Is the PTTS reality show Boca Grande’s version of ‘Jersey Shore?’

PTTS Team Jersey Shore

By: Mary Anne Hastings, Boca Grande

Just when things start to quiet down a bit in Boca Grande, the circus known as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) rolls into town. When I pick up a paper or turn on the television and see this tournament being glorified and promoted, I get very angry. When I see some of the local media touting the ongoing struggle in Boca Grande to rid ourselves of this scourge as nothing more than locals not wanting to share, I become livid.

Imagine being a resident of the  Jersey Shore when THAT reality show started airing and promoting your neighborhood like they did, then harassing you if you spoke out against it. Gasparilla Island is no different from any other community.

The residents here created this beautiful community and are responsible to maintain it. Visitors here are just that – visitors, and while all are welcome, they are expected to respect the values and traditions that have made this island what it is. Absent of residents who care deeply about their neighborhood, any developer, retail operation or reality show circus would have the ability to come in and destroy this beauty for their own profit.

Ask anyone who lived on Fort Myers Beach a few years back before the resorts and bars moved in.

PTTS General Manager and Host, Joe Mercurio

PTTS General Manager and Host, Joe Mercurio.

The Boca Grande Comprehensive Plan Amendment, Lee County  states: “The State of Florida recognized that the conservation of the natural beauty, plant, marine, animal and bird life of the islands was in the best interest of the residents and property owners of the islands, the citizens of Lee and Charlotte Counties and the State of Florida, and consequently created the Gasparilla Island Conservation District by enacting the Gasparilla Island Conservation District Act of 1980 (Ch 80-473).”

Lee County and the state of Florida authorized us to preserve and maintain Boca Grande and its surrounding resources to reflect the values and appearance of our community. The PTTS and its affiliates have taken it upon themselves to show the world their version of what Boca Grande is all about and their depiction is dead wrong.

On top of that, they are essentially strip mining a resource for profit and will move on when the fishery is irreparably damaged or completely collapses leaving the island economy in shambles and a natural resource destroyed. We are stewards of the natural resources of our community and we are responsible for how our community is portrayed to the world.

“DJ” Gary Ingman and Joe “The Situation” Mercurio created a “tournament” reality show and have lined their pockets with advertising dollars from it. We have proven their “tournament” rules are bogus. Foul-hooked and dead tarpon are counted as catches, against their own “rules.”

PTTS Tarpon TournamentOther anglers in the area are forced out so they can film the NASCAR-style circus they call fishing without anyone else in their camera shots. Millions of people then watch  this sham reality show and think that is what fishing looks like in Boca Grande and we, the community, are left to re-educate the world on ethical techniques and behavior, not to mention clean the beaches up when the dead tarpon wash ashore. Ingman and Mercurio saw a way to make a lot of money off a reality TV show and they jumped on it, without regard for the neighborhood or the fish they were making that money off of. Even their website is pttstv.com. That says a lot to me. It’s all about the TV show.

The PTTS is our “Jersey Shore” reality show and like the actual residents of the Jersey Shore, we want them gone and I make no apologies for it. We sincerely hope the Boca Grande jig will be banned at the June 12th FWC meeting but, given the money made off this tournament, my guess is that Ingman and Mercurio are coming up with a plan B snagging device to circumvent any new rules and keep their cash cow mooing. We will be watching.

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

Mr. Sensitive, Joe Mercurio

Joe Mercurio doesn’t need a bullhorn. He has REC Media and a video he likely thought had been scrubbed from the Internet. To borrow from the “outraged” J-Merc, what if “Mr. Sensitive” here had said this to your daughter?

If you’re not entirely sure what this about, you have lots of company. In short, Mercurio has expressed his opinion that certain comments made at Sunday’s “Protest in the Pass” were inappropriate. Based on a whole lot of history with the guy, we weren’t convinced his outrage was entirely genuine. But, as it was pretty much all he had, he persisted. And persisted. So, we searched around. This one wasn’t hard to find. At the risk of dignifying Mercurio’s feigned outrage with a response, this is our response. 

And if none of this makes the slightest shred of sense, we agree. But give it a look, then let’s all get back to the issues that matter. This one really doesn’t.

A talk with Capt. Tom McLaughlin

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

By Josh Olive
Waterline Publisher

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

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

Capt Tom McLaughlin

Save the Tarpon Chairman, Capt. Tom McLaughlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WL: Were the goals of the protest met?

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

Save the Tarpon Protest Boats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A trail of gaffed, dragged and dead tarpon – and you care about WHAT?

PTTS Protest May 19, 2013PTTS host Joe Mercurio has seemingly convinced himself the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers who were on hand Sunday to, in their words, “observe and report,” are going to rush back to Tallahassee where they will breathlessly report they observed someone yelling something through a bullhorn.

A bullhorn? Seriously? Sorry Joe. The FWC didn’t send those officers all the way to Boca Grande for bullhorns. These are trained and experienced professional wildlife officers. Bullhorns?

