A talk with Capt. Tom McLaughlin

This article was originally published in the May 23, 2013 issue of WaterLine Magazine.

By Josh Olive
Waterline Publisher

The Miller Lite Professional Tarpon Tournament Series season opener this past Sunday was protested by a locally based group called Save the Tarpon. I recently talked with Capt. Tom McLaughlin, the chairman of Save the Tarpon, about the protest itself and what the group has planned for the future.

WaterLine: Now that you’ve seen the PTTS’s new measurement system in action, what are your thoughts on what’s being done right and what’s being done wrong?

Capt Tom McLaughlin

Save the Tarpon Chairman, Capt. Tom McLaughlin

Capt. McLaughlin: Fish-handling related issues with the PTTS are not confined solely to the measurement system. There are welldocumented issues with the increased fight times required to bring a tarpon to complete exhaustion (a point at which it can be subdued on a 3-foot leader). Considering that the PTTS takes place in a pre-spawn aggregate area, during the peak time of pre-spawn activity for North America’s only mass migration of spawning tarpon. It’s about time they go to a catch-and-release format. While the idea of their measuring tools may be great under certain circumstances, they are simply not appropriate for Boca Grande Pass in May and June.

Little if any of the handling-related issues have been addressed by the new format. These changes seem to be more superficial and for political reasons rather than out of real concern for the well-being of the sometimes 50- to 60-year-old fish that bring the PTTS its revenue stream. Fish still had to be restrained using a gaff-like device, fish were still towed for extended periods of time, and handling was still excessive. At one point, a single fish was held for 29 minutes from the time the LipLock was attached until the time the fish was released. This included no more than 3 or 4 minutes of revival. The fish was immediately seen floating back to the surface, where an official PTTS camera boat accelerated hard in reverse while pointing at the fish in an obvious attempt to run the fish over. There was no attempt to retrieve the fish for further revival; rather, efforts were directed at concealing the fish using the vessel’s prop wash.

There were numerous fish that were sighted and photographed struggling, sinking or floating at the surface after being handled. Enough is enough — it’s time to start catch-and-release.

“…the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.”

WL: With so many Save the Tarpon supporters in the local area, why were there not more boats in attendance at the protest? Are there plans to bring in more boats for future protests?

McL: We tallied right around 25 boats for the protest. There were guides from various user groups, local community members, as well as recreational anglers who traveled for more than an hour and a half by boat to attend. We felt this was a sufficient number without being excessive. Our intentions were to disrupt the filming of the TV show and make those we feel are attacking our community as uncomfortable during their tournament as non-PTTS passgoers are. We did not, however, want to interfere with the actual fishing taking place. Based on feedback from FWC and independent onlookers, this goal was accomplished.

Though we have no ultimate control over the actions of those who attend a public protest, we do feel somewhat responsible for their actions. With that in mind, this was what we consider to be a manageable number.

Further, the PTTS, its owners, employees and its participants have publicly attacked, bullied and attempted to humiliate those who choose to speak out against the PTTS for nearly the last decade. This includes not only rival guides but also recreational anglers, community members and concerned citizens. There are many who, while passionate about the cause we are fighting for, simply chose not to subject themselves to the threats and intimidation. We don’t blame them, but it will not deter all of us.

WL: Were the goals of the protest met?

McL: Absolutely. The filming of the PTTS was interrupted. The tournament was uncomfortable at times for participants and employees alike. Our boats operated safely, did not interfere with the fish or actual running of the tournament itself, and we captured a veritable mountain of footage showing many of the fish “weighed” in the tournament showing signs of extensive distress, likely resulting in death. Photos and videos were obtained of numerous fish hooked outside the mouth, not only in the clipper, but also in the septum of the throat (the area between the gills), the gill rakers and near the eye socket. According to official results, all of these fish were counted in the tournament.

Save the Tarpon Protest Boats

Protesters gather prior to the start of the 2013 PTTS opening event.

