Is a bottom weighted hook a snagging rig?

By: Norman Duncan

Boca Grande tarpon "jig"

The Boca Grande Pass tarpon “jig.”

The controversy regarding the use of the “Boca Grande Pass Jig” or “jig rig” has become contentious, vociferous and sensational in the communities of the region and on line. It has social, cultural, conservation and political / legal impacts that are guided by the socioeconomic relationships that exist there.

There can be more scientific studies of the interaction of a loaded hook and a tarpon’s jaw that will give some degree probability as to whether the fish was intentionally / unintentionally snagged. On the other hand, the mechanics / physics of any rig that has a weight attached below the bend of the hook should be analyzed to determine the snagging ability.

Let’s start with the leader, if the leader engages any protrusion or ledge it will slide along until the hook eye also engages. If there is any bulbous mass in the area of the hook eye the hook would be deflected and most likely not snag. If there is a weight on the hook shank at the hook eye, as most conventional jigs are configured, the hook is also less likely to snag. However, if a mass / weight is attached directly below the bottom of the bend of the hook the rig becomes an efficient snagging tool.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

Snagging is a very old method used around the world to capture fish. It could be eels in a mud bottom or schools of mullet on the surface. The usual device employs a multiple (treble) hook or gang hook with a weight or mass at the bottom. This mass forces the alignment of the point of the hook out past the hook eye and therefore enables it to snag more effectively. This can make any rig with this configuration a snagging tool if used properly.

Mullet run sngging rig for snook.

Mullet run snagging rig for snook.

During the fall mullet run on Florida’s East Coast the most effective way to catch large snook is on the bottom where the fish are busting up from below through the schools of bait. The “rig” used for this was a 7/0 Mustad O’Shaughnessy hook on a four foot wire leader to a swivel. The hook must have a ¼ ounce or ½ ounce sinker wired to and hanging below the bend of the hook. This rig is cast out into a school of mullet and jerked through the school, if your hook is filed sharp you can snag a mullet 9 out of 10 times. With the same rig the mullet is hooked up through the lips with the sinker riding below the throat. When the fish are being busted, the mullet is cast out and worked slowly along the bottom. When a fish takes, you quickly try to lip hook it so they will be easier to release. My best morning was 12 snook over 20 pounds and 2 over 30 pounds.

Several groups of fishermen from Miami fished Boca Grande Pass in the 1960s using the same lures and jigs that are successful in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami’s Government Cut; we had very poor results unless we used live bait. The artificial lures that are successful elsewhere don’t seem to work as well in the Boca Grande Pass area unless you fish the beaches and bay side flats.

This “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook.

These large snook were harvested during the "mullet run" in October of 1964.

These large snook were harvested during the “mullet run” in October of 1964.

The point here is that this “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook. In my opinion, the Boca Grande Pass and PTTS Tournament “jig rigs” are used with the primary intention of snagging tarpon, and that this type of rig should be regulated throughout the State of Florida.

Read the full article from Norman Dunan at flylifemagazine.com.

A ‘statistically insignificant’ tarpon

Sharks

No reason to be disturbed by this photo. It is, after all, “statistically insignificant.”

Researchers say the methods used by Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers more than double the time required to land and release a tarpon. The same methods, according to the same study, more than double the risk of foul-hooking a fish. Foul-hooking, of course, leads to substantially increased fight times. Which means a spent tarpon is less able to defend itself against predators. Like bull sharks.

But not to worry. The researchers who conducted the study concluded those doubled fight times and those doubled rates of foul hooking were “statistically insignificant.”

The photo is courtesy of WaterLine. It was taken during Sunday’s eight hour marathon “Sea Hunt Mega Money Tarpon Cup” PTTS tournament. The photo was shot moments after an exhausted tarpon was released into a pack of bull sharks following yet another prolonged PTTS-style fight.

And, in case you were wondering, this is what “statistically insignificant” looks like.

Let these lawmakers know: Don’t play politics with conservation funding

Holder2

Rep. Doug Holder was among three state lawmakers a PTTS lobbyist suggested might withhold FWC funding if commissioners voted to approve a measure designed to curb foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.

A number of you have asked how to reach out to the three lawmakers who were mentioned by PTTS attorney and lobbyist Timothy P. Atkinson in his remarks to the seven Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members in Lakeland. As you know, Atkinson threatened that Rep. Doug Holder, Sen. Bill Galvano and Sen. Jack Latvala could potentially use their powerful committee posts in Tallahassee to withhold vital funding for the FWC unless the commissioners did as the PTTS demanded.