They are going to report on the tarpon they observed being dragged through the pass rather than, as you promised, measured immediately and released unharmed. They are going to report on the hook placements you, they, and everyone else observed and photographed. They are going to report on the two fish that didn’t make it. They observed that, too.

They are, of course, also going to report on the way your guys and your camera crews were observed “handling” those boats. This is what they are going to report. Because these are all problems they know the FWC commissioners can readily fix with a simple voice vote and a stroke of a pen.

Snagged PTTS Tarpon

This tarpon, snagged in the neck by a “Boca Grande tarpon jig,” was one of many fish documented by Save the Tarpon protesters. Although the PTTS rules clearly call for disqualification of any fish hooked outside of the mouth, this tarpon was still weighed for points.

As far as those bullhorns go, that’s a more difficult nut to crack. If you would rather make bullhorns the issue, the FWC officers won’t be left with much choice. If asked, they’ll have to tell the seven commissioners the truth. They will tell the commissioners, if asked, there’s really only one practical way within their power to get rid of the bullhorns. Because the FWC is a fish commission, not a constitutional convention, the only sure (and legal) way to get rid of the bullhorns, they’ll quietly suggest, is to get rid of what the bullhorns are pointed at.

And yes Joe, that would be you. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? But either is dragging those dead and dying tarpon on clandestine sightseeing tours of the pass. Either is breaking the promise you made to those seven commissioners to immediately measure and release those tarpon unharmed.

And, of course, those two dead tarpon might argue with your promise to the commissioners that your TV tournament is all about conservation. Don’t bother trying to promise away the foul-hooking. The folks who didn’t have bullhorns in their hands on Sunday were wielding cameras. Lots and lots of cameras. You did a good job trying to hide and sink the evidence. Just wasn’t quite good enough.

Snagged PTTS Tarpon - 2013

The lip-lock, aka clip-on gaff, moves in to officially weigh a foul-hooked tarpon in the opening event of the 2013 Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. The leader was cut and the hook was left in the fish during the measuring process.

The “report” part of “observe and report” should make for some interesting reading. We’ll get you a copy. And who knows? Buried among the gaffing, the dragging, the dead fish, the foul-hooking, the wrap boats and REC Media’s full reverse slice and dice job on that tarpon, you might just find a few words about bullhorns. Don’t bet the gold chains on it, however.

The new PTTS is the same old PTTS – May 19th 2013 protest from Save the Tarpon on Vimeo.

Boca Beacon: FWC break-away jig study refuted by originating scientist

Boca Beacon May 17 2013

 

 

(The following was originally published in the Friday, May 17, 2013 edition of the Boca Beacon.)

By Marcy Shortuse
In the summer of 2004 Dr. Justin Grubich picked up the phone to take a call from a woman who said she was with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The woman, Kathy Guindon, talked with Justin for about 30 minutes foul-hooking tarpon, and he was asked to provide expert witness testimony on how tarpon feed.

He didn’t give the conversation much thought.

You see, while Justin is a Florida boy born and bred, he had never given much thought to using a piece of rubber or metal to catch a tarpon. And Guindon didn’t tell him that was what the study was about.

But he gave his opinion, for what he thought it was worth, all about how a tarpon’s mouth parts work, how they approach prey, and their feeding habits in general.

It wasn’t until this year that he realized just how important his offhand comments had become to tarpon fishing regulations in Boca Grande Pass.

After all, he thought he was just having a casual conversation.Dr. Justin Grubich letter to FWC 2013

Justin is a fish-functional morphologist. He figures out how fish work, and he applies that knowledge to researching their evolution and ecology.

“I deconstruct how a fish eats, how they breathe, how they move,” he said. “But primarily how they feed.

My original work was based on tarpon suction-feeding kinematics, and my findings were in a paper I published in 2001.”

That may have been how the FWC tracked Justin down at the Field Museum in Chicago in 2004, or it may have been through his mentor, Dr. Phil Motta. Either way, when Justin picked up that phone and had a 30-minute conversation with an FWC representative, he didn’t even know what a Boca Grande jig was, or how it is designed to work.

It is abundantly clear he had no clue just how important his answers were to the Florida fishing community.

For years he didn’t know what had become of the research. He was out of the country for many years, studying Red Sea lionfish and Nile perch in Egypt and teaching biomechanics, evolution and environmental science at the University of Cairo. When he came back to the United States he served in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to Secretary Hillary Clinton, and as a foreign affairs adviser on scientific issues such as climate change, coral reef conservation and international fisheries to the Cairo Initiative unveiled by President Obama in June 2009.

So when he returned to the Field Museum in Chicago just weeks ago, it was out of sheer coincidence that author Randy Wayne White and angler Bill Bishop tracked him down there. They used his old email address, which wasn’t even re-activated until a couple of weeks ago.

Randy explained through his email to Justin that he just wanted to talk to him about his input on the foul-hooking study. When Justin looked up Randy’s web page, he found his name there … and not in the most positive light.

