The ‘banned’ Facebook video: Capt. Artie Price hand-feeds a live tarpon to a pack of sharks


The video appearing here was initially posted to Capt. Artie Price’s Facebook page late last month. Save The Tarpon re-posted the video to the group’s own 30,000+ follower page. In a few days, the video drew more than a half million views along with thousands of comments, shares and “likes.” Price and his video had clearly gone viral. Not everyone was pleased. Within hours, Price had scrubbed the video from his and other Facebook pages. But he and his friends didn’t stop there.

The video, shot by a client aboard Price’s boat, graphically shows Capt. Price feeding what appears to be a juvenile tarpon to a pack of sharks in Boca Grande Pass in mid-May. After about 10 days online, the video was removed by Facebook as too gory, grizzly, graphic and gruesome for the social media platform’s “community standards.” It was too late.

In addition to those 500,000+ views, a number of brands that had one “proudly” sponsored Price, his guide service and his tarpon fishing team promptly withdrew or renounced their support. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials wrote that they were outraged by what they witnessed happening in the video. The FWC’s Internet Crimes Division has launched an investigation. Save The Tarpon has been in contact with investigators and will continue to pursue and provide updates.

State attorney won’t prosecute local guides; Tampa area captain’s fate uncertain

Capt. Jim Huddleston

FWC officers pull aside Capt. James Huddleston’s boat on May 15 after observing the Tampa-area guide fishing two illegal “breakaway” bottom-weighted jigs.

While high-profile Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler and charter captain James W. Huddleston continues to await his day in Lee County Circuit Court, prosecutors are moving ahead with plans to defer and ultimately dismiss all charges against two local fishing guides accused by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers of allegedly violating rules prohibiting the use of “breakaway” gear in Boca Grande Pass.

Ftafbphoto

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight came through again. Great timing, guys. They chose yesterday to recycle an old Facebook post and plaster it across the top of their page. We saved it for you here because odds are it’s not going to last long over there.

The decision to halt prosecution came as Capt. Frank E. Davis, 53, of Placida and Capt. David C. Chatham, 35, of Port Charlotte entered not guilty pleas on Monday in connection with a May 28 FWC “boating safety and resource inspection” sweep that specifically targeted traditional live bait fishing guides operating charters in the Pass.

Assistant State Attorney Larry D. Justham, who spearheads the county court division, declined comment on the cases brought by the FWC against the two local guides. Justham referred all questions, including those concerning the as-yet unresolved Huddleston case, to the state attorney’s press office. Communications Director Samantha Syoen said she was unable to comment on an active prosecution, but noted the state attorney’s office is “working closely with the FWC” on the matter.

Huddleston’s next court date is June 27 when he is slated to appear before Judge H. Andrew Swett at 8 a.m. in Fort Myers. Charges against Huddleston stem from a May 15 incident when FWC officers say they spotted one of Huddleston’s clients fishing what they said was “an obvious illegal jig” in Boca Grande Pass. The bottom-weighted jig, popular among PTTS competitors, was outlawed by the FWC in September, 2013 when it was determined to be a foul-hooking or “snagging” device.

The FWC subsequently came under fire for opting to issue Huddleston a written warning rather than a formal second degree misdemeanor charge for violating the widely reported nine-month old jig prohibition.

FWC Capt. Guy Carpenter, who oversees the agency’s law enforcement efforts in Lee and Charlotte counties, has sought to defend the decisions his officers made in the Huddleston matter by noting the FWC’s “enforcement philosophy is to start out heavy on the education side” and that “we have to educate people.”

Critics have questioned the need for “education” in the Huddleston case, however, pointing to reports filed by both officers referencing Huddleston’s “knowledge and experience” and that the 44-year-old Palm Harbor man is and has been employed as a long-time professional fishing guide.

The same reports state Huddleston appeared to hurriedly instruct one of his clients to lower the illegal gear into the water when he saw the FWC officers approach to make their inspection.