WL: Ethical objections aside, did STT observe PTTS participants doing anything that appeared to be illegal?

McL: Yes. There was at least one, and possibly two fish that appeared to be in severe distress, dead or dying that were transferred from the possession of participants who caught the fish to a non-participating boat, piloted by a participant of the tournament who was not fishing this day, for the purposes of being dragged away from the prying eyes of onlookers and our cameras. These fish were dragged away from the tournament area at a very high rate of speed. The vessel was approached, at which time they attempted to appear to be reviving the fish. However, this soon escalated to more high-speed circles in order to keep the fish on the side of the vessel where it would be obscured. The fish was eventually shoved under the boat into its prop wash. FWC officers on site agreed that the transfer of this fish was indeed illegal, but because they were not there to witness the actual transfer, they were unable to pursue any enforcement.

WL: To your knowledge, were any STT protesters subjected to harassment by PTTS anglers? By PTTS supporters?

McL: There was little harassment, if any, on the part of the PTTS participants or anglers. While there was some harassment by PTTS employees and contractors, it would be considered fairly minor. There were, however, numerous clear and direct threats of violence by PTTS anglers towards protesters, as well as encouragement by PTTS supporters, anglers, and employees to carry out these threats after the tournament.

WL: The FWC appears poised to rule that the tarpon jig is a snagging device. If that happens and the PTTS is forced to stop using it, will STT’s opposition to the tournament persist? If so, why?

McL: First off, the FWC is not poised to rule a tarpon jig is a snagging device. The best available science indicates that the rigging of any hook with a weight attached directly the beneath the bend or belly of the hook is likely being used to snag fish without a feeding or striking action on the part of the fish. Simply moving the hook to a location that is concurrent not only with laws of numerous other states and countries, but also a position that is found on all other jigs in the industry, is not the same as banning the Boca Grande jig. It is simply modifying the gear restrictions to eliminate the intentional snagging of tarpon through the use of the device the way it is being fished in PTTS events as well as outside the events.

Again, the best available science shows that these fish are not attempting to bite or strike the lure, but are being intentionally snagged. This avenue is the least intrusive to other anglers and has proven to have little, if any, unintended side effects on other fisheries.

The issues with the PTTS and the pack that was created by the tournament run well beyond the snag-hook (jig is in fact a misnomer) that is being used. The domination of the resource, encouragement of chaos for the sake of TV ratings, excessive fish handling, exclusion of other user groups, and the extensive damage done to the public perception of the community and the fishery all will likely take more time to work out.

The PTTS has shown a clear disregard for the destruction they cause, it is likely that elimination of the snag-hook will only serve as a single step in a very long walk to a peaceful and cooperative Pass that can be enjoyed and shared by all.

WL: If the jig is outlawed, do you think that will eventually bring peace back to the Pass?

McL: It will not be a silver bullet. The changes that will need to take place in terms of public perception, instilling respect for other users of the Pass, other anglers and the fish will not be an easy task to take on. It will likely take much more in terms of effort, education, and advocacy — but little in terms of regulation — to return some form of peace to the Pass.

WL: Besides the push to end the PTTS, is STT doing anything else aimed at improving the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery?

McL: We recently agreed to provide both logistical assistance as well as funding for the Rosenstiel School of Marine Biology satellite tagging program at Boca Grande for 2013. This will be the most extensive single satellite tagging effort in the history of tarpon research. Despite mounting legal fees, we feel confident that we will still meet our goal of raising an additional $15,000 to $20,000 for this program.

We are also working on creating a video archive of interviews with some of the area’s longest residents, fishermen, guides and community members. We are working to make these interviews, photos and documents easily accessible via the internet. This will serve as an important educational and outreach tool as well as an avenue to disseminate accurate and historically significant information.

WL: If someone wants to learn more about STT or become a supporter, what should they do?