“Then I started to get inquisitive,” Justin said. “So Randy and I started an email conversation, I explained my brief involvement in the study, and how it was just a short phone call. Then they sent me the complete study.”

Justin was pretty shocked to see himself quoted in great detail throughout the study.

“Reading through it, to see how I was quoted … considering in 2004 I had none of the information available to me about what kind of jig was being used, what kind of place Boca Grande Pass was … I feel the information I gave to the FWC was used improperly,” he said.

Justin said that now that he knows more about the fishery, the jig, and the situation, he said it doesn’t seem to him that the tarpon are responding to the jigs with the intention of feeding. Because they don’t eat rubber or metal.

“They’re pretty discerning fish,” he said. “They wouldn’t have lasted 300 million years if they weren’t. With the scientific evidence obtained from tagging in the Boca Grande fishery, it shows the tarpon are down at deep depths during most of the day, then they come up and feed at night. Those guys who are fishing at night know that they’re feeding on the pass crabs coming in. So you can imagine how the fish feel during these tarpon tournaments during the day, these flotillas of boats dropping things on them.”

Justin likened it to the flossing situation with salmon on the west coast. “When the salmon are coming up the rivers they’re stacked so thick, they had to make rules to apply to foul-hooking there. That’s a more probable scenario of what’s going on here.”

He continued.

“I grew up in the Florida Keys, and have been fishing for tarpon since I was a teenager. I know how difficult they are to catch, and that every time you catch one it’s something special.”

As a sidenote, Dr. Phil Motta has also declared that the information he gave to FWC was improperly used in the study.

Justin has served as the Associate Director of Biodiversity Informatics at The Field Museum in Chicago and assistant professor of Biology at The American University in Cairo. He received his doctorate in evolution and ecology from Florida State University in 2001. He is a researcher at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, where he worked on reef fish biodiversity. 

In the summer of 2009, he was featured on the National Geographic Channel series “Hooked: Vampire Fish.”

The FWC will be meeting on Wednesday, June 12 in Lakeland to discuss Boca Grande Pass tarpon-fishing gear. The proposed rule would address the definition of snagging tarpon, and would prohibit gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook. It would also enhance the definition of “snagging” and “snatch-hooking” within FWC regulations for tarpon.

See page 5 of this week’s Beacon for Justin’s letter to FWC Commissioner Ken Wright.

Useful links:

FWC Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon 
in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004

2002-2003: Incidence of Foul-hooking in FMRI* Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Catch and Release Mortality Study

Letter to FWC chairman from Dr. Justin Grubich regarding 2002-2004 Foul Hooking Tarpon study

Dr. Justin Grubich letter to FWC 2013Letter from Dr. Justin Grubich as PDF.

This letter, dated May 8, 2013, was sent to FWC Chairman, Kenneth Wright by Dr. Justin Grubich regarding the 2002-2004 Foul Hooking Tarpon study.

To read the entire article accompanying this letter, please see Expert named in FWC study speaks out: The jig snags tarpon.

 

 

Justin R. Grubich Ph.D.
Associate Director of Biodiversity Informatics

May, 8th, 2013

Ken Wright, Chair
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission

Dear Mr. Wright,

Recently, I was contacted by Randy White and Bill Bishop in regards to my involvement with the 2002-2004 Foul Hooking Tarpon study in Boca Grande Pass. Their contention, as you are well aware, is that the unique jigging technique known as break-away jigs used in Boca Grande Pass to catch tarpon is an illegitimate method used to foul-hook or ‘snag’ these fish when they are not exhibiting feeding behaviors. They contacted me to ask if I would review the outcomes of the study and whether my involvement has been accurately represented in the FWC’s 2003 summary report.

I have to admit I have not followed this issue since I was first contacted by the FWC to provide expert testimony on the feeding behavior of tarpon. As you are probably aware, I was contacted by the FWC sometime around 2003-4 because of my 2001 research publication regarding the strike kinematics and jaw functional morphology of juvenile tarpon. My recollection of that phone call was approximately a 30 minute discussion where I was briefly informed of the Boca Grande jigging issue and asked a series of questions of how tarpon jaws work during the strike and whether it’s possible these jig’s hook placement in the clipper could be the result of feeding behavior.

Prior to being contacted by the FWC, I had no experience or background knowledge of the Boca Grande tarpon fishery or the techniques used, including what and how a break-away jig works which truth be told was not effectively communicated to me by the FWC representative during the interview. My lack of familiarity with the issue and jigging technique was correctly pointed out by Mr. White on his web page regarding my original testimony.

However, I would like to point out to the Commission and all parties involved that I am not just a scientist in a lab dissecting fish. I am also an avid angler and an IGFA International Committee Representative. I have been fishing for tarpon since the early 80’s in the Florida Keys and Everglades. As a teenager, I worked as a first mate on a Key West charter boat and after college spent two years as a NMFS observer on commercial longline vessels. So, beyond being a scientific expert in fish functional morphology, I think I am also uniquely qualified to review and comment on the ‘fishing’ side of this issue.