Atkinson invoked the names of these legislators and their control of the FWC purse strings while threatening to sue the seven commissioners on behalf of the PTTS and others unless they voted down a proposed regulation designed to curb intentional foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.

As many of you have noted, playing politics with FWC funding is a slap in the face to conservation-minded sportsmen throughout Florida. The FWC plays a critical role in conserving and protecting our fisheries – including Boca Grande Pass. You have asked how to go about letting these three lawmakers know proposing further cuts to an already lean FWC budget is both irresponsible and potentially disastrous. Or, as one of you wrote, “don’t play politics with fish and wildlife conservation in Florida.”

We agree.

If you’d like to make your voice heard on this important matter, here’s how:

 

Rep. Doug Holder

Rep. Doug Holder, as the PTTS lawyer noted, is chairman of the House Regulatory Affairs Committee. His district is centered in Sarasota County, and includes the communities of Venice, North Port and parts of Englewood. You can send him a message using the provided contact form by clicking here.

 

Sen. Bill Galvano

Sen. Bill Galvano is a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. His district is comprised of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, and parts of Charlotte, Highlands, Hillsborough, and Manatee counties. A link to his contact form can be found here.  On the left side of the page you will see “Email The Senator.” Clicking on this link will take you to a contact form. UPDATE: Sen. Galvano’s office has contacted a number of those who wrote to say he now supports the proposed gear restriction and will be writing a letter expressing his support to the FWC. A letter is also being sent to Mr. Atkinson. There has, to our knowledge, been no response from Rep. Holder or Sen. Latvala.

 

Sen. Jack Latvala

Sen. Jack Latvala serves with Sen. Galvano on the same Senate Appropriations Committee. His district is comprised of parts of Pinellas County. To write him, click here.  As with Sen. Galvano, you’ll find a link to “Email The Senator” on the left side of his page. Clicking on it will take you to a similar contact form.

It’s encouraging to know that you are willing to take the time to ask these lawmakers to clarify their positions on funding for the FWC, to disavow the PTTS lobbyist’s threats attached to their names and to remind them “don’t play politics with fish and wildlife conservation in Florida.”

PTTS hires lawyer to threaten the FWC with funding cuts, lawsuit

Joe Mercurio and Attorney

Joe Mercurio and PTTS lobbyist Tim K. Atkinson huddle at the June FWC Commission meeting in Lakeland, Florida.

UPDATED: Tell these three lawmakers you don’t want them playing politics with conservation funding.  Here’s how.

Did a lawyer hired by Gary Ingman, Joe Mercurio and the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series really invoke the names of three powerful politicians and threaten to use these politicians to cut funding to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission?

Did the PTTS lawyer actually suggest that’s what would happen unless the seven commissioners voted down the draft rule aimed at putting teeth in regulations aimed at curbing the intentional foul hooking of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass?

Did the same PTTS lawyer really threaten to sue these seven commissioners if they voted to prohibit the use of bottom weighted gear in this iconic tarpon fishery?

Yes, in fact, he did. But you be the judge.

Here is lawyer Timothy P. Atkinson in his own words speaking to those seven commissioners on behalf of the PTTS in Lakeland. Atkinson is a partner in the Tallahassee law firm of Oertel, Fernandez, Bryant & Atkinson. His biography notes that “his practice also includes challenges of existing and proposed agency rules, and agency and legislative lobbying.”

And remember. Tell these three lawmakers you don’t want them playing politics with conservation funding.  Here’s how.

FWC changes tarpon rules

Sun Pix

SUN FILE PHOTO
This tarpon was caught using a Boca Grande Pass jig. The jig has become the focus of a major debate in the fishing community.

This article was originally published in the June 13, 2013 edition of the Englewood Sun.

By JOSH OLIVE and LEE ANDERSON
SUN STAFF WRITERS

LAKELAND — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 4-3 to move forward with new rules that would change the definition of snagging as it relates to tarpon and would limit a specific type of fishing gear in Boca Grande Pass.

Wednesday morning’s draft rule hearing in Lakeland was attended by an estimated 250 people, most of whom left shortly following the commission’s vote later in the afternoon.

The proposed change to the snagging definition is intended to eliminate fishing methods that hook tarpon without the fish being enticed or attracted to the hook. Most anglers consider snagging or intentional foul-hooking to be unsporting. The gear restriction would prohibit the use of a weight attached to and suspended from the bend of a hook, with the rationale being that such a rig is more likely to snag fish. The rig commonly called the Boca Grande Pass jig fits that description.