The reports contain no indication Huddleston attempted to claim he was unaware of the regulation. Rather, the reports state, Huddleston sought to place blame for the presence of the banned devices being fished from his boat on his absent and unnamed “mate.” Huddleston did, however, receive a citation for using “breakaway” tackle in conjunction with the illegal jigs. Again, according to the reports, he offered no defense.

By contrast, reports show both Chatham and Davis vigorously defended the legality of their gear two weeks later when FWC officers selectively stopped and inspected more than a dozen traditional live-bait “Pass Boats.”

In Chatham’s case, an FWC officer was repeatedly unable to “break away” the gear the officer would later claim was designed to break away. Davis similarly objected, noting that the same gear that drew his break-away gear citation had, just moments earlier and in sight of the officers, successfully boated a tarpon without the weight breaking free. The reports state the officer who nevertheless issued the citation “took his objections into consideration.”

The FWC’s “boating safety and resource inspection” sweep of the local Pass Boat fleet came on the heels of an online uproar fueled by those in the Tampa area jig fishing community who contended Huddleston had been targeted by the FWC due to his notoriety as a PTTS jig angler.

The jig anglers’ complaints against the FWC ended abruptly when a Tampa-area newspaper reported the Davis and Chatham citations just hours after they were issued and days before the FWC was able to provide other media outlets with information concerning the two cases.

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.

 

‘That sure sounds like snagging to me,’ Pinellas angler tells FWC cops

Capt Dave Markett of Team Power Pole

The Team Power Pole boat in the Pass with Capt. Dave Markett at the helm as he puts his clients on the fish earlier this month. But wait … take another look. What’s that ‘lure’ they’re fishing? Scroll down for a few photos you likely won’t find on Markett’s Facebook page.

Matt Selby is one of those down-to-earth kind of guys who, like the rest of us, enjoys fishing. On May 9, Matt made the drive to Boca Grande from Pinellas County where you can often find him on the water casting and jigging a variety of legal artificials.

Matt lawfully fishes his collection of time-tested jigs just as they were meant to be fished. As generations of anglers before him have done. And, in his local waters, they work. “They catch me small tarpon back home all the time,” he says.

Matt’s also one of many anglers who have taken the time to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s enforcement division through its “Wildlife Alert Line” this season. Like them, Matt wasn’t happy with what he saw happening around him in Boca Grande Pass that day. Or what he would later be told.

“I really don’t know what to call the kind of fishing I saw being done in the Pass that day,” he said. “It really upset me to watch these guys snag five to seven fish in a three hour span on multiple boats.”

Matt’s story is, of course, a snapshot, an important snapshot. One taken from the perspective of a true sportsman. It’s a picture we’ve seen so many times that maybe it takes a fresh set of eyes to serve up a jolting reminder of the direction this storied fishery was, and still could be, headed.

Perhaps it’s also a snapshot of how the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World” is being viewed by that world – more than two decades after the bottom weighted snag hook arrived in Boca Grande Pass.

Matt says the old reliable “back home” lures he was casting in the Pass weren’t catching anything that day. The fish, he says, weren’t feeding. It happens. And as any sportsman will tell you, it’s frustrating. Matt tried everything he’d learned over the years. Didn’t matter. Not even an angler with his knowledge and experience could entice those tarpon to bite.

Matt looked around. He saw he wasn’t the only angler struggling that day. But he wasn’t expecting what was about to happen, he says. “One guide was next to me,” Matt clearly recalls. “One of his clients started complaining about not catching a single fish in two hours.”

And there you have it. Just as Matt had described. The rig in the side rod holder looks an awful lot like the old (and now illegal) Boca Grande Jig.

And there you have it. Just as Matt had described. The rig in the side rod holder looks an awful lot like the old (and now illegal) Boca Grande Jig.

Matt heard it. Matt saw it. Here’s what Matt later told the FWC:

“He (the guide) looked around. He pulled out a pole from somewhere underneath, under the side. The pole was rigged with the exact snatch jig that was just banned.”

