FWC changes tarpon rules

Sun Pix

This tarpon was caught using a Boca Grande Pass jig. The jig has become the focus of a major debate in the fishing community.

This article was originally published in the June 13, 2013 edition of the Englewood Sun.


LAKELAND — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 to move forward with new rules that would change the definition of snagging as it relates to tarpon and would limit a specific type of fishing gear in Boca Grande Pass.

Wednesday morning’s draft rule hearing in Lakeland was attended by an estimated 250 people, most of whom left shortly following the commission’s vote later in the afternoon.

The proposed change to the snagging definition is intended to eliminate fishing methods that hook tarpon without the fish being enticed or attracted to the hook. Most anglers consider snagging or intentional foul-hooking to be unsporting. The gear restriction would prohibit the use of a weight attached to and suspended from the bend of a hook, with the rationale being that such a rig is more likely to snag fish. The rig commonly called the Boca Grande Pass jig fits that description.

About an equal number of people spoke out both in favor of and in opposition to the proposed regulations. Many who wanted the draft rule shot down called for additional scientific studies to prove that tarpon are being snagged.

Gary Ingman, owner of Ingman Marine and a founder of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, was among those speaking to commissioners.

“We need a study once and for all to find a solution,” he said. “Our community is fighting. If you don’t conduct a study, there will still be a rift in our community. Right now there isn’t enough evidence to make a decision. Our community needs your help to settle this rift. We need to increase tourism, and we need your help.”

A study already was done in 2002-2004, looking at both foul-hooking and post-release mortality rates. That study has been under fire because two of the experts quoted — Philip Motta and Justin Grubich — since have said their statements in the study are not correct. However, outgoing FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright didn’t offer much hope that a new study would be forthcoming.

“We do not have to put ourselves to the burden of proving … this device is snagging fish,” he said. “I think we’ve got evidence that is compelling that we need the rule. I have the opinion, and so do two Ph.D.s (Motta and Grubich), that this device is more likely to catch a fish by snagging it than by fish eating it.”

Commissioner Ron Bergeron disagreed.

“I think we need more scientific evidence in order to dictate the gear we can use for tarpon. To me, it’s a big enough issue (to warrant a new study) — it affects the economy, it affects businesspeople.”

One of those who would feel the pain is a small Florida tackle maker.

“I sell these jigs for a living,” said Red Flower, owner of Outlaw Jigs. “These jigs give me 40 percent of my income, and without them I’ll lose my business.”

But a shortage of money is a big part of the problem for the FWC as well.

“There’s no $250,000 for an additional study,” Wright said. “If we don’t fix this now, we will be putting it on the back burner. It’s been 10 years since we looked at it, and it will be another 10.”

However, as Commissioner Brian Yablonski pointed out, the only change that actually would be required to make the Pass jig compliant with the proposed rule would be moving the hook.

“We’re talking about centimeters and inches,” he said. “Wouldn’t you be able to move the hook if you’re enticing the fish (to bite)? With a small tweak in the gear, I’m thinking we can eliminate a lot of the social conflict here.”

Approval of the draft rule will have no immediate impact on tarpon fishing. Commissioners will investigate such data as they have available to them before their next meeting in September. A final rule will be presented — and voted on — at that time.

“We still have some work to do from now until September,” said commissioner Leisa Preddy. “I have never been involved in something like this. This debate has pitted people against each other who have known each other for decades. It has split friendships. This was an extremely difficult decision, but our number one goal is to protect the resource. Everybody here can agree that we have to protect the tarpon. It’s just that each side has a slight difference of opinion.”

Email: jolive@sun-herald.com
Email: landerson@sun-herald.com

Here’s a link  to the Sun’s e-edition story. As the Sun will be the first to admit, the e-edition format can be a struggle. Accordingly, we’re reproducing the story here.


  1. Lee richardson says

    I’ve been in Charlotte county and boca grande my entire life and have never seen the “tarpon jig” used anywhere else. If the fish are eating the jig why is it not used on the beach or in the holes in the harbor? Also if they are eating the jig what is the problem with the hook being secured like a regular jig?