About an equal number of people spoke out both in favor of and in opposition to the proposed regulations. Many who wanted the draft rule shot down called for additional scientific studies to prove that tarpon are being snagged.

Gary Ingman, owner of Ingman Marine and a founder of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, was among those speaking to commissioners.

“We need a study once and for all to find a solution,” he said. “Our community is fighting. If you don’t conduct a study, there will still be a rift in our community. Right now there isn’t enough evidence to make a decision. Our community needs your help to settle this rift. We need to increase tourism, and we need your help.”

A study already was done in 2002-2004, looking at both foul-hooking and post-release mortality rates. That study has been under fire because two of the experts quoted — Philip Motta and Justin Grubich — since have said their statements in the study are not correct. However, outgoing FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright didn’t offer much hope that a new study would be forthcoming.

“We do not have to put ourselves to the burden of proving … this device is snagging fish,” he said. “I think we’ve got evidence that is compelling that we need the rule. I have the opinion, and so do two Ph.D.s (Motta and Grubich), that this device is more likely to catch a fish by snagging it than by fish eating it.”

Commissioner Ron Bergeron disagreed.

“I think we need more scientific evidence in order to dictate the gear we can use for tarpon. To me, it’s a big enough issue (to warrant a new study) — it affects the economy, it affects businesspeople.”

One of those who would feel the pain is a small Florida tackle maker.

“I sell these jigs for a living,” said Red Flower, owner of Outlaw Jigs. “These jigs give me 40 percent of my income, and without them I’ll lose my business.”

But a shortage of money is a big part of the problem for the FWC as well.

“There’s no $250,000 for an additional study,” Wright said. “If we don’t fix this now, we will be putting it on the back burner. It’s been 10 years since we looked at it, and it will be another 10.”

However, as Commissioner Brian Yablonski pointed out, the only change that actually would be required to make the Pass jig compliant with the proposed rule would be moving the hook.

“We’re talking about centimeters and inches,” he said. “Wouldn’t you be able to move the hook if you’re enticing the fish (to bite)? With a small tweak in the gear, I’m thinking we can eliminate a lot of the social conflict here.”

Approval of the draft rule will have no immediate impact on tarpon fishing. Commissioners will investigate such data as they have available to them before their next meeting in September. A final rule will be presented — and voted on — at that time.

“We still have some work to do from now until September,” said commissioner Leisa Preddy. “I have never been involved in something like this. This debate has pitted people against each other who have known each other for decades. It has split friendships. This was an extremely difficult decision, but our number one goal is to protect the resource. Everybody here can agree that we have to protect the tarpon. It’s just that each side has a slight difference of opinion.”

Email: jolive@sun-herald.com
Email: landerson@sun-herald.com

Here’s a link  to the Sun’s e-edition story. As the Sun will be the first to admit, the e-edition format can be a struggle. Accordingly, we’re reproducing the story here.

Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford: ‘Coon Pop’ vs. the bottom weighted ‘Pass Jig’

Lance “Coon” Schouest

Lance “Coon” Schouest, inventor of the “Coon Pop” lure.

The following question concerning the “Coon Pop” lure and any possible similarity to the bottom weighted Boca Grande tarpon jig was presented to Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford on Saturday, June 1 by M, Lane Stephens, a partner in the Tallahassee lobbying firm of SCG Governmental Affairs. Stephens has confirmed he has been retained to lobby on behalf of the  Florida Tarpon Anglers Association.  The organization’s board is comprised entirely of Professional Tarpon Tournament Series participants.

Mr. Stephens’ former and current clients include the Florida Airboat Association and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series sponsor Miller Brewing Company. PTTS team leader Capt. Dave Markett serves on the Airboat Association board.

Markett is an outspoken opponent of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation’s Commission’s proposed rule banning the use of bottom weighted lures in Boca Grande Pass. In a press release announcing Mr. Stephens’ affiliation with the Florida Airboat Association, the organization noted Mr. Stephens’ experience providing “governmental consulting services” on issues before the FWC. (UPDATE: A spokesman for the Airboat Association says Stephens is no longer employed to lobby for the group.)

Alford’s Project Tarpon is based in Texas where the Coon Pop lure is commonly used.

Tarpon snatch hook

Unlike the Coon Pop, the “Boca Grande Tarpon Jig” (above) is fished vertically and is rigged with a weight below the hook making the hook point the first point of contact with the fish.  Historically, any lure weighted at the belly or bend of the hook has been defined as a “snatch hook” or “snag hook.”

