PTTS quietly pulls a flip-flop on the once-despised ‘J’ hook

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.”

Now this:

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:

Actual headline from the September 8, 2013 edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. We’re showing you the actual headline because if we didn’t, one of the “git ‘er done” wrap boat nut cases would probably go on Facebook or some fish forum and claim that this never happened, that the jig is still legal and that … What? Dave Markett already did?  Good grief.

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:

New Baits

Clip taken from the Herald-Tribune story quoting PTTS host, vice-president and All-American boy Joe Mercurio.

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: Nbc2 Header Nbc2 Headline Joequote 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: FTAA Circle Hook

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:

Facebook Page Not FoundThe bullies.

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.”

 

‘The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true’

Maus 2

Florida Tarpon Anglers president and Simrad representative Mark Maus.

On September 5, 2013, Tallahassee lobbyist Lane Stephens addressed the seven members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Pensacola prior to their unanimous vote to outlaw the so-called “Pass Jig.”

Stephens spoke in opposition to the rule on behalf of Florida Tarpon Anglers Association vice-president and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler Craig Abbott as well as FTA president Mark Maus, a tournament angler best known for his association with Simrad Yachting and its parent company Navico

In his remarks to the FWC eight months ago, Stephens predicted exactly what we’re seeing happening today in Boca Grande Pass. His words were prophetic.

The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true,” he told the commission.

With the apparent blessing of Abbott, Simrad’s Maus, the PTTS (“our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs“) and others, Mr. Stephens told the commissioners exactly what they could expect. And he put his prediction on the record.

The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true.

As Mr. Stephens promised eight months ago, his prophecy has come true. Painfully true. And, as the PTTS also promised when the tournament put the FWC on notice following the jig ban vote, “we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed.” Designs developed for anglers who, as their own lobbyist admitted, can’t “easily switch to another lure.” We’ll let you connect the dots.

It appears we’ve found two promises Abbott, Maus and the PTTS have had absolutely no trouble keeping.

 

Waterline publisher warns ‘defiant’ Mercurio, PTTS: Don’t ‘skirt the rules’

Josh Olive, Waterline Magazine, Southwest Florida

“That’s just not true,” Waterline Publisher Josh Olive tells PTTS host Joe Mercurio in response to Mercurio’s repeated complaints the FWC banned the jig “in spite of any scientific data.”

The publisher of an influential Southwest Florida outdoors magazine says the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series needs to do some “soul searching,” admit the now-illegal bottom weighted “jig” was, in fact, used by PTTS anglers to foul hook fish, and distance itself from what he says are efforts to “skirt the rules” designed to put an end to years of tarpon snagging in Boca Grande Pass.

Josh Olive, publisher of the Suncoast Media Group’s widely read weekly “Waterline” supplement, used his Thursday, Oct. 10 column to refute PTTS host and general manager Joe Mercurio’s repeated allegations that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission banned the controversial device “in spite of any scientific data … that indicates an abnormal amount of fish caught using the Boca Grande jig were being foul hooked or snagged.”

“That’s just not true,” Olive replied, noting that instead of accepting the opinions of recognized experts and the resulting 7-0 FWC vote to ban the device, Mercurio’s “tone has been rather defiant” and that the PTTS continues to base its opposition on an obsolete hook placement study that has been widely discredited by the scientific community and renounced by those it cited. (Read Joe Mercurio’s September 19th letter to the editor here.)

Joe Mercurio, PTTS Host

Read Joe Mercurio’s Sept 19 letter to the editor following the recent FWC ruling.

Olive, once a booster of both the PTTS and the jig favored by the TV tournament’s participants, used his weekly column to call for  Mercurio and his tournament to heed Save The Tarpon’s message. “Tell us you’re going into 2014’s tournament season with the right attitude: Respect the fish. Respect the Pass,” he wrote.

“Well, now we know. The Pass jig snags tarpon. The Pass jig snags tarpon! What remains to be seen is how former jig anglers cope with the loss of a very effective fish catching tool. Will they try to skirt the rules and develop new devices that adhere to the letter, but not the intent, of the law? Much of their reaction may depend on how the PTTS chooses to proceed,” Olive warned.

Olive might have reason to be concerned that a “defiant” PTTS could be attempting to “skirt the rules.”

Shortly after his pro-jig, pro-PTTS “Florida Tarpon Anglers Association” lost a pivotal procedural vote on the new regulations in June, the group’s vice-president Craig Abbott posted a photo to a PTTS-backed social media site that purported to show a jig clone Abbott claimed had caught two tarpon in 12 minutes.

Sea Hunt Boats representative and PTTS captain, Larry Jett, spoke out after the September FWC ruling.  Sea Hunts Boats is an official sponsor of the PTTS.