Matt knew the FWC had outlawed the bottom weighted “Pass jig” late last year. And this one was hard to miss. A weighted head attached to a bright green plastic tail. Along with what Matt described as a “a giant hook.” Just like in the photos he’d seen online. Except now he was seeing one up close and personal.

As he later told the FWC, he watched from just feet away as the “old jig,” the one outlawed by the FWC, was fired to the bottom of the Pass.

The fish still weren’t biting, but Matt knew it didn’t matter. “Guess what?” As Matt told the FWC, there was no guesswork required.

Under the proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass, a bottom weighted hook such as this, would be illegal.

The illegal “Boca Grande jig” is actually a bottom-weighted snatch hook.

Under the current gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass, a bottom weighted hook such as this, is  illegal.

“They snagged one on the next drift. And they wound up with seven total on the day. I know for sure he was fishing the illegal one on that drift.”

But that’s not all he told the FWC when he made that call to the “Wildlife Alert Line.” And it was far from the end of the story. Matt also told the FWC about “the funny thing” that happened later that day when he encountered the same guide he’d seen in the Pass a few hours earlier.

Both fished artificials. So, Matt reckoned, the guide likely figured he was talking one brother to another. He wasn’t. Not even close. Here’s how Matt describes it:

“He unknowingly admitted to me he snags the tarpon,” Matt told the FWC. “I said to him that I didn’t even get a bite with what I was using.” Matt said he asked the guide, the one who suddenly landed all those tarpon, “what’s your secret?” Matt said he already knew. There was nothing “secret” about it.

The guide’s advice: “Use clear line that they can’t see, drop the jig to the bottom with the line completely straight up and down, then when you feel a Tarpon bump into your line reel up fast and that sets the hook.” And that’s how Matt described their little chat when he called the FWC.

“That sure sounds like snagging to me.”

Matt had more than a story to relate to the FWC during that phone call. He also had a name to go with that face. And all that “secret” boat ramp advice that name and face had shared.

The face wasn’t hard to find. It was, he said, impossible to miss. Matt quickly discovered he’d been keeping company that day with a cable TV star. A high-profile Professional Tarpon Tournament Series captain whose name and face were all over the Internet. Along with his Team Power Pole PTTS wrap boat.

No, you won’t go blind looking for Capt. Dave Markett. And Matt didn’t have to bother spelling the name for the voice on the phone.

“They told me that have received several tips about these PTTS boats in the Pass, and that they will make especially sure to keep an eye on Markett’s boat,” Matt was told.

Matt, of course, didn’t go looking for lawbreakers on his first trip to the Pass that day. He went looking for tarpon. And he never imagined he’d find himself making a call to the FWC. He also found he wasn’t alone.

He said he was surprised to learn the FWC knew all about what was happening in Boca Grande. So did we. And, naturally, we followed up.

The photos that accompany this story were the result of Matt’s FWC call and others like it. Old habits die hard. And when the fish aren’t biting and the charter clients aren’t happy … some folks will tell you a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

But, as the photos taken a day or so later confirm, the man seemingly couldn’t stop doing what a man’s gotta do. It’s not just the FWC doing the watching. We’re also out there, of course. Just like Matt. There are lots of Matts out there in the Pass.

It’s something one guide has already learned. The hard way. A second degree misdemeanor hard way. Plus, if convicted, a criminal record, a possible $500 fine and, depending on the mood of the judge, up to six months in jail. We can probably toss in three very ticked off charter clients. Let’s also not forget the 100,000 or so social media and website hits. Consider them a bonus.

Who’s really in that boat a few feet away? There’s an easy way to find out. Drop an “old jig” into the Pass. Or a “new jig” that, as FWC law enforcement has clearly stated, is just a quick wrist flick away from becoming the same “old jig” their bosses banned by a 7-0 vote late last year.

So go ahead. It’s like they say. You’ll never know until you try. It’s not like anyone’s watching. Right?

But if you are, the number for the FWC’s “Wildlife Alert Line” is 888-404-3922. You can choose to remain anonymous. The FWC offers rewards for information leading to a prosecution and conviction. Save the Tarpon is also chipping in more than $1,000 on top of the FWC reward.