Here is the text of Mr. Stephens’ email to Project Tarpon’s Scott Alford:

I was reading some of your posts on Youtube regarding the different use of the Coon Pop in Boca Grande Pass vs Texas and Louisiana. I understand it is generally slow trolled or cast in Tx and LA. However, I’ve read some articles about fishing for tarpon (in) Texas that talks about presenting the lure in a vertical jigging fashion in deeper water in Texas. You seem to be very knowledgeable on this subject and I’d appreciate information you have on the vertical technique used in Texas.

Thanks
Lane Stephens
SCG Governmental Affairs

Here is the text of Scott Alford’s reply:

There really isn’t much “vertical” usage of the jig in Texas in deep water or in Louisiana for that matter. The coon-pop is not really jigged. There are a number of ways it is used over here. I’ll go through each of them with you and explain how it is very different than the Boca Grande Pass.

"Coon Pop" Hook Placement

In this photo you can see the most common hook placement when a tarpon eats a “Coon Pop” fishing lure.

(1) Trolled – we troll up to seven baits with gas inboard boats or with electric trolling motors. The baits are staggered by letting them out for 30 seconds down to 5 seconds (i.e. 30, 25, 20, 15, 10 and 5 seconds – then a three second line sometimes – they are staggered with odd counts on one side and even counts on the other.) The five second line is only about four feet under the water and we are fishing in 35-45 feet of water usually in the open Gulf. The fish are in schools but the fish come to the baits. Most fish get hooked from the inside out, not on the outside of the face – the majority are hooked in the button. The speed these baits are trolled is between 1.5 to 2.5 knots. The rods don’t get picked up until after a bite.

(2) Drifted – this is really just drift trolling. Set up the same except the baits are set on the side of the boat and drifted and we don’t use as many baits. This is just a slow troll. Rods are in rod holders, not held. Same is true for hook sets etc.

(3) Casting – the bait is thrown and then reeled in. Again, this is in the open Gulf and the baits are usually retreived in the upper half of the water column.

Coon Pop Hook Placement

Another example of the most common hook placement found when using the “Coon Pop.”

(4) Use in Pass Cavallo – there is only one natural pass along the Texas coast that frequently has tarpon in the pass where you can fish for them consistently. The pass is relatively narrow and only about twenty feet deep. One guy fishes the pass using coon-pops. He does not hold the rods. The baits are suspended from a few feet off the bottom almost to the surface in rod holders the entire time. Tarpon do not get in the pass in schools as they do in Boca Grande and these fish are usually all post spawn, late summer fish that move into the pass in late afternoon early evening to feed. The fish move in in usually as singles. The fish are eating the jigs from below and the rod is not picked up until the fish is hooked. The boat drifts with the tide, is not maneuvered on top of the fish and the boat drifts over a fish as it goes in or out with the tide. No tide and you have no fish.

The reason a coon-pop works is because a tarpon comes from below and behind the bait to eat it. It can’t see the hook. On trolled baits, I use 150 lb piano wire leader. Casting baits, we usually (use) 120+ lb. mono leaders.

This is not to say that a tarpon won’t eat a jig in Boca Grande Pass. Likely they will.  But as I’ve seen the jig fished, I am skeptical that it is regularly eaten. I’ve seen the hook-up numbers on jigs versus using live bait. A tarpon is more likely to eat a live bait presented than a jig (coon-pop or otherwise). If the jigs are working more consistently than bait, that should be a red flag.

I have advocated that there is a simple way to solve the issue. Get a number of tarpon photographs showing hook placement in tarpon caught with coon-pops in Texas and Louisiana and take a similar, unbiased representation of tarpon caught in Boca Grande Pass using the jig. If there is a difference, you’ll have your answer. Personally, I think they’ll be an obvious one.

Bottom line, our fish are not as concentrated and not vertically concentrated as they are in Boca Grande Pass.

Scott Alford
Project Tarpon

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook?

Waterline Magazine June 6, 2013This article, written by Josh Olive, Publisher of Waterline Magazine, was originally printed in the June 6, 2013 edition of the magazine.

Tired of tarpon yet?

We’ve been talking a lot about tarpon fishing in the past few editions of WaterLine. For those of you who have no interest in these fish, I apologize. However, we’re smack in the middle of tarpon season, and our silver king obsession will continue for a little while yet. Hey, that’s why we have 32 pages — even though there’s an abundance of tarpon talk, there’s still plenty of other information and entertainment for those of you who just don’t get all the fuss about an oversized sardine.