McL: Please take the time to visit SavetheTarpon.com. You can read our mission statement and access articles, videos and photos.

To continue reading, please visit: http://wlf.eed.sunnewspapers.net/olive/ode/waterline_swflorida/

Captain Frank Davis

Captain Frank Davis

Capt. Frank Davis is a Florida Native born in Arcadia Florida and raised between the waters of Boca Grande and Lake Okeechobee FL. Captain Frank has been fishing the local waters most of his life and professionally since the early 1980`s. He is also a founding member and Vice Chairman of Save the Tarpon, Inc.

With the Native, his custom 24` Morgan, he specializes in late afternoon and evening Tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass. With the Native II, a 20′ Lake & Bay flats boat, he can take you to the back country waters of Charlotte harbor and Pine Island Sound in search of Snook, Trout and Redfish on fly and light tackle. Always fun to be with and never yells!

 

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Charter Details

Business Name
Native Charters

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Pink Elephant Guide Docks, Boca Grande, Florida

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
6 on Native
3 on Native II

Trip Lengths
4 Hours
6 Hours
Trip Time Offerings
Day
Night
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Inshore Fishing
Backcountry Fishing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

Phone Number
(941) 270-1364

Email
captfdavis@yahoo.com

About the Boat

Boat Name
Native
Native II

Boat Type & Size
24′ Morgan Inboard (Native)
20′ Lake & Bay Flats (Native II)

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If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Tyler Gulau

Capt Tyler GulauCaptain Tyler Gulau specializes in pass, beach and harbor fishing for Boca Grande tarpon.

Born and raised in Punta Gorda, Captain Tyler Gulau has been fishing the waters of Charlotte Harbor his entire life. He specializes in tarpon between the months of April to September along with redfish, snook, trout, flounder, and more. He is a full time guide.

 

 

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Charter Details

Business Name
Fish Charlotte Harbor

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Burnt Store Marina
Pineland Marina
Tarpon Lodge
Pink Elephant Guide Docks

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
4 Passengers

Trip Lengths
4 Hours
6 Hours
8 Hours
10 Hours
12 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day
Night
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Inshore Fishing
Backcountry Fishing
Near to Shore Fishing
Dolphin Tours & Sightseeing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

Phone Number
(941) 456-0261

Email
captaintyler@fishcharlotteharbor.com

About the Boat

Boat Type & Size
22′ Pathfinder Tournament Edition[/ba-column]

If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Van Hubbard

Capt Van HubbardCaptain Van Hubbard specializes in beach and harbor fishing for Boca Grande tarpon.

Captain Van Hubbard started guiding full time in 1977 and relocated to Boca Grande in 1981, and began guiding the area year round. He fishes tarpon off the beaches or into Charlotte Harbor; anywhere but the Boca Pass in season. He enjoyed Boca Grande Pass but it’s a last resort until we regain respect there for tarpon and other fisherman. Captain Van has guided for beach and Charlotte Harbor tarpon full time every year since 1981; no one still fishing has more experience beach tarpon or snook fishing! He introduced live bait to Charlotte Harbor; none of the other guides were whitebait fishing when he came down from Tampa Bay! He also excels at Spanish and king mackerel, pompano, permit, redfish, trout, etc… everything inside and near shore.

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Charter Details

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Stump Pass Marina is primary pick up site
Don Pedro/ Little Gasparilla/ Palm Islands
Boca Grande
other custom picks can be arranged.

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
4 Anglers

Trip Lengths
4 Hours
6 Hours
8 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Inshore Fishing
Backcountry Fishing
Near to Shore Fishing
Dolphin Tours & Sightseeing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

[ba-button link=”http://www.captvan.com/” color=”silver” target=”self”]Visit the Captain’s Website[/ba-button]

Phone Number
941-740-4665

Email
charternow@captvan.com

About the Boat

Boat Type & Size
Dorado 23 with T-Top

Tarpon Fishing Capt Van

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If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Scott Hughes

Captain Scott Hughes

Captain Scott Hughes is a full time fishing guide that specializes in tarpon fishing from April though early October. During the winter months he prefers to target Redfish, Speckled Trout and flounder on the flats of Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor.  Born in Fort Myers, Captain Scott is a true native Floridian who has been fishing the warm waters of Southwest Florida his entire life.