That said, I would first like to clarify some misrepresentations of my testimony that is now part of the public record on the FWC website regarding the 2002-2003 Boca Grande Tarpon Catch and Release Mortality Study results. I am quoted as saying that tarpon “can miss during the strike’ and ‘invariably turn their heads after the strike which is how they ARE getting snagged in their clipper plates”.

First of all, missing prey during the strike is a characteristic of all predators and is a quite common occurrence as any angler will frustratingly acknowledge. If predatory fish never missed, there would be no prey left and eventually no predators either. So that statement really is not unique to the discussion of tarpon feeding. I’ll elaborate more on this topic later in the letter. Second, my point about tarpon turning away after the strike and getting ‘snagged’ in the clipper plates should not be taken as a definitive statement to explain all hook placements in the clipper plate.

I was simply providing a plausible scenario from my knowledge of tarpon feeding behavior for why hook placement in the clipper plates MAY occur after a strike. That’s not to say there are not other plausible or more probable ways for hook placement to occur in the clipper plates depending on the specific fishing scenario and techniques being used. My statement was simply referring to the fact that the maxilla (clipper plate) is the largest bone of the upper jaw mechanism in tarpon with a broadly lateral orientation that consequently provides a large surface area for the hook point to snag, penetrate, or wrap around (in the case of large gap hooks).

Lastly, my use of ‘snag’ or ‘snagging’ at that point in time was meant to indicate a purely mechanical definition of the hook gaining purchase in the fish’s mouth region, head, or even body regardless of whether it was coincident with an intentional feeding strike or not. To be clear, it was not based on any previous knowledge of fishing definitions or FWC regulations regarding foulhooking or snagging. I was admittedly ignorant of such semantic issues then.

This brings up my last point regarding my testimony and its portrayal in the FWC report and website. Let me reiterate my whole involvement with this issue revolves around a single discussion. At no point in time was any background material of the break-away jig issue, the tarpon fishery at Boca Grande Pass, or the initial 2002-2003 results of the catch and release mortality study ever provided to me before or after my interview.

So, my original testimony should not be taken to support either position, as it was not based on a thorough review of the issue or any experimental evidence regarding fishing techniques and catch and release mortality in which I participated.

I have since tried to educate myself on the techniques of break-away jig fishing and the environmental conditions of the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery. I have also reviewed the summary report that includes more data from 2004 than the original FWC website 2002-2003 results where I am quoted. After reviewing both reports, I have to concur with Dr. Motta’s testimony reversal that the evidence indicates break-away jigs result in higher foul hooking percentages.

The current FWC definition identifies any hook placement in or around the mouth regardless of orientation as a non-foul hooked fish. Even with this more conservative definition, the results show that break-away jigs still have significantly greater foul hook placement in other parts of the tarpon compared to live bait, although the report suggests the percentage is not unusual compared to other foul hook estimates in other fisheries. However, IF hook orientation is taken into account to include foul hooking as when the hook is driven from the outside into the mouth cavity in either the upper or lower jaws, then the percentage of foul hooking associated with break-away jigs would be 7/26 (27%) for the 2003 results on the FWC website. This foul hooking percentage defined by hook orientation is substantially higher (> 10%
difference) than foul hook estimates in other popular recreational fisheries including salmon fisheries.

The reason hook orientation may important to the discussion of foul hooking is because it is indicative of the behavioral intent of the tarpon. Did the tarpon attempt to capture the lure or bait via a feeding strike? You see, in addition to
using swimming speed to overtake elusive prey, tarpon employ a suction feeding strategy whereby they rapidly expand their jaws and buccal cavity to literally suck the prey backwards into their mouths. Now, the thing about suction generation in fishes is that due to hydrodynamic constraints and the viscosity of water, it is only really effective in a small area just in front of the mouth aperture.

The amount of drag induced on a prey item (i.e. suction force) during a strike rapidly decreases as the distance to the prey becomes greater than 50% of the mouth’s maximum gape. So for even the largest tarpon that means their effective suction strike distance would be less than 6 inches. What does this have to do with hook orientation?

Well, if a tarpon is actively feeding, it will be employing these suction strikes in focused efforts directly in front of their opening jaws to maximize the suction force on the bait or lure in order to draw it into their mouth cavity. And, that means upon closing the jaws around the prey and then turning away, the hook set will most likely be oriented from inside the mouth cavity to the outside of the jaws as indicated by 100% of the live bait results from 2003.

In contrast, less than 50% of the break-away jigs’hook orientation indicate an active suction feeding strike may have been employed by the tarpon. But, in my original testimony, I was quoted as saying tarpon can miss the target during the strike and potentially still get hooked. Indeed they can and often do miss elusive prey, but that probability is greatly diminished with dead drifting tethered baits or lures that are not employing or mimicking escape behaviors.

Even with live baits that have some restricted escape mobility, the 2003 results show tarpon successfully engulfed the prey into the mouth cavity every time indicating an intentional feeding strike. So, with a non-moving or slowly drifting target, tarpon are even less likely to miss and be foul hooked in an outside/in manner during an intentional suction feeding strike.

