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

Josh Olive, Waterline Magazine, Southwest Florida

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

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

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

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

Joe Mercurio, PTTS Host

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capt. Dave Markett

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

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

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

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

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

(Read Josh’s column here.)

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

PTTS general manager and host posted this quote to Facebook.

Former PTTS captain: How the jig really works … and why

The following is an email exchange between former PTTS participant  Capt. Andy Boyette and WaterLine publisher Josh Olive.

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Tarpon questions for WaterLine
From: WaterLine Weekly Magazine
Date: Thu, April 05, 2012 4:40 pm
To: info@tarponcharters.com

Josh Olive: How long have you been fishing for tarpon in Southwest Florida?

Capt. Boyette: I am a 47 year old generational Florida native and fished the Southwest Coast, specifically Boca Grande and Charlotte Harbor, from Englewood south to Marco Island my entire life. I caught my first tarpon at the age of 15.

Josh Olive: In that time, what has changed about the tarpon fishery?

Capt. Boyette: A new aggressive behavior throughout the entire area not just in the pass where fisherman rush the fish to try and catch them.

Josh Olive: How long have you been a tarpon guide (if applicable)? How important are tarpon to your livelihood?

Capt. Boyette: I have been guiding since 1998. I fish year round, and tarpon are an important part of my business since I dedicate 4-5 months exclusively to tarpon and fish everyday day during April-June peak season day light to dark with doubles at near 100% booking capacity for the last 8-9 years. However I fish many other species and can not survive as a guide on the tarpon fishery alone so, I target many species and seasons to round out and balance my year and client base, about 90% of my clients are non resident anglers who I specifically market too bringing them in to the area, I have a very limited local client base

Josh Olive: No one disputes that tarpon are fantastic gamefish. What is single biggest factor that makes them such a highly regarded opponent?

Capt. Boyette: The shear stamina and will to escape once you have them on the hook

Josh Olive: Where do you fish for tarpon (the Pass, the Harbor, the beach, etc.)? Why?

Capt. Boyette:I fish for tarpon in the pass, the harbor, the beach, and offshore where ever I can find them because I like to hunt hunt big game, so just going to the same place every day doing the same thing requires less skill and I like to challenge myself by finding tarpon and figuring out how to catch them.

Josh Olive: Do you prefer to use live bait or artificial lures for tarpon? Why?

Capt. Boyette: In the early season the pre spawn tarpon are gorging on oily baits and protein filed crab so I use live bait like fresh thread-fin hearing, blue and calico crabs, after the spawn in late summer and early fall when the tarpon are post spawn I switch to various swim baits and hard plastic plugs. I no longer jig fish after 10 years of doing so and have dramatically increased my landing percentages and my repeat clientele

Josh Olive: We all want to have tarpon here in Southwest Florida forever. Do you think current regulations and angler attitudes will allow that to be the case? If not, what do you think needs to change?

Capt. Boyette: The current regulation of the use of a kill tag is now obsolete and is flawed since the FWC now uses a DNA sample for research a Kill tag is no longer needed. As to the current aggression and attitude all animals learn behavior and adjust their behavior based on surroundings and outside influence. As with all intelligence whether highly evolved or less evolved it will always seek out the path of least resistance, in other words when the fish get too pressured in one area they will move to another. Not sure you could ever correct that.

Josh Olive: Are you in favor of tarpon tournaments? Why or why not?

Capt. Boyette: I am not in favor of any tournaments at this time in my career because of the damage caused by the weigh-in and the mentality of many to prove at all cost that they are better than anyone else in or not in the tournament. As to tarpon tournaments in particular I participated in the now largest Tarpon tournament from its beginning until 2009 and witnessed first hand how that lead to aggression that use to be only on tournament day that now stretches well through the week.

Also the weighing of the tarpon and the handling by some is leading to a higher mortality rate for the tournament. Its very difficult to prove since the sharks clean up most of the mess. But I will tell you specifically that I complained to the tournament director that we where killing a lot of tarpon because I seen dead floating tarpon every Monday after the tournament and they were all 150+ pound tarpon, never smaller, with gaff holes in their mouths.

In 2008 I won the last tournament of the series with a fish that my team and I hooked, fought and caught in less than 20 minutes never more than 200 yards from the weigh boat, I found that fish dead on Monday morning, I knew it was my fish, because when we went to gaff the tarpon it jumped and the tip of the gaff scraped the side of the fish and made a very distinct mark on it its side.

That fish can be seen on my website tarponcharters.com and if you look at that fish I won that tournament by weighing a tarpon that was so full of row that she was about to pop. It made me think about finding that fish that way. I would add also that because the tournaments are held every weekend in Boca Grande Pass Only, both Saturday and Sunday, anyone looking to just go recreational fishing who works the regular 8-5 M-F work week has to contend with an aggressive tournament the entire season, and I don’t care what anyone says its not fun when you are not in that tournament to have to be fishing in the middle of it.