 

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Charter Details

Business Name
Blackwater Charters

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Burnt Store Marina
Pineland Marina
Pink Elephant Guide Docks in Boca Grande

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
4 Passengers

Trip Lengths
6 Hours
12 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Backcountry Fishing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

[ba-button link=”http://www.blackwatercharters.com/” color=”silver” target=”self”]Visit the Captain’s Website[/ba-button]

Phone Number
(941) 628-4247

Email
blackwatercharters21@gmail.com

About the Boat

Boat Type & Size
Thread Fin Tower 24ft[/ba-column]

Captain Scott Hughes 24' Boat

If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Erick Joseph

Capt Erick JosephCaptain Erick Joseph specializes in pass, beach and harbor fishing for Boca Grande tarpon.

Captain Erick Joseph is a full time Charlotte Harbor fishing guide offering fishing charters on the back waters of Charlotte Harbor Estuary, Boca Grande, Gasparilla Sound, Placida and Lemon Bay.  He fishes for Tarpon, Snook, Redfish & Trout on live and artificial bait using light tackle.

 

 

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Charter Details

Business Name
Tails and Scales Charters

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Eldred’s Marina, Placida FL & El Jobean Park Boat Ramp in Port Charlotte, FL

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
4

Trip Lengths
4 Hours
6 Hours
8 Hours
10 Hours
12 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day
Night
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Inshore Fishing
Backcountry Fishing
Dolphin Tours & Sightseeing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

[ba-button link=”http://www.tailsandscalescharters.com” color=”silver” target=”self”]Visit the Captain’s Website[/ba-button]

Phone Number
941-223-4826

Email
captainerickjoseph@yahoo.com

About the Boat

Boat Type & Size
Hewes Redfisher 21′

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Please note: The above information was provided by the Captain.

If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Tom McLaughlin

Capt Tom MclaughlinCaptain Tom McLaughlin specializes in Pass, Beach & Harbor Fishing for Boca Grande Tarpon.

Captain Tom McLaughlin is the founder and Chairman of Save the Tarpon.  He has extensive experience finding and landing big game sport fish and thrives on the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“I believe a good Captain must wear many hats” he says. “That of the patient teacher, weekend warrior, amicable tour guide, the friend on the water, and sometimes even a shoulder to lean on. It’s important to know when, and how much, to interject yourself into your clients’ experience, and when to just be a quiet observer. That’s something many in my line of work forget…this is not just a job about catching fish. It’s about providing a service that allows people to create memories they will take with them no matter where they go in life.”

During the Fall through Spring season he also operates Kind Ocean Seafood, the only fisherman direct, environmentally friendly, and sustainable seafood company in the eastern Gulf.

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Charter Details

Business Name
Another Keeper Charters

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Boca Grande Guide Docks (Pink Elephant)
Cape Haze Marina, Cape Haze FL

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
6

Trip Lengths
6 Hours
8 Hours
10 Hours
12 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day
Night
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Near to Shore Fishing
Deep Sea Fishing
Shark Fishing
Goliath Grouper Fishing
Dolphin Tours & Sightseeing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

[ba-button link=”http://www.anotherkeeper.com” color=”silver” target=”self”]Visit the Captain’s Website[/ba-button]

Phone Number
(941) 830-8500

Email
contact@anotherkeeper.com

About the Boat

Boat Name
Redemption Song

Boat Type & Size
32′ Custom Sabalo Sportfish

Redemption Song[/ba-column]

If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Willie Mills

Captain Willie MillsCaptain Willie Mills specializes in pass and beach fishing for Boca Grande tarpon.