Whether or not the flossing tactic commonly referred to in salmon fishing circles is also applicable to the break-away jigging technique used in Boca Grande Pass remains to be scientifically verified. Underwater video footage of the break-away jigging technique would be a good start to ascertain the validity of that claim.

However, I will note that the morphology and mechanics of the tarpon clipper plate have features that make ‘flossing’ a plausible scenario. For example, the maxilla of a tarpon includes a continuous ridge of small villiform teeth that line the entire ventro-lateral margin of this enlarged bone.

These tiny velcro-like teeth are very good at grasping slippery objects (usually fleeing fish prey) but are equally good with monofilament as any good tarpon angler can attest to their abrasive abilities on leader material. Even when the maxilla is in its resting (non-suction feeding) position these tiny teeth are exposed from the tip of the jaws to its posterior margin and could provide a roughened snag point for monofilament drifting past even when the fish is not exhibiting feeding behavior. Fish will often shake their head and/or quickly snap their jaws (not to the extent of a full suction strike) when something irritates their head.

Tarpon stacked up like cordwood facing into the current in Boca Grande Pass may be exhibiting such a snapping behavior of the head and jaws in response to the irritation of hundreds of lines of monofilament sliding past them and snagging on the villiform teeth of their maxillae. The angler might perceive this nonfeeding behavior as the tell-tale tap when using the break-away jig. In addition, keep in mind whenever the lower jaw of a tarpon is opened beyond a 10 degree rotation, it causes the maxilla to swing forward and flare laterally (the extent of which is directly linked to the amount of lower jaw rotation).

This lateral expansion and the gripping action of the villiform teeth can cause the monofilament to be threaded between the inside surface of the clipper plate and the cheek (aka suspensorium) facilitating a snagging hook set with an outside/in orientation. So, you can see how non-feeding motions and the morphology of the tarpon’s jaws could result in foul-hooking or snagging tarpon in the mouth when they are not actually intending to feed. This specific flossing scenario of how break-away jigs may work in the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery is of course a hypothesis that would need to be tested.

In closing, I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight regarding my original testimony and hope these additional insights into tarpon feeding behavior and functional morphology are informative. If I can be of any further
assistance regarding this issue, please feel free to contact me.

Kindest Regards,

Justin Grubich

 

Useful links:

FWC Summary Report on the Catch-and-Release Mortality Study on Tarpon 
in Boca Grande Pass, 2002–2004

2002-2003: Incidence of Foul-hooking in FMRI* Boca Grande Pass Tarpon Catch and Release Mortality Study

Drum roll, please…

Need a bedtime story for the kiddies?  Or perhaps some bathroom reading material?  Well, we’ve got you covered.  Enjoy.

(Click here to see the PTTS Complaint as a PDF)

 

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PTTS claims $500,000 boycott loss, wants court to silence Save The Tarpon

PTTS LawsuitClaiming it has lost more than $500,000 in sponsorship, TV advertising, entry fees and other revenues, the company that owns and operates the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) has gone to court in an attempt to silence Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its more than 20,000 members and supporters.

Silver King Entertainment, Inc., which operates the PTTS, is seeking an emergency injunction against the organization in a 235 page civil complaint filed April 29 in Sarasota County Circuit Court. In addition to the injunction aimed at restraining Save The Tarpon, Inc. and its board members from speaking out on issues concerning the PTTS and the Boca Grande tarpon fishery, Silver King Entertainment, Inc. is seeking unspecified damages from the non-profit advocacy group and selected members of its board of directors.

Tom McLaughlin, chairman of Save The Tarpon, Inc. and one of the defendants individually targeted in the complaint, said that he is not particularly surprised that Silver King Entertainment, Inc. filed the PTTS lawsuit given the apparent effectiveness of the group’s efforts in making the voices of its members and supporters heard.

McLaughlin, who referred legal questions to Save The Tarpon, Inc.’s attorneys, said the PTTS charted its own course nearly a year ago when tournament organizers told the fledgling organization it would continue engaging in practices the conservation group considers harmful to the fish and the iconic fishery until “someone tells us to stop.”

Noting Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s claim that it has since lost more than $500,000 attributable to the actions of Save The Tarpon, Inc., McLaughlin characterized the tournament’s stated injuries as “self-inflicted” and contrary to Silver King’s prior public comments that the group’s efforts were having no impact on the PTTS, its sponsors, or its participants.

“They refused to listen to the voices of those whose only goal was to preserve, protect and grow this storied fishery,” McLaughlin said. “And now they want to make those same voices shut up and go away. As the courts have repeatedly and clearly stated, this isn’t how it works in this country.”

Save The Tarpon, Inc. is represented by Brian M. Beason, a partner in the Port Charlotte law firm Frohlich, Gordon and Beason, P.A. Beason declined comment, noting that the lengthy PTTS complaint is still being reviewed. According to court records, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Silver King Entertainment, Inc. by Tampa attorneys Mitchell L. Feldman and Dennis A. Creed.

