the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission (which became the FWC 1999) dismissed the growing animus between traditional tarpon anglers and those who used belly-weighted hooks as “a user conflict.”  Worse, the FWC remained indifferent to the fact that Florida’s legal definition of a “snagged fish” (compared to states such as Washington, Oregon and Michigan) offered enough wiggle room to energize a whole boutique industry based on snagging tarpon — and that’s exactly what happened in Boca Grande Pass, in my opinion.

Sea Hunt Boats Snagged Tarpon

This photo, captured by a guest to a local boat show earlier this year, features a Sea Hunt Boats advertising banner picturing a tarpon snagged just outside the eye.

Enter Silver King Entertainment LLC which, in 2002, came to the area to video thirteen TV episodes of its Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).   The show featured fast boats and “pro” anglers, in NASCAR-like garb, who used a run-and-gun, pack approach to chasing pods of tarpon around the pass — a water space where, for unknown millennia, Florida’s sport-fishing cash cow, Megalops atlanticus, has schooled to rest and fatten before migrating off-shore to spawn.  For viewers (and sponsors) the dramatic payoff was video of sharks attacking tarpon that had been played to exhaustion, and “official weigh-ins” after tarpon had been gaffed, dragged to the scale, then  hoisted in transparent body bags.

All perfectly legal by Florida law, but the Boca Grande Guide’s Association — never a warm and fuzzy group when it came to outsiders (myself included) — filed a law suit, and appealed to the FWC to send biologists to do a hook placement study that, local guides felt certain, would confirm that “jigging” is actually snagging.  Such a study, of course, would also return a boomerang of bad karma into lap of the snag-rig’s creator — something no one, by now, wanted more than Capt. Mark Futch.

Finally, our Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission responded.  The commission earmarked $250,000 in funding, and assigned a biologist to lead what would result in a three year, eight page document entitled, Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004.

Hello happy ending, right?

Wrong again.

According to data from the FWC’s study, in 2004, 74% of tarpon landed using so-called “jigs” were hooked outside the “buccal cavity” or mouth — including a tarpon that was boated after being snagged in the tail — yet the study (after ignoring other statistical red flags) concluded, “While more tarpon [10%] were foul-hooked using artificial bait than live bait, percentages were not unusually high and did not contribute negatively to the survival of tarpon.”

Huh?

That’s right, our FWC biologists fell for the floss-fishing con — hook, line and sinker.   The authors, in my opinion, accepted the fiction that a belly-weighted hook is a legitimate jig lure, then contorted other definitions (such as what constitutes a fairly-hooked fish) as needed to prop-up their own flawed premise.

An example:  Picture yourself holding a spoonful of cereal.  You swing it toward your mouth but, instead, stab yourself in the forehead, the throat, the cheek, the nose or the eye socket.  By the definition of the FWC study, you have successfully hit your target, and are now chewing your cereal compliments of your head, your cheek, your outside maxillary (in terms of tarpon physiology) but not your mouth as it is used by primates and fish alike.

Absurd!  Tarpon are an ancient species; a marvel of evolution that have outlasted dinosaurs, survived global cataclysms, all due to their ability to hunt, forage, ambush and feed successfully.  With its giant Megalops eyes, its sensitive lateral line, this is an apex predator — an animal that has NOT survived the eons by whacking its head, throat and cheeks against prey it intended to eat.

But that’s what the study claims to be true.  As a result, Florida is now stuck with a document that has, in my view, done more to endanger our tarpon fishery than the twenty years of snag fishing the study, in fact, implicitly endorses.

Honest naivety is to blame, I hope.  If not, all particulars and circumstances regarding the creation of that study should be examined under the sharpest lens of a journalistic microscope.

Ultimate Tarpon Book - Randy Wayne White

Before you can understand how badly flawed the FWC’s 2002-2004 study actually is, you must first understand how floss-fishing works:

Imagine a school of tarpon stacked 40 feet high, mouths pointed into the tide. This mass of fish is then transected by nearly-invisible fluorocarbon fishing lines, heavily leaded-hooks attached, a process repeated hundreds of times over a day. Hooks attached to these lines may be oscillating up and down, but are actually more effective as snag hooks if they are held motionless, allowed to drift quietly near the bottom of the column of fish.