And, if you’re wondering, Matt has declined any reward resulting from his call to the FWC. He said seeing the new rules aggressively enforced is all the reward he needs.

PTTS captain facing FWC criminal charges for fishing ‘new jig’

Capt. Jim Huddleston

FWC officers are shown detaining Huddleston and his charter clients May 15 in Boca Grande Pass. Huddleston is facing criminal charges as a result of the stop that allegedly turned up two modified bottom weighted jigs.

Just days after the so-called “new jig” made its debut in Boca Grande Pass, a Tampa Bay area fishing guide and prominent Professional Tarpon Tournament Series team captain quickly found himself – and his “new jig” – on the wrong side of the law.

James W. Huddleston, 44, of Palm Harbor is scheduled to make a June 3 court appearance in Fort Myers where he’s facing second degree misdemeanor charges, up to six months in jail and a $500 fine if convicted of using illegal gear, according to records provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. His arraignment is set for 8 a.m.

According to the FWC, officers approached Huddleston’s charter boat around 8:50 a.m. in Boca Grande Pass on Thursday, May 15. The officers said an observer in a nearby boat had tipped them off that Huddleston and his clients were using a form of bottom weighted “jig” outlawed as a foul-hooking device last year by the commission.

Officers said they saw “an obvious illegal jig” on a rod being held by one of Huddleston’s three charter clients. “The weight was clearly below the hook,” the officers said.

As they drew near Huddleston’s boat, officers said the client dropped his line and its bottom-weighted hook into the water. Officers said they immediately instructed the client to reel up, secured the jig aboard their patrol vessel and observed a weight attached to the bottom of the hook.

Capt Jim Huddleston

Huddleston is also a Tampa Bay Times fishing writer.

A second Huddleston client was then told to reel up, according to the report.  The FWC officers said it was discovered this line was also illegally rigged.

Police said Huddleston attempted to place the blame on his absent and unnamed mate who, he claimed, “rigged those poles for me this morning.”

He also told the officers the hooks his clients were using had pulled out of the jig’s soft plastic tails. Officers said they told Huddleston the rig was still unlawful as it “allows the weight to slide down the hook with a simple manipulation from the angler.”

Critics of the “new jig” agree, noting the hook was designed, as Huddleston told the FWC, to be pulled from the jig’s tail to allow the weight to break free and slip under the hook.

Huddleston’s clients were not cited. According to the FWC report, “Huddleston is a guide and at the time on a paying charter fishing trip. His clients hire him for his knowledge and experience.”

Capt Jim Huddleston

Huddleston, aka ‘Captain Hud.’

The officers noted that Huddleston’s use “of a lighter monofilament to attach the weight … shows clear intent to violate the rule.”

Huddleston is a veteran PTTS captain who has been sponsored in the past by World of Beer and Safeco Insurance. His 2014 PTTS sponsor, according to the TV show’s website, is Hendrick Roofing Inc. His website notes Mercury Marine Outboards, G Loomis Rods, Optima Batteries, Shearwater Boats Mirrolure and the Big Fish Tackle Company as additional sponsors.

Huddleston’s 2014 PTTS team includes anglers Randy Hendrick, Brad Bond and Jayson Brandgard, according to the PTTS website. In 2012, Huddleston took sixth place in the PTTS “Team of the Year” competition. He also posted a Week 5 win that year with a tarpon that tipped the PTTS scales at 174 pounds. His 2013 fortunes sagged as he and his Safeco Insurance team finished 32nd on the season, well out of the money.

Officers said Huddleston was not taken into custody and was allowed to complete his charter – with whatever legally rigged gear he had on board. Huddleston is also a Tampa Bay Times correspondent who writes a regular fishing column for the newspaper entitled “Captain’s Corner.”

(How does the “new jig” become the “old jig?” All it takes is a jerk. And a quick tug on the line. Check out the video below.)