In addition to McLaughlin and Save The Tarpon, Inc., board members Lew Hastings, Frank Davis, Chris Frohlich, Mark Futch, Walton “Tommy” Locke Jr. and Rhett Morris are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Richard Hirsh, who no longer serves on the Save The Tarpon, Inc. board, is also listed as a defendant. Hastings, recently appointed executive director of Save The Tarpon, Inc., also serves as executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.

McLaughlin said Silver King Entertainment, Inc.’s lawsuit and its request for injunctive relief ask the court to invoke the rarely successful legal tactic of “prior restraint,” a maneuver designed to prohibit Save The Tarpon, Inc. and the individual defendants from publishing or voicing opinions or concerns that could potentially cast the televised tarpon tournament in a poor light.

McLaughlin noted that former Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, in the Supreme Court’s 1976 landmark Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart ruling that declared the tactic unconstitutional, wrote that “prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights.”

Pointing to a lengthy list of sponsors who have withdrawn their support of the tournament in recent months, Silver King Entertainment, Inc is also asking the court to force Save The Tarpon, Inc. to end its member-driven online boycott of businesses that support the controversial event. McLaughlin said the legality of the group’s voluntary boycott efforts was affirmed in yet another landmark ruling, one that dates to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that a peaceful boycott was a constitutionally protected form of legitimate free speech under the First Amendment.

McLaughlin cited the words of Justice John Paul Stevens who, writing for the majority, stated “concerted action is a powerful weapon. And yet one of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

Characterizing the PTTS lawsuit as “an act of obvious desperation,” McLaughlin said Save The Tarpon, Inc. will “aggressively defend the ability of our members and supporters to have their voices heard on this and any other issue that impacts the future of our fishery and our community. We will continue the fight to protect, preserve and grow this vital public resource. We won’t be silent, we aren’t going away.”

A Line Drawn: Captains and community members work to ban the Boca Grande tarpon “jig”

By: Capt. Chris Frohlich

A line has been drawn in the sand. I believe that on one side is the moral high ground, a rich history, respect, and tradition. On the other side sits a group of opportunistic vultures, ready to poach when the time is right. They have long since abandoned any moral compass that they once used to guide their way. They are merely pawns, following the gospel of a few greedy individuals who will stop at nothing in the pursuit of fortune.

Save the Tarpon Air Force

A group of community members and Save the Tarpon board members attended the recent FWC Commission meeting in Tallahassee.

In the past year, our movement to protect and preserve the tarpon fishery has gained both membership and momentum. When we first started this movement, we were chastised repeatedly by advocates of the PTTS and those hoping to preserve “jig fishing.” They derided our efforts, ridiculed our members, and tried to break us down. But instead, we grew stronger. Our collective voice became louder. We used the greatest weapons we had in our arsenal; we used patience, and we used the truth. As we began exposing more of the truth, we were bombarded with accusations and labeled as “hippies,” “tree huggers,” and just about any name you can think of. Because in the end, personal assaults became their only method of counter attack. Those individuals who supported the PTTS and the use of the Boca Grande Jig resorted to childish tactics like name calling and cyber bullying. Simply put, their sole tactic centered around diverting the public’s attention from the issues. It became about distraction, interference, intimidation. For a while, this tactic worked. But it’s not working any more.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of traveling to the FWC meeting with a group of very unique individuals. This was a diverse group from all walks of life. On the agenda that day were two issues of concern to our group. The first issue that was addressed was whether or not both bonefish and tarpon should become catch and release only species. This proposal saw very little opposition, if any.

The second issue discussed was the issue of gear restriction in Boca Grande Pass, and the issue of snagging tarpon. When all was said and done, the Commission directed staff to re-examine the definition of snagging and redefine what gear can be used in the Pass. This issue will be discussed further at the next FWC meeting. But the purpose of writing this article is to tell you how we got there. Because let’s be honest, the naysayers, and there have been many, told us that this issue was never going to be addressed again. Yet here we are.

The public commentary time allotment at FWC meetings is used to facilitate discussion about whatever issues are on the agenda. The Commissioners listen intently as members of the community present their case as to why something should, or should not happen. As we sat and waited to speak, I looked around the room to see who would be speaking for the continued use of the Boca Grande Jig. As it turns out, not too many people.

Those that did speak on behalf of the PTTS or the use of the jig presented their arguments to the Commission and the Commissioners listened. And I listened too. What I heard from pro- jig fishing advocates was truly laughable. Somehow, somewhere along the way, the pro-jig advocates became the voice of the “recreational angler.” According to these individuals, (you can count them on one hand) the recreational angler will be excluded from fishing if the Commission bans the use of the Boca Grande Jig. HUH? I certainly take issue with that argument. I must have missed something along the way. This isn’t about the continuation of the PTTS or the continued use of the jig for all those Captains? These guys travelled all the way to North Florida to ensure that the recreational angler can continue to use the Boca Grande Jig in the Pass? Oh, well that’s just downright swell of them.