These tarpon aren’t feeding (in this scenario) nor are they unaware. Even so, the jaw structure of a tarpon is such that the side-flaps of its mouth (the maxilla or ‘clipper plates’) are exposed targets, as are the fish’s gills. These flaps are hinged and flair slightly outward, not unlike an overgrown thumbnail, or the backside of a human ear. When fluorocarbon line makes contact with this bony flap, the line is sometimes funneled (flossed) toward the inside hinge of the mouth (clipper plate), or through the gill. The hinge, as it narrows, becomes an effective guide. Soon, as the boat or the fish moves, the flow of line is halted by an abrupt collision: The hook (given additional mass by the heavy sinker) either loops and buries itself outside the tarpon’s mouth or gill plate, or it bounces free. If the hook does stick, the startled tarpon then panics, which causes other tarpon to panic, often through a haze of multiple hooks and lines which can create the illusion of a sudden feeding frenzy.

Shrewd, huh? Key elements to this technique:

1. A heavy (3-6 oz.) sinker must be attached directly to the belly of a hook.

2. Tarpon must be stacked in a contained area (which is why this technique is so effective in Boca Grande, but useless off-shore, or in our back bays.)

3. The hook must be extremely sharp and is more effective if it is a circle hook canted slightly using pliers. (I’ve done this, keep in mind.)

4. Low visibility fishing line –fluorocarbon — and a gray sinker are best because deception is imperative.

5. A high speed reel (to rocket the hook upward through schooling tarpon) and a good boat handler all add to the likelihood of success.

The most devious thing about this technique is that, if you are being paid to produce fish, your clients (if inexperienced) will never question why the tarpon they landed is hooked outside the mouth after “bumping” or “nibbling” at the hook.

Obvious, once you understand how it works, right? Not if you’re an overworked, underpaid biologist, apparently – nor if you’re a fishing guide who has wrestled with the ethics of flossing. Capt. Andy Boyette, a top money winner in PTTS tournaments and an accomplished Charlotte County guide, is a vocal example of just how convincing the floss-fishing con can be.

“It took me awhile to figure out that jigging tarpon is the biggest hoax in the history of fishing,” Boyette told me recently. “I jig fished for eight years [2000 to 2008] and didn’t understand, at first, why almost every fish we landed was hooked outside the mouth. I remember trying to think up new stories to explain it to my clients. Finally, I got sick of lying to clients who I liked and respected, and that was the end of jig-fishing for me. I was good at it – my boat won the last PTTS tournament in 2008 – but I’d rather have a clear conscience.”

I asked Boyette if he believed that all accomplished tarpon “jiggers” knew the truth.

“All I’ll say about that is I think there are new fishermen out there who don’t want to believe it, or have been told the same lie for so long that nothing will convince them. But the best clients, actual sports-fishermen, don’t want to catch a foul-hooked tarpon. That’s what these new guides need to think about.” [Click here for Capt. Andy Boyette’s detailed assessment of “jigging”]

Boyette nails a key point: Florida risks a negative economic backlash by tolerating (in fact, endorsing) floss-fishing, and failing to re-define our own vague snagging laws. In1885, when New Yorker W. H. Wood, fishing in the backwaters of Sanibel, boated the first tarpon ever taken on rod and reel, the destiny (and economy) of Southwest Florida was forever changed by moneyed sportsmen who took the ethics of fishing seriously.

Guess what? Serious anglers still do. But Florida has dropped the ball in comparison to destinations such as Oregon, Michigan, Washington and Alaska which have set an example by honoring sporting ethics via articulate legislation. Our state is guilty of another oversight, too: We pay bargain basement salaries to the biologists and law enforcement people mandated to maintain our multi-billion dollar fishing cash cow, when we should be luring the best and brightest in the country. That doesn’t mean we don’t have good biologists and first rate FWC law enforcement people. We do. But it’s bad business not to reinvest profits in order to maintain the source of those profits.

For now, though, the seven member FWC commission can take a step in the right direction on Wednesday by designating tarpon a catch-and-release-only species (but omit bonefish, which would unfairly burden ethical and responsible tournaments in the Florida Keys.)

Let the FWC hear from you, thinking anglers.

Email the Commissioners at FWC.

Visit the website of Randy Wayne White.

Florida Sport Fishing magazine takes a look at the PTTS

This article is featured in the recent issue of Florida Sport Fishing magazine.
By: Capt Mike Genoun, Founder/Editor-In-Chief of Florida Sport Fishing
[imagegrid]

Chamber director: Time to respect, preserve and defend our fishery

Boca Grande Chamber of CommerceLew Hastings is executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce and host of Gulf Coast Business Spotlight. Take a moment to read the message he shared with us on March 3.