Incident Summary Report Salem Perry 1 6

Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission

FWC rules ‘new jig’ is illegal

Illegal "Jig"It’s official. And it didn’t take long. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is telling its law enforcement officers that the “new and improved” tarpon jig (see photo) that turned up recently in Boca Grande Pass isn’t new and it isn’t improved.

It’s illegal.

And like the vote that banned the bottom-weighted hook last year, the decision was unanimous.

Thomas Graef, the FWC’s regional director for Southwest Florida, agrees. Capt. Guy Carpenter, FWC law enforcement supervisor for Lee and Charlotte counties, agrees. And Nick Wiley, executive director of the FWC, agrees. And they’ve put it in writing.

They all agree. And there’s no wiggle room on this one. It’s simple. Use the new jig and you’re breaking the law.

“The jig depicted in the drawing (the photo above) is not legal as the weight appears to be designed to slide down the shank,” Carpenter wrote.

“If a fisherman in Boca Grande is found to be in possession of one, it’s prohibited use will be explained and properly documented.”

Carpenter continues. “If the fisherman is found to be fishing it, the violation will handled appropriately based on knowledge and prior contact.”

Translation: Use the “new jig,” get caught using the new jig, and the FWC will give you a warning. Do it twice, and the FWC will give you a second degree misdemeanor prosecution.

The determination was made and announced by Carpenter late Monday night. “A tug pulls the eye of the from under zip tie and hook point rips from plastic soft body tail,” the FWC said. In other words, a flick of the wrist turns the “new jig” into the “old jig.”

A memo detailing the FWC’s determination has been circulated among the area’s FWC law enforcement officers. According to the FWC, those law enforcement officers will be in the Pass and they’ll be looking for violators.

Unless stowed out of reach, just having a new jig or an old jig while in Boca Grande Pass – whether it’s used or not – is also a violation.

(How does the “new jig” become the “old jig?” All it takes is a jerk. And a quick tug on the line. Check out the video below.)

Incident Summary Report Salem Perry 1 6

Florida FIsh and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The ‘new jig’ is here, and it’s the same old scam

Boca Grande Jig 2.0Save The Tarpon, along with its more than 25,000 members and supporters, welcomes you to Boca Grande and our iconic fishery, the migratory home of the storied Silver King. We wish you the best of luck, as well as some great tarpon fishing stories and memories that will last forever.

There’s a situation we’re dealing with that you need to know about before dropping that first line in the water. Late last year the rules governing tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass were changed by the people who write Florida’s fish and game rules. And, as expected, not everyone is playing by those rules. There is a very real risk your fishing trip of a lifetime could become a very real nightmare.

The promised “new jig” has made its long-awaited debut in Boca Grande Pass. It’s a clumsy and obvious ruse that isn’t fooling anyone, including law enforcement. All it takes is a flick of the wrist, and the familiar-looking contraption in the photo transforms into the same old notorious bottom weighted tarpon-snagging machine outlawed last year by a unanimous vote of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

How? An oversized hook is flimsily rigged to pierce the edge of “Jig 2.0’s” latex tail. This is designed to change the angle of the thing and, in theory, elevate the weight above the hook. To temporarily make it look all legal-like. As you can see from the photos, it comes close. But not quite.

…if this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed.

Once the device hits the water, the captain gives it a quick jerk, the hook breaks free, the rod and its now-bottom weighted and illegal “jig” are handed off to the unsuspecting client and they’re back to fishing and flossing like it’s 2013.

The regulations (and they’re regulations, not suggestions) adopted by the FWC are pretty specific. In the FWC’s words: “Fishing with gear that has a weight attached to a hook, artificial fly or lure in such a way that the weight hangs lower than the hook when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod is prohibited.”

Further, “if this gear is on board a fishing vessel while inside the boundaries of the Pass, it cannot be attached to any rod, line or leader and must be stowed.” Beyond not using these things, the FWC says you can’t even have them on you or on your rod or anywhere you might be able to get at them while afloat.