Let’s break down that argument for a minute and see what’s really going on.

First of all, I believe the use of the Boca Grande Jig has spawned a culture of aggressive, thoughtless, and reckless fisherman. I think they make Boca Grande pass a nasty place to be while they are “fishing.” Fishing Captains and recreational fishermen that don’t use the jig (live baiters), that attempt to fish the pass have trouble getting anywhere near the fish. Anyone who does try to fish amongst the jig fleet quickly learns that your lines will get run over, boats cut each other off, you get yelled at, screamed at, cursed at, and will probably even have the honor of being the recipient of various hand gestures. So you can imagine how many recreational fishermen are anxious to go fishing in Boca Grande Pass amidst all that ridiculous behavior. I would say that based on the number of recreational fishermen that showed up to the meeting to argue for the continued use of the jig, the number is somewhere around zero.

Can’t you just picture it? Mom, Dad, the kids, and the family dog out on a Saturday or Sunday morning during a PTTS tournament. Everybody jig fishing in perfect harmony. Like I said, laughable. In my mind, the truth is that jig fishing is the most exclusionary fishing tactic of all. A mere 20 jig fishing boats can ruin tarpon fishing in the pass for EVERYONE else in a matter of minutes, and I think they do it every single morning. Except that it’s generally way more than 20 boats. Recreational fishermen don’t realize how good they could really have it. I grew up as a recreational fisherman before I became a guide. Boca Grande Pass was always an intimidating place to fish as a young kid. But I started fishing on my own when I was about 12, often running a boat from the Peace River to Boca Grande Pass, just for a shot at some tarpon. I can tell you from personal experience that it was a different place to fish back then. It was a place that any recreational fisherman could go and feel comfortable and could catch fish. But now, jig fishing has changed the fishery, and I believe it has adversely impacted the way people fish.

I concede that a few recreational guys might desire having the option of using the jig. I even understand why people want to use it. It’s very effective when the fish won’t bite. All you have to do is wait for the circle hook to bury itself into some part of the tarpon’s body, and fish on! Jig fishing tactics are overly aggressive and push the tarpon pods around all day long. In my observation, the fish don’t feed when they are being pushed. They won’t hit any live bait or fishing lure known to man when they get spooked by the jig boats, or any other boats for that matter. But since the jig is capable of snagging them, it’s the perfect choice if you have long ago sold your soul. It’s easy “fishing.” But the simple fact that a few recreational guys might want to use the jig does not hold sufficient weight to allow its continued use. Some people will do anything if you tell them it’s legal. However, the credo of ethical angling dictates that certain methods of fishing be banned. It’s why we have certain regulations in the first place.

Banning the Boca Grande Jig would not amount to exclusion or excessive regulation.

Think about it like this for a moment. The aforementioned catch and release proposal would regulate the way in which tarpon can be caught. Under the new proposal, only hook and line can be used to catch tarpon. Which means that under the current tarpon regulations, you can legally cast net them. And yet, nobody cried out “what about the recreational fisherman” when this proposal was introduced. Nobody from the PTTS showed up to make sure the recreational guys could continue to cast net tarpon. Because it is a ridiculous concept, and one that nobody bothered to defend, even if a few recreational guys actually do want to cast net them. Yet, in the big picture, it’s no more ridiculous than using a device capable of successfully snagging tarpon. And that’s exactly why few recreational anglers showed up to the FWC meeting of their own volition to defend the jig. Maybe the PTTS advocates had other motives when they showed up to speak after all.

You see, the use of jig has essentially created a paradox. The style of fishing is so disruptive to the fish that they constantly get pushed around and do not feed the way they normally would. So fishing with traditional baits or lures becomes way less effective during that time. So what’s the one tactic that’s most effective when the fish won’t bite? You got it, the Boca Grande Jig. It’s not uncommon to see the most “hook ups” when 50 jig boats push the fish into about 30 feet of water. Imagine a tightly packed school of tarpon, all trying to weave into the middle of the school for protection. 50 outboards hover above them, slamming in and out of gear. 3 lines go down per boat, or roughly 150 Boca Grande Jigs with the hook leading the way. Now imagine the ensuing chaos as the fish literally cannot avoid being impaled by these jigs. This is what jig fishermen call a “good bite.”

The beautiful and yet equally frustrating thing about traditional tarpon fishing is that it takes the cooperation of the fish. If the fish don’t bite, you have to be patient. You have to outsmart them. You have to induce them to strike. And sometimes you just plain fail. It’s what keeps anglers coming back for more. In that scenario, the tarpon is Queen, and you play by her rules. If she chooses to ignore you and focus on some biological response like mating or swimming around aimlessly, then it is her choice. But jig fishing takes that choice away. Tarpon cannot avoid the Boca Grande Pass Jig. This jig, and this style of fishing disrupt the tarpon’s long inherited, evolutionary, and innate patterns. It robs them of their ability to act on instinct and impulse. It has long been the right, sometimes seemingly the duty, of the silver king to embarrass, frustrate, and confuse the angler. Jig fishing snatches that right away. Instead of biology dictating when and how a tarpon will behave, a group of reckless fishermen now holds that power.

