These PTTS anglers demanded answers – so we decided to help them out

Craig Abbott is vice president of the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association, a group formed with the backing of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and largely comprised of PTTS participants. Abbott is a vocal opponent of measures proposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aimed at helping to grow Boca Grande’s iconic tarpon fishery.

As you will see, Abbott posed a number of question’s on his PTTS-backed group’s Facebook page. He was joined by fellow PTTS angler Nathan Stewart. Abbott and Stewart both seem a bit confused. So we sent their questions off to Capt. Andy Boyette. If there’s anyone who can set them straight on the bottom-weighted jig, it’s Boyette.

Boyette is a full-time Southwest Florida guide who has spent the past 33 years fishing for tarpon in and around Boca Grande Pass.  Like Abbott and Stewart, he fished the PTTS.   In 2009 he quit the tournament and renounced the bottom-weighted jig method of fishing.  Boyette is not a member or supporter of Save the Tarpon.  He has been outspoken in his opposition to the bottom weighted jig, as evidenced by this interview  that appeared in WaterLine Magazine in April, 2012.

Here are Abbott and Stewart’s Facebook questions. They are accompanied by Boyette’s responses.

Q – Craig Abbott: I would like someone to explain why we drift for hours on end with no snags and when the bite turns on we get hook up.  When someone answers that question and says we are flossing the fish because they are active will then need to explain why we don’t floss them if we fish the bait 10 foot off the bottom of the middle of the school.

Craig Abbott Ptts Captain

A – Capt. Andy Boyette: When fish are being flossed it’s because the fish are turning circles and changing directions. When the fish are just holding in a straight line in the current and not changing directions they can’t be flossed. Those tarpon actually ball up on the bottom of the Pass and do a daisy chain.

You can see it on a side finder machine. Flossing was just a term that I used it is also called lining or lifting.  The reason they fish on the bottom is so they can lift that hook from underneath the tarpon.In Michigan in the lakes they floss the salmon suspended in deep water. They refer to it as lifting and the hook is positioned underneath the fish.Flossing, lining, lifting, snagging, and snatching are synonyms with Boca Grande Pass jigging.

Q – Nathan Stuart: Nobody has still answered my question that opposes jig fishing.  How can 200 of the best tarpon fishing guys in florida mark thousands of fish be on top of them and nobody jooks up for a hour? Then like a light switch, boom, 20 boats hook up? ITS CALLED A BIGHT. Nathan Stuart

A – Capt. Andy Boyette:  Although it was a typo, he is correct. From Wikipedia: In knot tying, a bight is a curved section or slack part between the two ends of a rope, string, or yarn.  “Any section of line that is bent into a U-shape is a bight.” An open loop is a curve in a rope narrower than a bight but with separated ends.

Very interesting misuse of words.  When the fish are turning on a slack tide the so called ‘bite’ gets on when the fish are moving and the current conditions are right, as everyone has witnessed. There are eddies in the Pass that can cause a bight in your line that loops around the tarpon and allows for the line to run over the sides. Only a theory, but it got me thinking.

Most people do not understand that the tide flips to out-going on the bottom before it does on the top.  It swings around the compass, which allows for your line and hook to make contact with the fish.

Jig fishing is basic geometry.  The best understand it, the others all follow.

The bite gets on when the fish change sides in the Pass from either North to South, or East to West. Watch some video of the fishing and you will notice the bite is on when the fleet is moving mostly Boca Grande to Cayo Costa, not harbor to Gulf.  This allows the line to slide against the side of the tarpon, which in turn catches on the clipper.

Sometimes the sharks move them from ledge to ledge and the bite gets on.

But for sure when they just hold in place, it is almost impossible to hook fish with the BGP jig.  Last season it was a very bad year for the jig.  The tarpon stayed for long periods of time in the deep hole at the demarcation line.  They spent hours drifting all spread out with few hook-ups.  When the fleet is tight, the tarpon are tight and move side to side.  The bite is on.

When I jig fished I always swung to the outside of the fleet ahead of their direction so the fish would push through my lines. The jig fishermen have learned to swing out in front of a hooked fish.  The best jig fishermen swing to the outside, or mark a daisy chain on the bottom.

The Culture of “Jig” Fishing in Boca Grande Pass from Save the Tarpon on Vimeo.

Former PTTS captain: How the jig really works … and why

The following is an email exchange between former PTTS participant  Capt. Andy Boyette and WaterLine publisher Josh Olive.

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Tarpon questions for WaterLine
From: WaterLine Weekly Magazine
Date: Thu, April 05, 2012 4:40 pm
To: info@tarponcharters.com

Josh Olive: How long have you been fishing for tarpon in Southwest Florida?

Capt. Boyette: I am a 47 year old generational Florida native and fished the Southwest Coast, specifically Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor, from Englewood south to Marco Island my entire life. I caught my first tarpon at the age of 15.

Josh Olive: In that time, what has changed about the tarpon fishery?

Capt. Boyette: A new aggressive behavior throughout the entire area not just in the pass where fisherman rush the fish to try and catch them.