The FWC didn’t stop there. The FWC tossed in a little something these geniuses seemingly forgot. The folks at the FWC knew who they were dealing with. The FWC saw them coming when the new Boca Grande gear restrictions were drafted. The FWC anticipated the die-hards would attempt to find a way around the “suspended vertically” test. And, as we’re now seeing, the FWC was right.

While the FWC knew it WOULD happen, the FWC didn’t know exactly HOW it would happen. So the commissioners also adopted language designed to literally “cut them off at the Pass.” It reads: “Snagging, snatch hooking, spearing and the use of a multiple hook in conjunction with live or dead natural bait is prohibited.”

Simply put, snagging and snatch hooking is illegal. Attempting to snag and snatch hook tarpon is illegal. And because the rig in the photo is designed to do just that, you might want to take a close look at what’s on that rod before putting it in your hands. If it looks like the thing in the photo, don’t do it. Your friendly guide is setting you up. If he gets busted, you get to go along for the ride. Cute. And how much did you pay for that charter?

Welcome to Boca Grande. We’re the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.” We want you to enjoy the time you spend with us, and take home some great memories. Getting rung up on a misdemeanor fish and wildlife charge shouldn’t be one of those memories, however. It’s not worth the risk.

Miami Herald: Controversial PTTS goes on with added scrutiny

This article was originally published in the Sunday, April 13, 2014 edition of the Miami Herald. 

By Sue Cocking
scocking@miamiherald.com

When the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided last year to ban the use of a popular type of fishing tackle for pursuing tarpon in Southwest Florida’s Boca Grande Pass, many thought that would be the end of the zany reality show/fishing contest known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

PTTS Tarpon Tournament

A common scene in Boca Grande Pass when the PTTS circus comes to town.

The FWC decided that the “Boca Grande jig” — where the weighted part of the lure hangs below a circle hook — effectively snagged tarpon in the face and body instead of enticing them to strike, and outlawed its use in the Pass. The decision was hailed by a grassroots organization called Save the Tarpon, which had waged boisterous on-water protests and a tireless social-media campaign against the PTTS. Several South Florida guides got involved because many tarpon caught and released in Southwest Florida are recaptured later in Southeast Florida and the Keys.

The tournament reacted by filing suit in Charlotte County Circuit Court against Save the Tarpon, accusing the group of defamation and costing the televised contest some major sponsors. The suit is pending.

Meanwhile, the PTTS is embarking on its 11th year, albeit with fewer sponsors and participants, planning to conduct three men’s and three women’s tournaments beginning May 17 and culminating with the season-ending Tarpon Cup, where a boat, motor and trailer will be awarded to the top overall team. The series will be broadcast later on the World Fishing Network.

“Since the inception of the tournament, there has been a faction of folks against what we are doing,” PTTS founder Joe Mercurio said. “We’re not going to let the decision the FWC made daunt us at all. Our anglers are ready to go out and follow the letter of the law and compete.”

Two of the top competitors vowed to do just that, declaring they don’t need the Boca Grande jig to catch and release big tarpon.

Veteran Tampa fishing guide captain Dave Markett of Team Power Pole, which finished third last season, said he used a “slider” jig most of the time, which allows the weight to slide up and down the line above the hook. He said he also caught and released fish using live bait, such as squirrelfish and crabs, and had success with soft plastic jerkbaits.

“There are no shortcuts to success,” Markett said. “Every captain thinks he has an idea and he thinks it will work.”

Jill Sapp, who fishes on Fins & Tails with her guide/husband captain Troy Sapp, said their team has always fished a combination of lures and live bait.

“We’ve fished all of it,” she said. “The guys that have been doing this a long time, this isn’t their first rodeo. The newer people to it, maybe they won’t hook as many. It is what it is.”

Save the Tarpon members plan to monitor the pass on tournament days with video cameras to see if PTTS competitors are following the law, according to the group’s chairman, Boca Grande captain Tom McLaughlin.