Fourth generation commercial fisherman in the Florida waters. Captain Willie Mills fishes the backwater for snook, redfish, and trout; the Boca Grande Pass for tarpon; and on the beaches for mackerel and cobia. This past year Capt. Willie won the Worlds Richest Tarpon Tournament. Capt. Willie is also an appointed Director of the Boca Grande Guides Association.

 

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Charter Details

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Whiddens Marina

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
6 Passengers

Trip Lengths
4 Hours
6 Hours
8 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day
Night
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Inshore Fishing
Backcountry Fishing
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Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

[ba-button link=”http://www.millscharterfishing.com/” color=”silver” target=”self”]Visit the Captain’s Website[/ba-button]

Phone Number
(941) 270-0353

Email
willie@millscharterfishing.com

About the Boat

Boat Name
Tracy Lynn

Boat Type & Size
24 ft Morgan
24 ft Proline[/ba-column]

Capt Willie Mills Boat Tracy Lynn

If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Lew Morgan

Lew MorganCaptain Lew Morgan specializes in fly, beach and harbor fishing for Boca Grande tarpon.

Captain Lew Morgan is a native Floridian who has fished and lived in the Boca Grande area for 20 years.  He fishes live bait and artificials for Snook, Trout, Redfish and other species when not in Tarpon season. When the Tarpon arrive he can be found on the beach or backcountry.

 

 

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Charter Details

Business Name
Captain Morgan Fishing

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Boca Grande Guide Docks (Pink Elephant)

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
3 Bait
2 Fly

Trip Lengths
4 Hours
8 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day

Other Fishing Charters
Inshore Fishing
Backcountry Fishing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

[ba-button link=”http://www.captainmorganfishing.com/” color=”silver” target=”self”]Visit the Captain’s Website[/ba-button]

Phone Number
(941) 809-7806

Email
captainmorganfishing@comcast.net

About the Boat

Boat Type & Size
20′ Lake & Bay Boca Grande[/ba-column]

If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!

Captain Rhett Morris

Capt Rhett Morris

Capt. Rhett Morris was raised on the waters of Charlotte Harbor and the surrounding areas. He has over 20 years of experience stalking fish around this pristine estuary. Rhett got his charter license at a very young age and has made a full time living as a fishing guide for the past 15 years.

He is known far and wide for his undying enthusiasm on the water. Rhett will do whatever it takes to make sure all who fish with him have a great time!  When asked what he likes best about his job Capt. Rhett simply replies, “I love getting the chance to help people create memories of a lifetime out on the water”.

He also prides himself on the fact that if he can not fish with you he will get you booked with one of his top shelf guides. This guarantees that you will have a high quality outdoor experience when dealing with Beyond Borders Outfitters!

 

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Charter Details

Pick-up Location(s) and/or Boat Dock Location
Burnt Store Marina
Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island
Docks by the Pink Elephant on Boca Grande

Maximum Passengers/Anglers
4 Anglers

Trip Lengths
4 Hours
6 Hours
8 Hours
10 Hours
12 Hours

Trip Time Offerings
Day
Night
Hill Tide

Other Fishing Charters
Inshore Fishing
Backcountry Fishing
Near to Shore Fishing
Shark Fishing[/ba-column][ba-column size=”one-half” last=”1″]

Contact the Captain

Please contact the Captain directly for more information or to schedule your tarpon fishing charter.

[ba-button link=”http://www.tarponcharterflorida.com” color=”silver” target=”self”]Visit the Captain’s Website[/ba-button]

Phone Number
941-505-8481

Email
beyondbordersoutfitters@yahoo.com

About the Boat

Boat Name
Arkadillion II & The Skinny Ark

Boat Type & Size
23 ft Mako & 23ft Shoalwater
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If you have enjoyed fishing with this Captain, please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. Or, send your photos and/or comments to contact@savethetarpon.com.  We would love to hear from you!