This coming Wednesday will be a big day for anyone with an interest in local tarpon fishing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be meeting in Lakeland to (among other things) hold a public hearing for draft and final rules that affect tarpon both statewide and locally. The final rule would make tarpon a catch-and-release-only species, with possession legal only in pursuit of an IGFA record, and then only with a $50 tarpon tag. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in favor of no one keeping tarpon, but the record exemption is silly and unfair — why just tarpon? If you catch a record redfish or snook, law says it’s got to go free.

The draft rule is in two parts: First, it would change the definition of snagging only for tarpon. The gist is if the tarpon does not actively participate in being hooked, it’s snagged. I’m OK with that, and I would think any other sportsman would be as well.

Tarpon snagged with a circle hook in Boca Grande Pass.

This tarpon was snagged with a bottom-weighted circle hook under the pectoral fin during a PTTS tournament.

Second —and this is the part that’s got a whole bunch of people in a tizzy — the draft rule would ban the use of a weight attached to a hook and hanging lower than said hook when the rig is suspended vertically. It’s a big deal because that’s exactly how the Boca Grande Pass tarpon jig is commonly rigged, and the jig is fished by a fairly large number of people. I’ve always said that there’s no proof the jig is snagging tarpon. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how that device works, and talking with people on both sides of the debate about why it works. Absolute conclusive evidence that favors either camp is hard to come by, but I’ve got some questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered.

See, I’m certainly no expert on tarpon or tarpon fishing. In fact, I still have yet to actually catch one (came close, though). So I have to ask those who do this day in, day out, all tarpon season long. And a lot of what I hear just isn’t adding up.

Why does the jig have to be fished so close to the bottom? In jig fishing, you drop your rig to the bottom and then reel up 2 to 4 feet of line. The schools of tarpon you see on the fishfinder while you’re doing this are stacked sometimes 20 or 30 feet from the bottom. What I’ve been told is that the fish at the bottom of the school are the ones that are feeding. Why, then, is the traditional presentation of a live bait above the school of fish, not below them? Many jig fishermen switch over to live bait in the afternoon. Why don’t they put those live baits right on the bottom, if that’s where the fish are feeding?

Why does it take so long to feel the fish after you get a bite? I’ve jigged the Pass on a handful of occasions. After you drop the jig down, you wait to feel tiny taps on the line. When you feel that, you reel like crazy. I’ve only hooked two fish doing this. One of them took about four reel cranks — let’s call that 20 feet — before I felt the weight of the fish. The other took about two cranks (still 10 feet). I’ve been told it’s either line stretch or the fish racing toward the surface with the jig. I know monofilament stretches, but 20 feet of stretch fishing straight down in 50 feet of water? It’s fishing line, not a gummy worm. And what possible reason does a not-yet-hooked tarpon have to race toward the surface, jig in mouth?

Jigs OK to use if FWC moves forward with gear restrictions.

All of these jigs would remain legal under proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass. In fact, there is not one commercially manufactured rig we would find which would be banned if the proposed rule is made law.

Why are jig fishing leaders so short? Most anglers use tiny leaders, maybe 18 inches long. Perhaps it’s because they don’t need long leaders, but in the tournament — where leader touches count for points — wouldn’t a longer leader be an advantage? The anti-jig guys say it’s because the knot spooks fish as it runs across their bodies, so they know they must be very close to the hook. I don’t know if that’s really true, but if it isn’t, why not use longer leaders and prove them wrong?

Why does the jig only seem to work on tightly packed schools of fish? Obviously, you’ll have a much better chance of hooking a fish of any kind if you present a bait to a bunch of
them, but I’ve watched jig anglers choose to not fish because the schools of tarpon weren’t thick enough. I would rather find a school of redfish to cast on, but if I can’t I’m still going
to fish. Why would you not fish at all — surely if the jig is mistaken for food, you have a reasonable chance of a tarpon spotting it and pouncing on it even when the fish are scattered very thinly.

I’d love to have verifiably truthful answers to these questions. But there’s one more, and it’s the one that matters the most:

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook from above the weight to behind it? The guys who are saying the Pass jig snags fish say the only reason it can do that is because when the line is reeled past the fish, the hook is the first thing that makes contact. OK, that’s plausible. The guys who defend the jig say that the fish are biting it. OK, that’s plausible too.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook.  By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed FWC rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook. By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

So why not shut the anti-jiggers up for good by moving the hook? The anti-jig crowd’s entire argument falls completely apart if you can move the hook literally two inches and continue to catch fish. Several people have told me they’re working on just this type of rig, but I’ve not heard from anyone that they’re actually using it successfully. Of course, they might be doing just that and not talking to anyone about it. But I can tell you that if I were one of those guides whose livelihood depends largely on being able to jig fish for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, and I had a rig that would catch tarpon as efficiently as the jig but couldn’t be accused of being a snagging device, I’d be on the 6 o’clock news that night crowing about it and telling them all to stuff it.