“The part of the jig law that’s important is that the fish pursue the gear and not the gear pursue the fish,” McLaughlin said. “It’s all about preserving sport fishing in Boca Grande Pass. It’s a historical fishery and it should be protected.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/04/13/4056127/controversial-ptts-goes-on-with.html

Best-Selling Author Randy Wayne White Crusades to Protect Tarpon

This article was originally published in the March 2014 issue of Sarasota Magazine.

Written by Sarasota Magazine contributing editor, Tony D’Souza.

Randy Wayne White

Best-selling Southwest Florida thriller writer Randy Wayne White crusades to protect the region’s tarpon.

To hear author, restaurateur and angling activist Randy Wayne White tell it, as he recently did at his Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on Sanibel Island, all of us Southwest Floridians are here because of a fish. Because of its fight, the lightning-quick way it rolls and leaps when it strikes, and because of its strength and beauty. That fish is Megalops atlanticus, an archaic, cow-eyed, thick-jawed feeding machine that can reach eight feet in length and weigh 250 pounds. Tourists call it “tar-pon.” The rest of us say “tarp-in.” No matter how you pronounce the name, the tarpon with its silver-dollar scales has always meant money, and that’s at the heart of a recent controversy that embroiled White and the organizers of a high-stakes fishing tournament down in Boca Grande.

“When the first tarpon was landed on rod and reel in 1885 in Sanibel,” White, sitting before an opened laptop in his bar where I’ve caught him writing, tells me, “it made headlines. This was the only big game fish that one could land in a rowboat. Industrialists began to come to this pioneer mangrove coast. Thomas Edison wanted to catch a tarpon, he came here. The Charlotte Northern Railway extended its service to Boca Grande; that began hotels. The tarpon changed the destiny of this coast.”

White is an amicable guy, a youthful 63, a baseball-playing Midwest farmhand who came to Sanibel in 1972 with a high school degree and a yen to write. He earned his salt as fishing guide and adventure magazine columnist, raised two sons and wrote every day. After churning out 18 novels under pseudonyms, he finally found a character, a former NSA agent and marine biologist named Doc Ford, which led to a best-selling series of thrillers, the first of which was 1990′s Sanibel Flats. The series’ popularity has allowed White and his business partners to commercialize the Doc Ford name into three restaurants, a hot sauce line, T-shirts and golf visors. And last year, White used his literary muscle to weigh in on what many here see as the ugliest chapter in the tarpon’s history.

The “Boca Grande jig” masquerades as a traditional jig hook but is designed to sink steel into tarpon even when the fish aren’t biting. When a fish strikes a true jig, it’s hooked inside the mouth; with the belly-weighted Boca Grande jig, an angler drops the hook to the bottom, waits for a fish to bump the line, then reels as fast as he can. The line “flosses” beside the fish, often sliding through its gill plate, and the heavy jig streaks up like a fist and punches its hook into the fish’s face or body.

In a special commentary in the Tampa Tribune in April, White wrote, “In the early 1990s, when tarpon tournament purses in Boca Grande Pass climbed to $100,000 or more, two local anglers revived an old poaching technique that guaranteed they would boat tarpon and also fill their pockets…. Among guides, ‘jig fishing’ became the accepted euphemism for snag fishing, but always in a wink-wink sort of way because boating fish is key to making money…. The technique wasn’t illegal, but most of us knew it wasn’t ethical…How do I know this is true? Because, as a fishing guide, I did it.”

Prior to the new gear restrictions passed by FWC in 2013, most of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers relied on the unethical "Boca Grande jig" to snag tarpon and earn valuable "face time" on TV for their sponsors.

Prior to the new gear restrictions passed by FWC in 2013, most of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series anglers relied on the unethical “Boca Grande jig” to snag tarpon and earn valuable television “face time” for their sponsors.

The “Boca Grande jig” masquerades as a traditional jig hook but is designed to sink steel into tarpon even when the fish aren’t biting. When a fish strikes a true jig, it’s hooked inside the mouth; with the belly-weighted Boca Grande jig, an angler drops the hook to the bottom, waits for a fish to bump the line, then reels as fast as he can. The line “flosses” beside the fish, often sliding through its gill plate, and the heavy jig streaks up like a fist and punches its hook into the fish’s face or body.