There is a responsibility we all have to fulfill. The responsibility we all bear. To protect, preserve and defend our natural resources.

Boca Grande has a very unique and storied history when it comes to tarpon fishing. Indeed, this is the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World. There is nothing we won’t do to ensure that we retain that distinction. Most importantly, the way in which we can do that is to educate residents, visitors and vacationers alike as to how we can work together to create and maintain a sustainable fishery.

We first have to acknowledge and respect our blessings that we have been placed in this unique environment. That we have the specific ingredients in this region that the tarpon can to migrate to, pre-spawn, create a nursery and grow to maturity. I have been lucky enough to get involved in current scientific studies that are the only type of their kind anywhere in the world to ultimately try to understand why tarpon are attracted to this place, our backyard, to grow and perpetuate their species. We would be irresponsible and naive to minimize the importance of our place in their life cycle and the importance of our actions on their behavior in their habitat and in their home.

Mr. Lew Hastings & Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Lew Hastings, executive director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce (left), and Capt. Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save the Tarpon (right) at the 2013 Save the Tarpon Shindig on March 3.

So make no mistake. This is not about a fish. There are millions of fish and species that deserve their day in the sun. That deserve attention. That deserve respect. This is about an ecosystem. Our ecosystem. Their ecosystem. And what is unique to our area. And the role we play in the entirety of the tarpon life cycle and it’s effect around the world. This is not about any one man, woman or group.

There are plenty of people who think they know what is best for the environment. But some are really only concerned for themselves … they like to hear themselves talk. They talk a big game. But when it comes to actually doing something, they really don’t deliver. This is not about an organization or a club. Because both or either can become myopic and focus on the things that benefit only their concerns and goals and promote only their views and beliefs. When that happens, people see through it as false concern, background noise … self serving tactics. And no one is taken seriously. And nothing , in the end, gets done.

Community. Community is what matters. Community working together. Grassroots up is powerful. Impactful. When the community says, like ours has, enough is enough. We will no longer tolerate the abuse of our natural resources and the misrepresentation of our community. Someone … everyone has to listen. And that is what is happening today.

The citizens and friends of the Boca Grande community have come together to say unequivocally everyone is invited to come and enjoy the beautiful God given natural resource we have to offer to the world. But you will respect it and you will help preserve it – not just for us but for generations to come.

The Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce has been dedicated to that end as long as I have been executive director for the last two years and I hope it will be long after I am gone.

We didn’t have to revive the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. As far as the Boca Grande Chamber and everyone else was concerned it was on an extended hiatus for 7 years. But on it’s 30th Anniversary there was a reason to bring it back more than just for the historical significance of the heritage of Boca Grande … but for the new mission.

World's Richest Tarpon Tournament

The 2013 “World’s Richest” Tarpon Tournament scheduled for May 23rd & 24th 2013.

Conservation. Education. Sportsmanship.

These three words define what the residents of Boca Grande and surrounding communities have been promoting and encouraging for years upon years. Generations in fact. Employing conservation tactics and recommendations to ensure a healthy fishery.

Education of the public both residential and visitors on the importance of our role and location in the life cycle of tarpon and other marine species. And the adherence and maintenance to the tenets of sportsmanship.

Somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten the meaning of the word sportsman and the responsibilities and expectations that go along with being a sportsman. We need to make sure we not only bring this teaching back, but make sure that it is not forgotten. Not now or in the future generations.

So what is next? What do we expect from our visitors, our residents and ourselves? Put simply – respect. Respect the fish, Respect the Pass.

The 2013 “World’s Richest” Tarpon Tournament scheduled for May 23rd & 24th 2013 is combined with the 3nd Annual Gasparilla Island Kid’s Classic will be held on May 25th hosted by Gasparilla Outfitters. The weekend long events will be combined with a downtown festival that will include music, food and games for the kids.

Contact the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce by phone, email, or visit their website for more information.

Pinocchio Tarpon Tournament Series

The following article was pulled from Beel den Stormer Presents the Only Fishery Blog You Need.  It was written by Beel den Stormer.  Check out his “Fish, Fisheries and Queryomics” blog at denstormerpresents.com.

Pinocchio Tarpon Tournament Series, According to Save the Tarpon

Picture of Pinocchio with a long nose

Beel loves big fish, fish festivals, and good times- like shindigs.  But Beel also loves a dog fight.