The fact that this hasn’t happened lends credence to the argument that jigs snag fish. It makes it harder to believe the anglers who say they’re not snagging but can’t explain why minor changes — changes that don’t affect the jig’s presentation in the water — render it ineffective. Many jig fishermen have told me they don’t believe that they’re snagging tarpon. And I believe that they’re being sincere. But it seems to me that not looking for real explanations is a problem. Saying, “I know I’m not doing anything wrong because I know I’m not doing anything wrong,” just doesn’t cut it.

When I first became involved with the jigging debate, it seemed very simple to me: It just couldn’t possibly be that all these fishermen were somehow snagging tarpon in the mouths. Anybody who said so must be carping about sour grapes. Besides, the state had done a study that didn’t find tarpon were being snagged. Anyone who said tarpon were being snagged would have to prove it.

Things have changed a little. The study has been cast into doubt, with two of the quoted experts now saying they didn’t say what the study says they said. One of them, Dr. Justin Grubich, has provided a plausible (that word again) explanation for how at least some of the tarpon might be snagged in their mouths. Other fisheries have turned up that snag fish in the mouths — admittedly, salmon fisheries.

But still, there are all these unanswered questions. I have little doubt the FWC is going to move forward with the draft rules — perhaps with minor changes, but probably to close loopholes rather than open more. If they do, a final vote will probably be held in September. The new regulations would likely go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. The burden of proof now lies on those who fish with the jig. If the commissioners look solely at the evidence they currently have — which, taken as a whole, says it’s more likely jigs are snagging tarpon than not — I don’t see how they would have any choice but to outlaw the Pass jig.

If anyone has that evidence, I’m sure it will surface at the meeting this Wednesday. And let me tell you, I would be very happy to see it. I don’t at all like the thought that jig fishermen, many of whom I know well and have formed close friendships with over the past few years, are knowingly or even unknowingly doing something as unsporting as snagging not just any gamefish but the ultimate Southwest Florida gamefish. Unfortunately, I have a heavy feeling in my gut that says that might be exactly what’s happening.

Read More from Waterline Magazine >

Read the Boca Grande Pass: Tarpon Gear Review and Discussion by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission >

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.

FWC Commissioners need to hear from you on proposed tarpon rules

Vote yes on catch-and-release for tarpon.A very important meeting is coming up on Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

It is the June 2013 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting in Lakeland, Florida.

On this Wednesday, the seven Commissioners will be voting on two very important issues: the draft rule for Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishing gear, and, the final rules for catch-and-release status for tarpon and bonefish.

Your voice is urgently needed to encourage the Commissioners to vote YES on both of these proposed rules.  There are two ways you are able to do this:

Contact the Commissioners via email.

or, Attend the meeting on June 12.

As always, the FWC Commission meetings are open to the public and have a public comment period in which you are given a few minutes to speak if you sign up to do so.

Here are the two rules pertaining to tarpon:

1. Draft Rule for Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Fishing Gear – The proposed draft rule would address the Commission’s definition of snagging in Chapter 68B-32, Tarpon.  The proposed draft rule would also consider prohibiting gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in order to reduce snagging of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass. Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Gear Draft Rule Presentation.

  • 68B-32.002 Definitions – The proposed draft rule would enhance the definition in the tarpon chapter of “snagging” or “snatch hooking.”
  • 68B-4.018 Boca Grande Pass Gear Restrictions – The proposed draft rule would prohibit the use and possession of gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in Boca Grande Pass.

and,

2. Final Rules for Tarpon and Bonefish – The proposed final rules would make tarpon and bonefish catch-and-release-only.  To accomplish this, the allowance for a tarpon bag limit would be eliminated and replaced with an allowance for possession of a single tarpon in conjunction with a tarpon tag for the purpose of pursuing an International Game Fish Association (IGFA) record. In addition, all tarpon regulations will be extended into adjacent federal waters.  The existing bonefish tournament exemption that allows registered tournament anglers to possess a bonefish for the purposes of transporting it to the tournament scale would also be eliminated. Tarpon and Bonefish Presentation