Josh Olive: How long have you been a tarpon guide (if applicable)? How important are tarpon to your livelihood?

Capt. Boyette: I have been guiding since 1998. I fish year round, and tarpon are an important part of my business since I dedicate 4-5 months exclusively to tarpon and fish everyday day during April-June peak season day light to dark with doubles at near 100% booking capacity for the last 8-9 years. However I fish many other species and can not survive as a guide on the tarpon fishery alone so, I target many species and seasons to round out and balance my year and client base, about 90% of my clients are non resident anglers who I specifically market too bringing them in to the area, I have a very limited local client base

Josh Olive: No one disputes that tarpon are fantastic gamefish. What is single biggest factor that makes them such a highly regarded opponent?

Capt. Boyette: The shear stamina and will to escape once you have them on the hook

Josh Olive: Where do you fish for tarpon (the Pass, the Harbor, the beach, etc.)? Why?

Capt. Boyette:I fish for tarpon in the pass, the harbor, the beach, and offshore where ever I can find them because I like to hunt hunt big game, so just going to the same place every day doing the same thing requires less skill and I like to challenge myself by finding tarpon and figuring out how to catch them.

Josh Olive: Do you prefer to use live bait or artificial lures for tarpon? Why?

Capt. Boyette: In the early season the pre spawn tarpon are gorging on oily baits and protein filed crab so I use live bait like fresh thread-fin hearing, blue and calico crabs, after the spawn in late summer and early fall when the tarpon are post spawn I switch to various swim baits and hard plastic plugs. I no longer jig fish after 10 years of doing so and have dramatically increased my landing percentages and my repeat clientele

Josh Olive: We all want to have tarpon here in Southwest Florida forever. Do you think current regulations and angler attitudes will allow that to be the case? If not, what do you think needs to change?

Capt. Boyette: The current regulation of the use of a kill tag is now obsolete and is flawed since the FWC now uses a DNA sample for research a Kill tag is no longer needed. As to the current aggression and attitude all animals learn behavior and adjust their behavior based on surroundings and outside influence. As with all intelligence whether highly evolved or less evolved it will always seek out the path of least resistance, in other words when the fish get too pressured in one area they will move to another. Not sure you could ever correct that.

Josh Olive: Are you in favor of tarpon tournaments? Why or why not?

Capt. Boyette: I am not in favor of any tournaments at this time in my career because of the damage caused by the weigh-in and the mentality of many to prove at all cost that they are better than anyone else in or not in the tournament. As to tarpon tournaments in particular I participated in the now largest Tarpon tournament from its beginning until 2009 and witnessed first hand how that lead to aggression that use to be only on tournament day that now stretches well through the week.

Also the weighing of the tarpon and the handling by some is leading to a higher mortality rate for the tournament. Its very difficult to prove since the sharks clean up most of the mess. But I will tell you specifically that I complained to the tournament director that we where killing a lot of tarpon because I seen dead floating tarpon every Monday after the tournament and they were all 150+ pound tarpon, never smaller, with gaff holes in their mouths.

In 2008 I won the last tournament of the series with a fish that my team and I hooked, fought and caught in less than 20 minutes never more than 200 yards from the weigh boat, I found that fish dead on Monday morning, I knew it was my fish, because when we went to gaff the tarpon it jumped and the tip of the gaff scraped the side of the fish and made a very distinct mark on it its side.

That fish can be seen on my website tarponcharters.com and if you look at that fish I won that tournament by weighing a tarpon that was so full of row that she was about to pop. It made me think about finding that fish that way. I would add also that because the tournaments are held every weekend in Boca Grande Pass Only, both Saturday and Sunday, anyone looking to just go recreational fishing who works the regular 8-5 M-F work week has to contend with an aggressive tournament the entire season, and I don’t care what anyone says its not fun when you are not in that tournament to have to be fishing in the middle of it.

Put yourself in the shoes of the guy who wants drive down on Saturday from inland Florida to have a relaxing day hanging around Boca Pass with his kids. It might not be bad except that for the majority of the season he can’t. I know. I was once one of those aggressors and now I am just the guide who tries to fish in there without a jig and not in the tournament

Josh Olive: Do you have any other comments about tarpon fishing that you would like to make?

Capt. Boyette: If I had to make one comment about tarpon It would be simple I have a 3 children, 2 adult one 9 year old as well as 2 grand children, who refer to me as Cappy. All like to fish and know what I do for a living and when the take their children fishing and I am dead and gone I hope that they will be able to go and catch tarpon like I did, and if there are non to catch I hope its not anything I did wrong.

Josh Olive: Have you ever fished with tarpon jigs in Boca Grande Pass or elsewhere? (if elsewhere, please specify)

Capt. Boyette: I fished with a jig when I first became a guide in 1998 until 2009, it was easy and productive but mainly because everyone else did. But the real problem with jig fishing is not the snagging issue, the problem is it is the only form of fishing I know of that forces you to participate because its near impossible to fish successfully any other way when the jig boats are doing what they do.

