Take a quick moment to compare these two short excerpts pulled from the current and past “rules” found on the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series website. First this:
From the 2013 PTTS rules: “Hooks: Only single ‘Circle’ hook rigs are permissible.”
From the 2014 PTTS rules: “Hooks: Only single ‘Circle’ hooks are permissible for use when fishing with live and or natural baits.”
Can you spot the difference? (Hint: We italicized and underlined the language that was quietly added to the tournament’s 2014 rules when the PTTS rule writers reckoned nobody was looking.) It’s circle hooks only for “live or natural baits.” For the unnatural “baits” favored by the PTTS jig bombers, it’s anything goes. And in 2014, with the bottom-weighted jig now a memory (sort of), that “anything” includes the once-reviled “J” hook.
So what happened? Why the change? We know, of couse. So do you. And, obviously, so does the PTTS. Between the 2013 edition of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and its 2014 season, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met in Pensacola and unanimously voted to do this:
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune called it the “Boca Grande Jig.” The FWC called it something else: A device that is, and always had been “since the tournament’s inception” nine years earlier, designed and enthusiastically used by PTTS “competitors” to foul-hook or “snag” or “snatch” or “floss” tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. In other words, “illegal.”
The PTTS, according to the FWC, had spent those nine “organized chaos” years breaking existing laws prohibiting anglers from foul-hooking tarpon. Although the PTTS basic cable TV show existed only because the so-called Boca Grande ” jig” existed, tournament host Joe Mercurio didn’t appear to be the least bit concerned by the FWC decision when interviewed by his hometown paper.
This was plainly evidenced by the unrepentant and prophetic response he gave the Herald-Trib reporter:
“We’ll find a way – we’ve already found a way?” Just one problem. The redesigned “new baits that we can use” didn’t seem to work very well. Not like the old snatch hook jig. And certainly not as Mercurio’s “adapter” anglers had hoped. Further, it was discovered all those “new baits that we can use” didn’t work at all when they were lashed to a circle hook. Because, as Mercurio had explained two years earlier: But true to his “we’ll find a way” promise, Mercurio, tournament owner Gary Ingman and the PTTS gang “found a way.” It was easy. All they needed to do was change the rules. Quietly.
With their bottom-weighted gear (required to change the circle hook’s angle of attack) now illegal, the “adapters” discovered their beloved circle hook was useless when mounted on one of the jig wranglers’ “new baits.” Take away the bottom weight, the adapters told Mercurio, and the damned thing absolutely refused to snag. Mercurio had been right all along. Not without a half pound of lead weight dangling underneath it to point the hook at the fish. But, the “adapters” told the PTTS, the “new baits” sort of worked with a “J” hook. Same mechanics. Drop the rig to the bottom, reel up twice, wait for a tarpon to bump the line above, and let ‘er rip. Gills, anus, eyeballs – didn’t matter. Not when you’re making TV.
Although not nearly as good as a circle hook, a “J” hook gave their promised “new baits” a fighting chance, they said. Which, of course, was more than the jig bombers ever gave the tarpon. Without the “J” hook, they told Mercurio and Ingman, they could forget about filling the big screen with bent rod and dead tarpon shots. But this left Mercurio with a problem. And an awkward electronic paper trail.
“The PTTS remains one of the only inshore fishing tournaments that require the use of circle hooks, which have been found to greatly reduce the catch and release mortality on Tarpon.”
The author of this one, dated Feb 19, 2010, is identified as one Joe Mercurio, Professional Tarpon Tournament Series host and vice-president. It appeared on his short-lived “For the Record” blog, which he later read nearly word-for-word when he stood before the FWC in Tampa to defend his tournament and its style of fishing.
He further demanded the commissioners stop all this jig snagging nonsense and go after the real threat. The “J” hook. The same “J” hook his jig bomber “adapters” were now telling him was their only hope in hell of catching, or capturing, a Boca Grande tarpon on camera. Oops.
Then, of course, there was the little problem known as Mark Maus, Craig Abbott and the PTTS mail drop front group with the catchy title “Florida Tarpon Anglers Association.”
Which, while all this “adapting” and “way-finding” was going nowhere, had gone on its Facebook page, the only tangible evidence of its existence, to echo the Mercurio “J” hook party line. Or, more accurately, what had once been the Mercurio “J” hook party line. Apparently Maus, Abbott and the FTA didn’t get the memo. They wrote:
Naturally, when the new PTTS rules – the rules that now covertly blessed the once-killer “J” hook – were quietly published to the PTTS website, Maus and Abbott and their mail drop non-profit could barely contain their outrage.
As promised, they stood tall for their members. They dropped the “J” hook hammer on Mercurio, Ingman and the PTTS. They ruthlessly, courageously and deservedly let ’em have it with:
The PTTS has yet to acknowledge it’s allowing “J” hooks to be attached to the “new baits” being used by its “adapters” under the “adapted” 2014 rules. The same “J” hook the PTTS campaigned to have tossed from the Pass. Just as the FWC did to them and their bottom-weighted, circle-hooked jigs in September.
It was, they figured payback time. Instead, the PTTS discovered karma really is what they say karma really is.
This year, with all their major sponsors now gone, perhaps the PTTS might wish to consider a new promotional approach. Something far more appropriate than a few crappy boats and cheap watches. It’s called “product placement.”