‘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.

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

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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.”

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.

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

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.