Sea Hunt Boats representative and PTTS captain, Larry Jett, commented on the PTTS Facebook page after the September FWC ruling. Sea Hunts Boats is an official sponsor of the PTTS.

A week later, part-time fishing guide Mike McCarty followed up with a post alleging “a start of full production is a couple of months out in order to have them for next season. There’s discussion of letting the PTTS reveal this new bait first. No worries there (sic) coming.”

Since then, the internet has been buzzing with rumors of experimental and “totally legal” lures designed to take over for the banned jig when the PTTS resumes next year.

On September 5, in the aftermath of the final FWC vote, the PTTS boasted on its Facebook page that “our world class competitors have already developed new artificial lure designs that have proven to be very productive, and we’re confident additional designs will continue to be developed.”

On the same day, Tampa fishing guide and Team Sea Hunt angler Rick Silkworth wrote “we are not going anywhere, the new jig is coming, mold is being made to poor (sic) new jig head.”

Capt. Dave Markett

Outspoken jig proponent and PTTS Team Power-Pole captain, Dave Markett, spoke out September 20 on Facebook.

More recently on September 20, high profile PTTS Team Power-Pole leader Dave Markett claimed the next generation jig was already on the market. Markett said the devices were being sold by a Tampa area tackle shop. He thanked the store “for already having a full rack of brand new and totally legal Boca Grande tarpon lures already on their shelves.”

“Welcome “Knockers” to our world,” Markett wrote. He then added “And the FOOLS thought we were whipped. Not quite, Not EVER!!”

Olive said that he had “searched his soul” as his opinion of the jig, the PTTS and Save The Tarpon evolved.

“The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series intends to go on, and I’m concerned that tournament organizers may not have done the same level of soul searching,” he wrote.

(Read Josh’s column here.)

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

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.

Caller are you there? ‘If they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter’

When you’re finished reading, make sure to watch the video following the post. 

Capt. Chris O’Neill, host of The Reel Saltwater Fishing Show on WENG-AM, spent 47 minutes of airtime Friday shilling for the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the virtues of the bottom weighted “tarpon jig” in an interview with PTTS team leader Capt. Dave Markett and Florida Tarpon Anglers Association vice president and PTTS booster Craig Abbott.VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

Along with FTAA president, PTTS captain and FWC auxiliary police officer Mark Maus, they spent their 47 minutes of local radio fame deriding the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s proposed rule designed to curb the foul-hooking epidemic in Boca Grande Pass.

FWC staff supports doing this by requiring the jig’s weight be attached above rather than below the hook. At various times during those 47 minutes, O’Neill’s “new friends” even attempted to equate their “association’s” opposition to the FWC plan with the same principles that drove the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Seriously.

Tarpon snatch hook

Often referred to as a “Boca Grande Tarpon Jig,” this weighted hook is nothing more than a snagging device used during the peak time of pre-spawn activity for North America’s only mass migration of tarpon.

As his show neared its end, O’Neill opened the phone lines and uttered four words he would instantly come to regret.

“Caller, are you there?” In less than 30 seconds the voice on the phone wiped out those previous 47 minutes of hype with one simple, unprompted, direct and apparently innocent question.

“If they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter how the hook was placed. Would it?”

Oops. Maus and Abbott, who obviously weren’t expecting the obvious and who likely figured listener questions were being screened as carefully as the show was scripted, were caught off guard.

Agree,” said one. “You’re absolutely correct,” said the other.

Their mouths had momentarily gone rogue, ‘fessed up and allowed the truth to slip out. Taken by surprise, you can hear what happens when Maus and Abbott weren’t able to duck the question with yet another pre-fabricated civil rights reference. Yes, they both admitted, it doesn’t matter where the weight is located. Not if the tarpon are really biting the jig.

“Well that was my point,” the voice on the phone managed to say before O’Neill could kill the call. “We’re going to have to step out and go to break,” the quick-thinking and clearly rattled host jumped in, cutting off the caller and rescuing Maus and Abbott from themselves as he watched 47 minutes of infomercial airtime circle the drain.

O’Neill’s show was taped, complete with background chatter soundtrack, at the Waterside Grill at the Gasparilla Marina, conveniently located next to PTTS operator Gary Ingman’s Ingman Marine boat dealership in Placida, Florida.

Because those 30 seconds of “Caller, are you there?” near the tail end of the broadcast likely aren’t going to find their way into the next PTTS highlight reel or onto the Florida Tarpon Anglers’ website, here’s what happens when the best and the brightest are confronted with “if they’re biting the jig, it shouldn’t matter …”

Considering O’Neill’s panicked reaction – and Maus and Abbott’s unrehearsed and candid response – it apparently does.