Matt Selby is one of those down-to-earth kind of guys who, like the rest of us, enjoys fishing. On May 9, Matt made the drive to Boca Grande from Pinellas County where you can often find him on the water casting and jigging a variety of legal artificials.
Matt lawfully fishes his collection of time-tested jigs just as they were meant to be fished. As generations of anglers before him have done. And, in his local waters, they work. “They catch me small tarpon back home all the time,” he says.
Matt’s also one of many anglers who have taken the time to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s enforcement division through its “Wildlife Alert Line” this season. Like them, Matt wasn’t happy with what he saw happening around him in Boca Grande Pass that day. Or what he would later be told.
“I really don’t know what to call the kind of fishing I saw being done in the Pass that day,” he said. “It really upset me to watch these guys snag five to seven fish in a three hour span on multiple boats.”
Matt’s story is, of course, a snapshot, an important snapshot. One taken from the perspective of a true sportsman. It’s a picture we’ve seen so many times that maybe it takes a fresh set of eyes to serve up a jolting reminder of the direction this storied fishery was, and still could be, headed.
Perhaps it’s also a snapshot of how the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World” is being viewed by that world – more than two decades after the bottom weighted snag hook arrived in Boca Grande Pass.
Matt says the old reliable “back home” lures he was casting in the Pass weren’t catching anything that day. The fish, he says, weren’t feeding. It happens. And as any sportsman will tell you, it’s frustrating. Matt tried everything he’d learned over the years. Didn’t matter. Not even an angler with his knowledge and experience could entice those tarpon to bite.
Matt looked around. He saw he wasn’t the only angler struggling that day. But he wasn’t expecting what was about to happen, he says. “One guide was next to me,” Matt clearly recalls. “One of his clients started complaining about not catching a single fish in two hours.”
Matt heard it. Matt saw it. Here’s what Matt later told the FWC:
“He (the guide) looked around. He pulled out a pole from somewhere underneath, under the side. The pole was rigged with the exact snatch jig that was just banned.”
Matt knew the FWC had outlawed the bottom weighted “Pass jig” late last year. And this one was hard to miss. A weighted head attached to a bright green plastic tail. Along with what Matt described as a “a giant hook.” Just like in the photos he’d seen online. Except now he was seeing one up close and personal.
As he later told the FWC, he watched from just feet away as the “old jig,” the one outlawed by the FWC, was fired to the bottom of the Pass.
The fish still weren’t biting, but Matt knew it didn’t matter. “Guess what?” As Matt told the FWC, there was no guesswork required.
Under the current gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass, a bottom weighted hook such as this, is illegal.
“They snagged one on the next drift. And they wound up with seven total on the day. I know for sure he was fishing the illegal one on that drift.”
But that’s not all he told the FWC when he made that call to the “Wildlife Alert Line.” And it was far from the end of the story. Matt also told the FWC about “the funny thing” that happened later that day when he encountered the same guide he’d seen in the Pass a few hours earlier.
Both fished artificials. So, Matt reckoned, the guide likely figured he was talking one brother to another. He wasn’t. Not even close. Here’s how Matt describes it:
“He unknowingly admitted to me he snags the tarpon,” Matt told the FWC. “I said to him that I didn’t even get a bite with what I was using.” Matt said he asked the guide, the one who suddenly landed all those tarpon, “what’s your secret?” Matt said he already knew. There was nothing “secret” about it.
The guide’s advice: “Use clear line that they can’t see, drop the jig to the bottom with the line completely straight up and down, then when you feel a Tarpon bump into your line reel up fast and that sets the hook.” And that’s how Matt described their little chat when he called the FWC.
“That sure sounds like snagging to me.”
Matt had more than a story to relate to the FWC during that phone call. He also had a name to go with that face. And all that “secret” boat ramp advice that name and face had shared.
The face wasn’t hard to find. It was, he said, impossible to miss. Matt quickly discovered he’d been keeping company that day with a cable TV star. A high-profile Professional Tarpon Tournament Series captain whose name and face were all over the Internet. Along with his Team Power Pole PTTS wrap boat.
No, you won’t go blind looking for Capt. Dave Markett. And Matt didn’t have to bother spelling the name for the voice on the phone.
“They told me that have received several tips about these PTTS boats in the Pass, and that they will make especially sure to keep an eye on Markett’s boat,” Matt was told.
Matt, of course, didn’t go looking for lawbreakers on his first trip to the Pass that day. He went looking for tarpon. And he never imagined he’d find himself making a call to the FWC. He also found he wasn’t alone.
He said he was surprised to learn the FWC knew all about what was happening in Boca Grande. So did we. And, naturally, we followed up.
The photos that accompany this story were the result of Matt’s FWC call and others like it. Old habits die hard. And when the fish aren’t biting and the charter clients aren’t happy … some folks will tell you a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
But, as the photos taken a day or so later confirm, the man seemingly couldn’t stop doing what a man’s gotta do. It’s not just the FWC doing the watching. We’re also out there, of course. Just like Matt. There are lots of Matts out there in the Pass.
It’s something one guide has already learned. The hard way. A second degree misdemeanor hard way. Plus, if convicted, a criminal record, a possible $500 fine and, depending on the mood of the judge, up to six months in jail. We can probably toss in three very ticked off charter clients. Let’s also not forget the 100,000 or so social media and website hits. Consider them a bonus.
Who’s really in that boat a few feet away? There’s an easy way to find out. Drop an “old jig” into the Pass. Or a “new jig” that, as FWC law enforcement has clearly stated, is just a quick wrist flick away from becoming the same “old jig” their bosses banned by a 7-0 vote late last year.
So go ahead. It’s like they say. You’ll never know until you try. It’s not like anyone’s watching. Right?
But if you are, the number for the FWC’s “Wildlife Alert Line” is 888-404-3922. You can choose to remain anonymous. The FWC offers rewards for information leading to a prosecution and conviction. Save the Tarpon is also chipping in more than $1,000 on top of the FWC reward.
And, if you’re wondering, Matt has declined any reward resulting from his call to the FWC. He said seeing the new rules aggressively enforced is all the reward he needs.