Vote Yes for catch-and-release for tarpon.Tarpon

  • 68B-32.001 Purpose and Intent (NEW) – The proposed final rule would create a new subsection in order to convey the intent to manage tarpon as a catch-and-release-only fishery with allowable harvest and possession limited to possession in pursuit of an IGFA record.
  • 68B-32.003 Tarpon Tags: Required for Possession; Report; Annual   Issuance; Taxidermy; Limitation on Number of Tags Issued Annually; Limitation on Number of Tags Issued to Professional Fishing Guides – The proposed final rule would extend Florida’s tarpon tag requirements to federal waters and limit the use of tarpon tags to tarpon harvested or possessed in pursuit of an IGFA record.  The final rule would also eliminate reporting requirements and limit the number of tags that an individual can purchase to one per year.  NEW:  Staff is requesting permission to publish a  Notice of Change to create a placeholder for this rule to house any future  possible regulations.
  • 68B-32.004 Bag Limit and Gear Restriction – The proposed final rule would eliminate the two tarpon bag limit and require that all tarpon be    released without doing unnecessary harm and at the site of capture. Allowable possession of a tarpon within or without Florida waters, or elsewhere in the state, would be limited to anglers with the properly affixed tarpon tag who possess a tarpon in pursuit of an IGFA record.  The final rule would also create a vessel limit of one tarpon per vessel and limit the allowable gears when targeting tarpon to hook and line only.  In addition, the proposed final rule would state the intent to allow for temporary possession of tarpon for purposes of photography, measurement of length and girth, or scientific sampling, and any tarpon temporarily possessed would be required to be kept completely in the water if greater than 40 inches fork length.  These regulations would apply in all state and federal waters off Florida.
  • 68B-32.006 Sale Prohibited, Transport Regulated – The final rule would reduce the number of tarpon a person is allowed to transport or ship from two tarpon to one.
  • 68B-32 – The final rule would reorganize and reformat the tarpon rule chapter to conform to the style developed for Division 68B, F.A.C., during the marine fisheries rule cleanup process.

‘Homeless’ man ridiculed in PTTS Facebook ‘gag’ speaks out: ‘They failed’

PTTS participants mock recreational anglerChris Morelle says he’s just a guy who likes to fish. A guy who’s spent his entire life with a rod and reel in his hand. A guy who never sought the limelight, a modest kind of guy who’s never had a great yearning for the kind of “attention” he’s been getting these days courtesy of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the outfit the PTTS employs to produce its cable TV fishing show. Oh. And for the record, he isn’t homeless. Far from it, in fact.

Chris rose before dawn on May 19 to drive his center console boat from Cape Coral to Boca Grande Pass. “I sensed an injustice, that’s why I was there,” he says. He’d spent part of the night before transforming an old piece of cardboard he found laying around the house into a sign be planned on using the following day. He grabbed a can of lime green spray paint and went to work. There was nothing fancy about that sign, or the message it carried.

“PTTS: No Skill Needed,” it said. Chris and his handmade sign spent the next three hours quietly drifting in the Pass, all but lost among the nearly two dozen other boats that had turned out for Sunday’s protest. And, of course, the slimmed down field of wrap boats and Spandex “professionals” who made the equally long trek that morning to parade their sponsors’ logos (but not those two dead tarpon) before the cameras.

It wasn’t until nine days and a phone call later that Chris discovered the PTTS and REC Media Group had turned him and his simple cardboard sign into a bad Facebook gag. A photo of Chris standing alone on his boat with that simple cardboard sign had been posted to REC Media Group’s “Save The Tarpon” spoof page. The Photoshop Rangers at REC Media Group pasted one of those cartoon bubbles next to his head. “Time for another photo caption contest!” REC’s instructions read. “Winner gets 50 gallons of diesel fuel for the next protest.” Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Thud.

Protest Boat

Among the 56 eventual contenders was REC Media Group’s own entry. “Oh crap,” one of  REC’s junior high school interns wrote. “I just used my house to make a sign.” Jason King weighed in with “I shaved my balls for this?” Classy. Then along came David Harper, suggesting “Will protest for food …” Alligator meat, maybe? Peyton Powers contributed this gem: “Can’t wait to get home and see my wife. i mean sister.” Lee Longworth wasn’t quite up to the challenge. “What an asshole,” he wrote. And it appeared that noted “recreational angler” Craig Abbott wasn’t doing captions. He was doing chest thumps. Says Abbott, “we got close and he and I had a few words.”