Put yourself in the shoes of the guy who wants drive down on Saturday from inland Florida to have a relaxing day hanging around Boca Pass with his kids. It might not be bad except that for the majority of the season he can’t. I know. I was once one of those aggressors and now I am just the guide who tries to fish in there without a jig and not in the tournament

Josh Olive: Do you have any other comments about tarpon fishing that you would like to make?

Capt. Boyette: If I had to make one comment about tarpon It would be simple I have a 3 children, 2 adult one 9 year old as well as 2 grand children, who refer to me as Cappy. All like to fish and know what I do for a living and when the take their children fishing and I am dead and gone I hope that they will be able to go and catch tarpon like I did, and if there are non to catch I hope its not anything I did wrong.

Josh Olive: Have you ever fished with tarpon jigs in Boca Grande Pass or elsewhere? (if elsewhere, please specify)

Capt. Boyette: I fished with a jig when I first became a guide in 1998 until 2009, it was easy and productive but mainly because everyone else did. But the real problem with jig fishing is not the snagging issue, the problem is it is the only form of fishing I know of that forces you to participate because its near impossible to fish successfully any other way when the jig boats are doing what they do.

That style requires you to participate for success. An interesting fact = hardly anyone fishes with live bait in Boca Grande Pass when the jig fishing fleet is in there, but in the afternoon when the tide is outgoing and the jig does not work well, there are plenty of (jig) guides and fishermen fishing with live bait on the drift and not jigging.

The Culture of “Jig” Fishing in Boca Grande Pass from Save the Tarpon on Vimeo.

Josh Olive: Do you currently fish with tarpon jigs?

Capt. Boyette: No, But I did. I also helped develop a fish head style jig as replacement to the round ball once I understood how it worked. The round ball would move in the current to much so the one I helped design was made aerodynamic so it would track straight. It is similar to an arrow head and its stays on target better than a round ball. In order to hook a tarpon with a jig everything has to line up correctly, its like trying to thread a needle you have to hit the exact spot to attach the line.

Josh Olive: If you are a current or former tarpon jig fisherman, do you believe that tarpon are snagged, or are they hooked while attempting to eat the jig? What experiences or evidence has led you to this conclusion?

Capt. Boyette: As to the snagging issue its not snagging its a form of foul hooking. The tarpon swim into the line and the line is retrieved quickly while hovering over the school and the hook catches on the outside of the mouth in a part referred to as the clipper. For anyone who is familiar with the Alaskan spawning salmon fishery or any other salmon fishery its the same principle.

When I was 24 years old I went Alaska and snagged salmon with a weighted hook cast up river ahead of the salmon swimming up the current when you feel the salmon bumping into the line you reeled back quickly and the hook would sang the fish.

At that time its was legal. Today its illegal to intentionally sang salmon in Alaska so the guides take the same weighted hook and add a salmon egg and use the same method as before. But now they are required to release any fish caught anywhere but in the face, does not have to be in the mouth but in and around the mouth is close enough. And since you put the salmon egg on for bait the fish must have went after it since the State of Alaska decided that anything in and around the mouth is legal and if you put the bait on you give the appearance that you are not intentionally snagging the salmon.

Sound familiar? In Boca Grande Pass you cast down (dropping your weighted hook past the school) and back troll your boat to keep the boat at the same speed as the current so the line is kept straight up in down perpendicular to the tarpon hovering over the school (in basic geometry perpendicular means meeting a given line or surface at right angles).

With the jig under the school and when you feel the fish bumping your line you reel up and if the angles are right your hook slides up and behind the clipper and gets hung. It appears that he must have went after the bait, since – like the salmon egg in the aforementioned salmon scenario – when tarpon fishing you have a lead head and a plastic body attached to a hook.

Couple of interesting points should be made here since tarpon jump. One that has the hook caught in the side of the body’s soft tissue will come off, making it all but impossible to land a snagged tarpon. But when it runs into the line and foul hooks itself in the clipper, it can be landed.

I should also point out that if you do not fish with the jig hovering over the school and retrieve the line when you feel them bumping into it, it does not work.  In other words you can’t go out and free drift a jig with the line played out behind the boat.  If you could then a former jig fisherman like myself would have never bought a blue crab to fish on hill tide, I would have just drifted by with my jig hanging out the back and caught fish like I do with a crab.

And if that’s not true its easy enough to prove. You take the tarpon tournament and require them to distance themselves and to fish in free drift and see how many fish they catch. Another interesting fact anyone disputing should look at: The jig they are using – and if its the one I helped design and still have one of the molds collecting dust in my shop – they should re-read my statement on how it works.

I helped design this jig to track straight in the water to help hit the target better than the original round lead ball. One more quick note: Use a jig head with no plastic tail attached or better yet zip tie a spark plug to the bottom of a hook and paint it camouflage or by its more common name fire tiger or paint it black for concealment and see if you can catch a tarpon in the clipper using the jigging method, or any other way you can think to weight the hook from the bottom.

I would also add that this method does not work anywhere else. I have tried many times to catch a tarpon with a jig outside of the Pass. It does not work. If it did, the harbor and the beach would be full of jig fisherman when the fish leave the Pass and there would be no need to throw that heavy 12 foot extra weighted cast net to catch a tarpon’s favorite food or spend time dipping up all the crabs on the crab flush.