The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) has been caught up in a web of deceit of its own making, according to a report by Save the Tarpon.  Like Congress, Save the Tarpon made an impactful statement just before adjourning.  In this case, for a fundraising shindig on Sunday (3 March 2013).

Please friends, allow Beel to summarize several claims made by Save the Tarpon.

Save the Tarpon reports that in  September 2012 PTTS television show host Joe Mercurio told Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioners that PTTS would “voluntarily” replace its gaff, drag, and release tournament format with an alternative format that would be less stressful to the fish.

Reportedly, Mercurio then requested that the commission disregard this this promise.

Save the Tarpon also reports that Mercurio later stated, “I ask that you accept these changes as part of all of our responsibility to ensure the conservation and preservation efforts we have made in the past continue to have a positive impact on the fish and fishery.”

Okay, like a hungry tarpon, Beel will bite.  Which “changes?”  The initial change of format, or the subsequent reversion to the status quo?

Finally, Save the Tarpon reports that Mercurio promised the commission that, “This year, we pledge to provide $15,000 to further support the FWRI’s [Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute] Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study.”

Evidently, the check was lost in the mail as FWRI has not received it as of this date, according to FWRI’s lead tarpon researcher Dr. Kathy Guindon.

Given the nature of the controversy, it is not at all in PTTS’s  favor to be so inconsistent on the record.

Last week Beel commented on this controversy and noted that the PTTS represented, “A Case History of Catastrophically Poor Public Relations.”

Since that report, Beel has learned that Mercurio has a degree in public relations.  Oh well, Beel guesses its all about grade inflation.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive.”
Sir Walter Scott (1808)

Disclaimer:  Beel actually looked into attending the shindig to speak with Save the Tarpon principles to learn more about this controversy.  However, the 18-hour flight + layover (each way) precluded such a trip.

The jig’s up: Local captain reveals his PTTS tarpon snagging tricks of the trade

The following article, written by former Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) participant (and winner), Capt. Andy Boyette, is being republished in its original form with permission.  Obviously, we are not posting this article to help instruct anglers on how to jig fish, rather, to help educate the general public on exactly what jig fishing for tarpon is.  We felt this was important follow-up to the new “Battle in Boca Grande” article published in the Winter 2013 issue of Guy Harvey Magazine and welcome your input in the comments section following his article.

Capt. Andy Boyette is an accomplished tarpon angler and full-time fishing guide in the Charlotte Harbor region.  He no longer participates in jig fishing or the PTTS.   When discussing why he left, Capt. Andy answered, “I want no part of a totally disruptive, rude and obnoxious tournament that blocks other anglers five weekends in a row during prime tarpon season.”

How To Jig Tarpon In Boca Grande Pass

Capt. Andy Boyetteby Capt. Andy Boyette/Go Fish Charters

Edit: It has come to my attention that some may think that I am teaching snagging here but YOU should be aware that this IS the method employed in Boca Grande Pass. Although it is known as jigging, my intent is to educate you so that you can decide for yourself what it is. It should also be noted that I NO LONGER DO THIS AND HAVE NOT FOR SOME TIME NOW.

How to catch tarpon using the Boca Grande jigging method:

In order to be successful you must first understand that this method is not really jigging. The term jigging is a EUPHEMISM that the guides and tournament anglers use. Although this term is used to describe it there is no resemblance to actual jigging.

First, I will go over how this method was developed and then evolved, and the controversy that surrounds it. I cannot say for sure that this was actually the beginning, but it is when the method caught on here. Some may have been experimenting with it long before. In the Nineties there were numerous Boca Grande Pass fishing tournaments with lots of money at stake. Some purses promised as much as $100,000, $200,000, and even up to $1,000,000 to a winning team.

These figures do not include any Calcutta money (cash bet on the side to pick the winner). With so much money at stake and the prestige of claiming the win and bragging rights as the best of the best, many of these tournaments were filled with fishing guides. These tournament anglers began searching for a way to win, which typically means a shortcut that manages to stay within the rules. A few of the successful participants later admitted to and confessed to using the jig method.

At this point the tournament scene split into two factions: live bait only and an open tournament that rarely sees any live bait used but is 99.9% jig fishing. There were law suits filed and FWC mortality studies and hook placement studies to determine if indeed a jig caught fish was snagged, since this was the issue that caused the split of the participants and the players of the Boca Grande Pass Tarpon scene that continues to this day.