  2. Capt. Paul DeGaeta says

    Paul DeGaeta Tourism you say? That’s a bit of a reach as a reason for more study. Most jiggers trailer their boat, launch, fish and go home (Study that). I’ve talked to guys at the boat ramps who’ve come from Orlando for a day on the boat jigging, load up and go home – launch fee is all they left here. The traditional tourist aspect of this sport that helped grow SW Florida started during the Golden Age of Tarpon fishing, had people from all over coming here for one reason: Tarpon Fishing. They’d take the train to Punta Gorda (International fishermen could take a steamship from London to NY, and 24 hours from NY to the end of the rail line at Charlotte Harbor), stay there at the Punta Gorda Hotel (1887) to fish, or take a steam launch to Punta Rassa, Pine Island, Ft Myers and eventually Useppa or Gasparilla Island (Add Ft Myers as a hub after the rail line extended there in 1904). These Tarpon fishermen had extended stays at those hotels, eating, spending money and hiring local guides who had to know a little more than dropping a weighted hook to the bottom. Eventually as Boca Grande Pass became the Tarpon Fishing Capitol of the World, that was replaced with tourists driving or flying into the area, rental cars, flights, restaurants, gear, guide boat dockage and maintenance all drove the local economy; and most of the money stayed local. Corporations would bring dozens of employes, that would stay at the Gasparilla Inn, the Inlet and other area hotels and fish two tides a day for a week or more.

  3. Kathleen Campbell says

    I despise fishing with the “jiggers”. My family first started living on Boca Grande in the 1930’s. My uncle was a guide there up until about 7 years ago. Jigger’s sit on top of the school of tarpon and snag the fish. They keep the guides, that live in the area and on the island from fishing, affecting their businesses/income. My guide can’t fish me when the “jiggers” show up because you can’t make a drift in the pass. Drifting and pass behavior has been going on for decades. The “jiggers” are rude and do not respect others or the tarpon. If their procedures are allowed to continue, the tarpon will be depleted and fishing for those of us that have been on Boca Grande before there was even bridge access to the island will be over.

  4. says

    My take on the Boca Grande FWC Tarpon Meeting.
    I watched the proceeding today on the internet. Here’s my take.
    1) There are fewer tarpon. Both sides agree.
    2) The boating ethics in the pass are horrible. Both sides agree.
    3) Captains that were once friends are now enemies. Sad.
    4) The fish come in numbers to spawn and are harrassed, stressed, to the point of reduced spawn. Both sides agree.
    5) The boat numbers are unacceptable. Agreed.
    Now what? The jig seems to be just a small part of the problem??

  5. Robert LaValley says

    I guess that if it’s okay to snag Tarpon then it must be okay to snag Snook, Triple Tale, Red Drum, and Lobsters, and the list goes on. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander

  6. John Joiner says

    It seems to me that any wise man would have come to the conclusion that these jig rigs are not meant to lure the fish to eat it. Fishermen on all sides know this but money and greed are the only elements that influence an argument for it continuing. Hard for a man to do what is right even at his own hurt but that is mark of great character. Treat the Tarpon like the Snook….use live bait or lures, real jigs etc. There is really no need for a study that cost so much money when we all know what is right. Self governing in what is right and best for the Tarpon and the future of the sport is all that is needed. This is no different than what guides us to put limits on harvest to sustain a species. Long term solutions rather than short term gain. Do the right thing people and give hope and an example to all watching that people are inherently good and the temptation to do wrong can be resisted whether someone is watching ready to applying laws or penalties or not. Just because you can get away with an action does not make it ethical or morally right.

  7. danny curtis says

    I have travelled from England to Florida to fish on a number of occasions and have been lucky enough to catch 5 tarpon. This is a majestic fish and anyone foul-hooking them is a disgrace to angling. Having seen our fish stocks all but exterminated by commercial over fishing, all I can say is please look after what you have got. Keep going with the increase of catch and release and strict seasons and quotas. That way you will continue to have a leisure fishing industry that is the envy certainly of everyone in England and Europe and large areas of the world.

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