I think that it is important to note that nobody will be excluded from fishing if the jig goes away. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. More people will be able to fish the pass, and do so more successfully. Just like I used to be able to do, and just like I want my kids to be able to do. To clarify, this would not be some blanket ban on the use of artificial lures, or even regular “jigs.” This would only outlaw the Boca Grande Tarpon Jig. This is a unique jig designed for use in Boca Grande Pass, and is widely considered a snagging device. Not everyone believes this to be true, but it is certainly my belief. That is why so many people wish to see it banned. But it’s important to recognize that nobody is advocating for restrictions on the use of any other lure, or according to some, all artificial lures. So please don’t buy into the rhetoric being spewed by pro-jig advocates about the slippery slope of regulations or the exclusion of fishermen. This unfounded contention is a farce, a smoke show designed to undermine the efforts of those who want to see the Boca Grande Jig banned. That is the same tactic of distraction and diversion already mentioned.

The Boca Grande "jig" may come in many different shapes and colors but the "jig" is in fact, by definition, a "snatch hook" or "snag hook" based on the attachment location of the weight directly beneath the bend or "belly" of the hook. Most all fisheries where snagging of densely packed fish is illegal have prohibited this type of "snag rig" for many years.

The Boca Grande “jig” may come in many different shapes and colors but the “jig” is in fact, by definition, a “snatch hook” or “snag hook” based on the attachment location of the weight directly beneath the bend or “belly” of the hook. Most all fisheries where snagging of densely packed fish is illegal have prohibited this type of “snag rig” for many years.

Before the PTTS, and before the widespread use of the jig, fisherman actually had to learn how to catch fish. They had to learn the patterns of the fish, the behavior of the fish, the tides, and the right bait to use. They had to respect the fisherman who had been there before them, had to watch them fish and learn from their successes. You had to pay your dues if you wanted to learn how to catch tarpon in the pass. You respected seniority; you gave the right of way to boats with fish on. You kept a level head, and you respected the drift. You did all this, and you caught the hell out of the fish. I know, it’s hard to believe based on what has become commonplace in the Pass today. But I have seen it. And I have done it.

I think the real fear that most jig fishing Captains feel is the fear of the unknown. How will they ever survive without the jig? I suspect it keeps them awake at night. Jig fishing is a zero-skill game. It does not require the participation of the fish. I personally believe that many of the Captains that exclusively use the jig couldn’t catch a tarpon using another method to save their lives. I know this because I have witnessed some of them trying to do it. They appear to be clueless and talentless individuals whose entire skill set consists of the ability to play follow the leader, drive a boat (although this is debatable at times), and tie a good enough knot to attach a jig. That’s about what it takes to be a successful jig fishing Captain. Well, on second thought, that’s not an exhaustive list. It does take some creativity. In addition to that list, it is imperative that you possess the ability to make up new excuses to tell your clients each time they ask why their fish was hooked in the eye ball, tail, or anal fin. Or why a sea turtle “ate” a fancy tiger tail jig. It has to be hard to explain that after a few years and several “caught” fish.

There are some fantastic Captains that both jig fish and also fish traditional methods. These are Captains that I have watched and even learned from at times. They will be perfectly fine if the Boca Grande Pass Jig goes away. They are tarpon experts. They know who they are.

And then there is another group. It is the group of Captains who have never actually caught a tarpon. Indeed, they have probably snagged tarpon by the hundreds, even thousands. They cannot picture a world in which they would actually have to learn to catch a tarpon. Such a daunting task seems almost inconceivable to these Captains. They cannot reconcile in their minds the idea that day in and day out they would be forced to utilize skill rather than a snatch hook to keep clients on fish. What an injustice this style of fishing has done to tourism over the years. Literally thousands of clients pass through Boca Grande every year hoping to catch tarpon. What a dreadful reality and utterly despicable disservice it is to those clients to dupe them into thinking they truly caught a tarpon, when in reality they likely just snagged one with a jig. I think those Captains should be embarrassed to call themselves fishing guides, and should personally apologize to every client they ever took fishing with a jig. I think they have sullied the reputation of this storied fishery with their unrelenting deception and unethical fishing style, and have made this amazing fishery a place that some people now avoid.

This is all information that many of us hold to be true. So we presented this information to the Commissioners, and they listened. They asked questions. They wanted to know more about this issue. And they seemed to want to do something about it. I suspect the June meeting will be interesting to say the least. I personally believe that the PTTS is a sinking ship, and the Jig is its precious cargo. They are both sitting atop a boat that is weighed down by lies, and the lies keep piling on. It will be interesting to see who will speak on behalf of the Boca Grande Jig, and how far they are willing to go. How many individuals are really going to sacrifice their reputations, their ethics, and their time in order to bail a few buckets of water out of a boat that is inevitably going to sink. We shall see.