I know. I have been in this scene as a guide since 1998. I have lived it and seen it and heard it, been there and done that, and still fish here to this day. I have fished for tarpon (to my own knowledge) in just about every way you can fish for them, including for an 8 year period exclusively with the jig fishing method. I choose now to fish with live bait and various artificial lures, plugs, swim baits, etc.; but I no longer use the method known as jig fishing.

Next, I will explain rigging, techniques, tips, and tricks that work and why they work. Keep in mind here that the FWC along with their own researcher determined this to be a legal means to catch tarpon so no one should contact me or bash me, or question my intentions.

When looking across the jig fishing arena in the Pass it becomes evident that there are a lot of anglers struggling to catch as many fish as some of the others. It’s not hard to look across the Pass and see that there are some boats that seem to be hooking up a lot more than others.

If you think that the few fish you caught were good enough, you should know that when I used this method I could achieve as many as 15-20 hookups a day and sometimes many more if I was fishing with clients that had been taught to use this method in previous seasons. I called them my ” I am going to look good today” clients.

With all that said, forget the term “jigging”. As I stated earlier, it is not jigging. Here is a better term and a better description: FLOSSING or LINING. Do some research if you do not recognize the terms. Google the words “FISH FLOSSING” and you’ll find a few forum discussions and videos on the first page. After some research you then need to think about the presentation of the Boca Grande jig.

Here is one FLOSSING video that has some good footage of the presentation. If you need to, turn your monitor sideways and you will see his hook looks similar to a Boca Grande jig.

When you FLOSS (aka Jig) in Boca Grande it is vertical and the only weight required is attached to the bottom of the hook. The angler is holding the other end of the line to keep the hook straight, and the current and the boat driver will present the bait to a dense school of tarpon balled together. I should interject here that when the fish are not in a dense school in deep water you should put away your jigging rods and get some live bait. It will increase the amount of fish you catch, and that is the objective, after all.

Equipment:

1) Rod should be a medium light to medium power 7 footer with extra fast action. The fast action allows you to be in constant contact with the weight and line and enables you to feel the subtle movements as the tarpon are under your boat.

2) Reel should be 6:1 retrieve. There are a few a bit faster but 6:1 works fine. This allows the line to be retrieved an average of about 4-5 feet for every 1 turn of the reel handle. It should have a long crank arm and speed ball that fits in the palm of the hand for speed, and be capable of holding about 250-300 yards of line. This type of reel with this amount of line gives you the capability of speed reeling your jig through the dense schools of fish.

3) Line should be 40# monofilament. If you can get it, use fluorocarbon. This is because the tarpon are capable of seeing the line, and smaller diameter and/ or fluorocarbon help in concealment. Absolutely do not use braid, not because it hums like many say, but because tarpon see it and move away from your line.

4) Leader should be 80# fluorocarbon no longer than 12 inches for concealment.

5) Octopus circle hooks (offset) 8/0. Not the original style circle hooks but the octopus circles (the ones that look like J hooks with a little bend in the point). This way you cannot be accused of snagging and you will land more tarpon.

5) A Boca Grande Tarpon Jig typically in 4oz weight. If you use non-painted jigs the tarpon cannot see them as well. The better your concealment, the more fish you hook.

How to rig and why:

I will only cover the business end of the rigging since everyone should know to put line on the reel. In order to FLOSS (aka jig) tarpon in Boca Grande Pass you should understand that seldom is a tarpon caught inside the mouth with a tarpon jig. They are mostly all caught on the outside of the mouth in the clipper or the soft tissue of the cheek. I know that many will say that is not true but I caught thousands of tarpon with a tarpon jig and out of the THOUSANDS not more than TEN had the hook inside the mouth.

If there are other guides achieving better results they should take pictures and/ or have their clients verify this. But it really does not matter that it’s hooked on the outside since, as I said earlier, the FWC and their lead researcher determined that this was all legal.

You need to tie a small Bimini twist in the main line. Use the least amount of wraps you can get by with so you have small knots. I used about 15 wraps. My knots were nice and compact, and concealment is important: tarpon see very well. Attach the leader to the Bimini with a uni-to-uni or some other line to line connection, again with as small a knot as possible. Now, and this is critical, the double line of your Bimini where it meets the first knot should only be about 3-4 inches long and the leader should be only 12 inches long. Yes, I said a 3-4 inch long Bimini and 12 inch long leader, and I also said critical.