“Snagging is taboo in the world of sport fishing,” White tells me as he leads me around his restaurant. “It’s the equivalent of harpooning or using dynamite.” The island-themed Doc Ford’s is packed for dinner, the genteel patrons dressed in polos and khaki. White spends a few minutes chatting with two couples from Kansas City, Dee and Frank Mana and Kathie and Phil Ziegler, who tell me they’re here because of the Doc Ford series. White signs a book, “Dear Dee, Doc’s Pal!,” then urges the group to, “Try the hot sauce.”

Out in his truck, White riffs on the surreal success of his books and the restaurants, which has come later in life for a writer whose early days often did not include hot water or A/C. “I did many years with no safety net,” he tells me as we pause to let some beach tourists scamper across the road. “Every day now, it just feels dreamlike. Peter Matthiessen [the National Book Award-winning author of the Watson Trilogy] gives me a hard time about being commercial. He says, ‘So, Randolph, are you going into real estate?’ I say to him, ‘A Killing Mister Watson oyster bar. Think of the T-shirts.’”

Soon we’re at Doc Ford’s on Captiva Island, a cavernous 400-seater, and White winds his way to the back bar, greeting fans and staff alike. At the bar, I ask a red-haired lady sipping a cocktail if she reads the Doc Ford series. She takes a hard look at the man beside me and says, “Are you the Randy White?”

“If you knew me, you’d run like the wind,” he tells her. Soon, he’s posing for a picture, and then we’re talking tarpon again. White says, “When they first started using [the Boca Grande jig], I had a client who would book me every year during tarpon season. I told him about it and he said, ‘Let’s go out and try it.’ I wired a very heavy weight, probably three ounces, to the hook. He landed two fish; one was hooked under the lateral fin. They’re almost all hooked outside the mouth [using the Boca Grande jig].”

The practice might have continued if not for the 2003 entry of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series into Boca Grande Pass. Hosted by Sarasota’s Joe Mercurio, the PTTS and its sister series, the Women’s Professional Tarpon Tournament, have the richest tarpon purses in the world. This year, they’ll offer more than $500,000 in prizes.

From the beginning, the PTTS drew criticism. “The Pass’s characteristics are such that the tarpon are contained in an area and must stack up,” explains White. “To snag fish effectively, you need a very fast boat, and during the tournaments we’re talking a hundred or more. It’s day after day of these high-speed pursuits of these fish who are there to feed and fatten and do this little-understood ceremony that’s prelude to their mating. It’s just a circus.”

Like White, the PTTS and Joe Mercurio are commerce-savvy, though the tournament targets a different audience. Its marketing videos highlight the very things White and other PTTS critics abhor: teams of sponsorship-clad fishermen in sponsorship-wrapped boats, all in a frenzied pursuit of fish. The videos’ background music is high-octane synthesizer, the feel is NASCAR. “The PTTS pits 50 teams in a head-to-head gunnel-to-gunnel battle,” the announcer intones in the 2010 video. “The playing field can only be described as controlled chaos.” The PTTS TV series reaches 42 million viewers and is co-hosted by a Sarasota-based blond bombshell, Sheli Sanders. Prominent in the videos are bull and hammerhead sharks chomping through tarpon even as the anglers reel them in.

What White and groups like Save the Tarpon of Boca Grande Pass argue is that the tournament uses the doctored jig and harasses the fish at a critical time in its breeding cycle. Bowing to pressure from Boca Grande guides, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) conducted a $200,000 foul-hooking study from 2002-2004. Surprisingly, the FWC did not find that the Boca Grande jig was hooking tarpon outside the mouth.

White says: “In the study, 75 percent to 80 percent are hooked in the mouth. But people did not ask what constitutes ‘mouth.’ The study’s definition is essentially this: Any bone in the tarpon’s head connected to its mouth [is its mouth]. The study has done more to harm tarpon in the last 10 years than any number of tarpon fishermen.”

Read the rest of the story here.