That style requires you to participate for success. An interesting fact = hardly anyone fishes with live bait in Boca Grande Pass when the jig fishing fleet is in there, but in the afternoon when the tide is outgoing and the jig does not work well, there are plenty of (jig) guides and fishermen fishing with live bait on the drift and not jigging.

The Culture of “Jig” Fishing in Boca Grande Pass from Save the Tarpon on Vimeo.

Josh Olive: Do you currently fish with tarpon jigs?

Capt. Boyette: No, But I did. I also helped develop a fish head style jig as replacement to the round ball once I understood how it worked. The round ball would move in the current to much so the one I helped design was made aerodynamic so it would track straight. It is similar to an arrow head and its stays on target better than a round ball. In order to hook a tarpon with a jig everything has to line up correctly, its like trying to thread a needle you have to hit the exact spot to attach the line.

Josh Olive: If you are a current or former tarpon jig fisherman, do you believe that tarpon are snagged, or are they hooked while attempting to eat the jig? What experiences or evidence has led you to this conclusion?

Capt. Boyette: As to the snagging issue its not snagging its a form of foul hooking. The tarpon swim into the line and the line is retrieved quickly while hovering over the school and the hook catches on the outside of the mouth in a part referred to as the clipper. For anyone who is familiar with the Alaskan spawning salmon fishery or any other salmon fishery its the same principle.

When I was 24 years old I went Alaska and snagged salmon with a weighted hook cast up river ahead of the salmon swimming up the current when you feel the salmon bumping into the line you reeled back quickly and the hook would sang the fish.

At that time its was legal. Today its illegal to intentionally sang salmon in Alaska so the guides take the same weighted hook and add a salmon egg and use the same method as before. But now they are required to release any fish caught anywhere but in the face, does not have to be in the mouth but in and around the mouth is close enough. And since you put the salmon egg on for bait the fish must have went after it since the State of Alaska decided that anything in and around the mouth is legal and if you put the bait on you give the appearance that you are not intentionally snagging the salmon.

Sound familiar? In Boca Grande Pass you cast down (dropping your weighted hook past the school) and back troll your boat to keep the boat at the same speed as the current so the line is kept straight up in down perpendicular to the tarpon hovering over the school (in basic geometry perpendicular means meeting a given line or surface at right angles).

With the jig under the school and when you feel the fish bumping your line you reel up and if the angles are right your hook slides up and behind the clipper and gets hung. It appears that he must have went after the bait, since – like the salmon egg in the aforementioned salmon scenario – when tarpon fishing you have a lead head and a plastic body attached to a hook.

Couple of interesting points should be made here since tarpon jump. One that has the hook caught in the side of the body’s soft tissue will come off, making it all but impossible to land a snagged tarpon. But when it runs into the line and foul hooks itself in the clipper, it can be landed.

I should also point out that if you do not fish with the jig hovering over the school and retrieve the line when you feel them bumping into it, it does not work.  In other words you can’t go out and free drift a jig with the line played out behind the boat.  If you could then a former jig fisherman like myself would have never bought a blue crab to fish on hill tide, I would have just drifted by with my jig hanging out the back and caught fish like I do with a crab.

And if that’s not true its easy enough to prove. You take the tarpon tournament and require them to distance themselves and to fish in free drift and see how many fish they catch. Another interesting fact anyone disputing should look at: The jig they are using – and if its the one I helped design and still have one of the molds collecting dust in my shop – they should re-read my statement on how it works.

I helped design this jig to track straight in the water to help hit the target better than the original round lead ball. One more quick note: Use a jig head with no plastic tail attached or better yet zip tie a spark plug to the bottom of a hook and paint it camouflage or by its more common name fire tiger or paint it black for concealment and see if you can catch a tarpon in the clipper using the jigging method, or any other way you can think to weight the hook from the bottom.

I would also add that this method does not work anywhere else. I have tried many times to catch a tarpon with a jig outside of the Pass. It does not work. If it did, the harbor and the beach would be full of jig fisherman when the fish leave the Pass and there would be no need to throw that heavy 12 foot extra weighted cast net to catch a tarpon’s favorite food or spend time dipping up all the crabs on the crab flush.

Josh Olive: Do you think jig fishing is an ethical practice, and do you think it should remain legal?

Capt. Boyette: I can say this to the ethics of jig fishing. If I paid to fish at the Barrier Reef and caught a Grander Marlin and it was foul hooked, I would have a hard time enjoying my trophy. As far as the legality, it is a rude form of fishing that requires everyone to participate so if you want to grouper fish the ledge in Boca Pass or catch snapper on the ledge or on the Pan and its jig fishing season you can’t. The boats will swarm you if the tarpon come near your boat so for that fact alone the FWC should look to some form of control. Not everyone coming to the Pass in May and June are looking to catch a tarpon and if it can’t be controlled to allow others the freedom to fish in peace, then its no different than disorderly conduct and that is already illegal.

Josh Olive: Do you have any other comments about tarpon jigs that you would like to make?

Capt. Boyette: If you use the jig, you should really study how it works, and why.