When you are FLOSSING (aka jigging) tarpon it is about concealment at the hook and above. You need the smallest of knots and the shortest of leaders and 40# line is half the size of the Bimini you just tied and much smaller than the 80# leader. You are about to drop your line down ahead of a dense school of tarpon and drift over them as your line passes by and speed reel your hook a through a stack of tarpon and if you have a long leader the fish see it and separate and are no longer dense under your boat. The great density of fish directly under your boat is the primary requirement of this technique.

How to present the jig:

Presenting the jig is done in tandem by the boat driver and the angler holding the rod. First the boat must be positioned stern into the current so that you can constantly reverse into the current allowing the boat and fishing line to drift at the same speed through the dense schools of tarpon in 40-80 feet of water. In other words, your line must be straight below the tip of the rod, at a near perfect 90 degree angle with the water’s surface, and must be kept that way for the entire drift. There is no exception to this so count it as a rule.

The line cannot be paid out or angled at all. It must be straight down under the rod tip. The rod must be held perfectly still and the jig should be dropped to the very bottom and fished within inches of the bottom. This places the lead just above the bottom hook facing up ready to be retrieved. Once you feel subtle movement like the fish bumping into the line you reel your 6:1, speed handle equipped (4-5 feet retrieved per revolution of the handle) reel as fast as you can.

This is done to drag the line over the fish, and if everything lines up you will hook a tarpon in the side of the cheek or the clipper. If you miss the first one your jig passes, there will be another above, since you should now be hovering above a dense school of tarpon. After all, you are retrieving at 4-5 feet per handle turn as fast as you can. Most of the time it takes 3 to 5 (sometimes more) turns of the handle to hook the fish. If one had actually bit the jig at the bottom it would not have required much more than 1 turn with that much retrieve, since you’re directly above the fish with no slack in your line, and since the hook is heavily weighted, there is little stretch in the line.

There are those who say it is impossible to snag fish with a circle hook. Here is a little test you can do. Set up the jig just as described, on a 4 foot piece of line, said circle hook attached to a 4oz. jig, bend over and put the line across your neck. With the jig now hanging over your neck, take the end of the line that does not have the jig attached to it and pull the jig and hook over your neck. It WILL hook you so be careful.

You might also simulate how the pass works by hanging about 150 tarpon jigs (which would equal a slow day in the pass) from a tree in your yard and then walk through the jigs hanging from the tree. Be careful here too. If you do it fast you might even jump when you get hooked. Most people think circle hooks do not snag. That is incorrect. Circle hooks hook a fish and lessen the chance of gut hooking.

Circle hooks were designed for long line commercial fishermen who put out miles of unattended lines where a fish would bite the bait, swim away and become hooked by snagging themselves. That is how they work. Here is a video which shows how circle hooks can and do snag fish outside the mouth. Notice there is no bait on the hook; it is pulled into the side of the fish’s face. Colorado is the only state I know that made it legal. Google Moffitt Angling System (out of business and ruled to be snagging or foul hooking almost everywhere). Most states say hooking outside the mouth is foul hooking.

Circle hooks hang on the clipper of a Tarpon.

Here are a few tips and tricks that are used in the Pass. The circle hook can be offset more with your pliers making it much more successful. The lead should be unpainted for concealment. When it’s just gray it is more like a shadow. The tails should be narrow and skinny, not the shad style. I used the Cocahoe Minnow from H and H lures. If the water is clear and you are not hooking tarpon, they are seeing your line or your lure. Try biting your tails in half to make them smaller.

After dropping your jig to the bottom you must hold your rod tip pointed at the water and not move it or you will not feel the subtle movements on the line. If the fish are spread out in the pass and not balled up into schools they are difficult to hook because there are fewer chances to FLOSS (aka Jig) one under these conditions. You get fewer chances as you quickly retrieve your jig when there are only a few fish under your boat.

First thing in the morning is the best time because they can’t see the line. If you reel on the first bump you will hook the fish outside in on the clipper, but if you wait and do not reel until the second bump, the line will loop around the tarpon and hook on the opposite side and hook the clipper inside out. Fishing and FLOSSING/LINING (aka jigging) are two different things and if you understand this, you can be better at using the Boca Grande jig.

Remember, the FWC and their leading researcher made this legal, so if you have a problem with this you should contact them, not me. Here is link to the data.

They even call it foul-hooking on their website.

Capt. Andy Boyette
1-888-880-0006
www.gofishcharters.com