This article was originally published in the Sunday, April 13, 2014 edition of the Miami Herald.
By Sue Cocking
When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided last year to ban the use of a popular type of fishing tackle for pursuing tarpon in Southwest Florida’s Boca Grande Pass, many thought that would be the end of the zany reality show/fishing contest known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.
The FWC decided that the “Boca Grande jig” — where the weighted part of the lure hangs below a circle hook — effectively snagged tarpon in the face and body instead of enticing them to strike, and outlawed its use in the Pass. The decision was hailed by a grassroots organization called Save the Tarpon, which had waged boisterous on-water protests and a tireless social-media campaign against the PTTS. Several South Florida guides got involved because many tarpon caught and released in Southwest Florida are recaptured later in Southeast Florida and the Keys.
The tournament reacted by filing suit in Charlotte County Circuit Court against Save the Tarpon, accusing the group of defamation and costing the televised contest some major sponsors. The suit is pending.
Meanwhile, the PTTS is embarking on its 11th year, albeit with fewer sponsors and participants, planning to conduct three men’s and three women’s tournaments beginning May 17 and culminating with the season-ending Tarpon Cup, where a boat, motor and trailer will be awarded to the top overall team. The series will be broadcast later on the World Fishing Network.
“Since the inception of the tournament, there has been a faction of folks against what we are doing,” PTTS founder Joe Mercurio said. “We’re not going to let the decision the FWC made daunt us at all. Our anglers are ready to go out and follow the letter of the law and compete.”
Two of the top competitors vowed to do just that, declaring they don’t need the Boca Grande jig to catch and release big tarpon.
Veteran Tampa fishing guide captain Dave Markett of Team Power Pole, which finished third last season, said he used a “slider” jig most of the time, which allows the weight to slide up and down the line above the hook. He said he also caught and released fish using live bait, such as squirrelfish and crabs, and had success with soft plastic jerkbaits.
“There are no shortcuts to success,” Markett said. “Every captain thinks he has an idea and he thinks it will work.”
Jill Sapp, who fishes on Fins & Tails with her guide/husband captain Troy Sapp, said their team has always fished a combination of lures and live bait.
“We’ve fished all of it,” she said. “The guys that have been doing this a long time, this isn’t their first rodeo. The newer people to it, maybe they won’t hook as many. It is what it is.”
Save the Tarpon members plan to monitor the pass on tournament days with video cameras to see if PTTS competitors are following the law, according to the group’s chairman, Boca Grande captain Tom McLaughlin.
“The part of the jig law that’s important is that the fish pursue the gear and not the gear pursue the fish,” McLaughlin said. “It’s all about preserving sport fishing in Boca Grande Pass. It’s a historical fishery and it should be protected.”