“You know what? It could have been considered clever,” Chris says. “But if they are trying to get at me with this, they failed. They are only encouraging me more, they are only strengthening my resolve to see the day when people like me, average everyday guys like me, can return to the Pass and fish in peace. Anyone who would be on there (the Facebook page), anyone who would comment like that, I don’t value their opinion to begin with. So why should I care at all?”

Chris admitted he hadn’t seen what the PTTS crowd had written about him and his sign over there on that Facebook page spoof. And, he said, he didn’t much care. Yeah, he might take a peek. Maybe leave a message of his own. No, on second thought, why bother? Plus, he laughed, “they might ‘unfriend’ me.”

“It pretty much convinces me that this is all they have, you know … making fun of those who disagree. It tells me, and it should tell everyone else, that they know they are wrong. I mean, any rational person would have to wonder.”

Then there are those witty but bewildering homeless “gags” the crew at REC Media Group aimed at Chris. It seems Chris, his wife of 27 years and his two Brittany Spaniels (he left the pups at home on Sunday – “didn’t want them to get foul hooked”) are doing just fine, thank you. Today, at 52, he’s a successful self-employed inventory control consultant.

Home, he says, is Rhode Island. But no matter where he’s lived, from Cape Cod to Montauk Point to the smallest lake to the largest ocean, Chris has found a way to pursue his passion for fishing. It’s what would ultimately lead him to Southwest Florida. And to Boca Grande Pass shortly after sunrise on May 19.

“I’ve fished the Salmon River in New York, and I witnessed the snagging they were doing there first hand. It’s the same thing we see going on in Boca Grande. There’s no skill needed. That’s what the deal is. There’s no skill. Just like on the Salmon, they drop those bottom weighted hooks and snag the biggest fish that swims by. The state finally stepped in and stopped it on the Salmon River. The state needs to step in and stop it here. It’s criminal.”

(Here’s the anti-snagging rule adopted by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation: “Weight shall not be added to the line, leader, swivels, artificial fly or lure in any manner such that the weight hangs lower than the attached hook, artificial fly or lure when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod.” Sound familiar?)

Protest Boat

He scoffs at suggestions those who turned out for the May 19 “Protest in the Pass” were somehow coerced or otherwise “bullied” into getting up before the sun that morning. “Nobody contacted me, I came of my own volition because of what the PTTS stands for is wrong. Not only to the fish, but to the average Joe. They are making it (the Pass) inaccessible to the guy who simply wants to take his kid out fishing. They disrupt the Pass so bad those fish are gone for the rest of the day. There’s no way they should be able to exclude the public for a TV show. They are ruining this fishery, and they are profiting from it.”

Really Chris? Nobody put a gun, or a bullhorn, to your head? “Hell no. You guys inspired me to do something about it. I started following this situation when I was looking for tips on how to fish tarpon. Save The Tarpon was the first site that popped up. I did a lot of reading. Then I came to Boca Grande to see for myself. I finally said enough. Fisheries, particularly this fishery, are something I care a lot about. I don’t want to be pushed around when I go fishing. And they make it impossible. Pardon the French, but it pisses me off.”

About that sign? “Just why should I invest more than a can of spray paint and an old piece of cardboard on those guys?” he asks. “Actually, one of the PTTS guys said they were going to take up a collection and buy me a nice piece of plywood for the next one. Guess it got lost in the mail,” he says with a laugh.

“You know, I love to fish. For just about anything. But I just won’t snag. That’s not fishing,” he says. “There were some things said in the heat of the moment by both sides, but this is about a lot more than just a sound bite. They have this ‘gotcha’ mentality going. This isn’t about ‘gotcha.’ This is about saving what’s left of a fishery. I hope the state is paying attention and outlaws the bottom weighted jig just as they did on the Salmon. There’s no reason the PTTS can’t use conventional and ethical fishing means.

“And if this doesn’t make for good TV, if that’s what this tournament is really all about, then I guess the PTTS will just have to go away.” That REC Media Group, PTTS Facebook pillory page was a bad joke in search of a punch line. Kind of ironic that the guy they were ridiculing would wind up delivering it to them. Nine days and a phone call later.

REC Media Group is located at 1227 W. Colonial Drive in Orlando, Florida.  They may be reached at 407.283.7732.  Their list of clients include: the PTTS, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC)Bass2Billfish, Threadfin Boats, Skeeter Boats, Sea Hunt Boats, Scout Boats, and the World Fishing Network (WFN).  For the full list, please visit their “Clients” page.