Josh Olive: Do you think jig fishing is an ethical practice, and do you think it should remain legal?

Capt. Boyette: I can say this to the ethics of jig fishing. If I paid to fish at the Barrier Reef and caught a Grander Marlin and it was foul hooked, I would have a hard time enjoying my trophy. As far as the legality, it is a rude form of fishing that requires everyone to participate so if you want to grouper fish the ledge in Boca Pass or catch snapper on the ledge or on the Pan and its jig fishing season you can’t. The boats will swarm you if the tarpon come near your boat so for that fact alone the FWC should look to some form of control. Not everyone coming to the Pass in May and June are looking to catch a tarpon and if it can’t be controlled to allow others the freedom to fish in peace, then its no different than disorderly conduct and that is already illegal.

Josh Olive: Do you have any other comments about tarpon jigs that you would like to make?

Capt. Boyette: If you use the jig, you should really study how it works, and why.

WaterLine’s Josh Olive: ‘I was wrong’

Newbridge

“I was wrong to take at face value what I was told by tournament supporters. There are two sides to every story, and I’ve done an unacceptably poor job of reaching out to those who want the PTTS to end.”

The following appears in the Feb. 28 edition of WaterLine, the outdoors magazine produced by the Suncoast Media Group and distributed in the Charlotte, North Port and Englewood Sun newspapers. It was written by WaterLine Publisher Josh Olive and is reproduced here with permission. See related story.

Mending the bridge to Boca Grande
By Josh Olive
WaterLine Publisher

“The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know.” — Albert Einstein

Somewhere along the line, I rubbed a bunch of people wrong. I think it started back in July 2011, when I interviewed Gary Ingman about the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, an event of which he is part-owner.

At the time, I was aware of the controversy regarding the tournament, but it seemed — based on the conversations I had with WaterLine writers, charter captains and bait shop staff — people in opposition were few and had axes to grind. Basically, the consensus I gathered was that was no big deal.

So I wrote as much. Since then, we’ve covered each PTTS tournament with brief stories, photo essays or both. Fast forward to today: Save the Tarpon, a nonprofit that formed last year, has organized a campaign aimed at ending the PTTS.

Their methods include boycotting the tournament’s sponsors and writing letters to same, encouraging them to drop their support of the tournament — and it looks like they’re having quite a bit of success.

What happened? Well, first off, I was wrong about the scope of the PTTS’s opposition. Turns out it’s not just a handful of people on Boca Grande. Second, I was wrong to take at face value what I was told by tournament supporters. There are two sides to every story, and I’ve done an unacceptably poor job of reaching out to those who want the PTTS to end.

Because of that — the positive coverage WaterLine has given to the PTTS without a balancing amount of coverage given to the other side — WaterLine is now a dirty word to many Save the Tarpon supporters.

WaterLine is a magazine, not a newspaper, and is not bound to the strict standards of a newspaper — after all, it’s supposed to be about having fun. But I still have a journalistic obligation to publish the truth and to be fair — and to admit when I get something wrong.

My normal way of figuring out something new is to read up on it, then talk to people and get a variety of viewpoints, then preferably try it for myself. Then, and only then, do I believe I know enough about the subject to say something. That method hasn’t worked for this issue. The history of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass runs deep, and passions are high.

So, after thinking it over for the past few months, I’ve got a new policy with regard to tarpon and Boca Grande Pass: I don’t know enough to say anything. I haven’t been part of the history. I’ve never caught or hooked a tarpon, though I’ve observed at very close range as others have caught them on both live bait and jigs.

I had never even watched one jump until two years ago. I’ve read a lot of things, but that’s not the same as actual experience. Therefore, I’ve concluded WaterLine’s readership will be better served if I allow others to do the talking. That doesn’t mean I won’t be asking questions, and making sure their voices aren’t too loud from either side, but I think it’s best to leave my opinion out of it — on this issue, anyway.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you all this. Well, a few weeks back, I heard that Save the Tarpon was going to be having a party — a shindig, to be specific. I said to myself, “This is going to be perfect. I can put my new policy into action — I’ll go out there and talk to people, take some pictures, and get a good story out of it.”

Then I happened to run into Jennifer McLaughlin, one of the organization’s founders, and I told her I was planning to attend. The next day, I got a phone call from her husband, Tom. He explained that although I would be welcome to come out, it would be a problem if I came representing WaterLine. He said the group doesn’t trust me to be unbiased and he assumed any WaterLine story would be intentionally skewed to make them look bad.

So that’s why I’m explaining this to you: I want to say here, as publicly as I can, that I’m not opposed to Save the Tarpon. I don’t wish them any ill will, and I have no master plan to paint them as evil, stupid or misguided people. In fact, I really need their help — among their supporters are many of the local tarpon experts that I’m hoping to be able to talk to and quote when silver kings are the topic du jour.

I also want to make clear that WaterLine is not “The Official Magazine of the PTTS,” and we have never been a sponsor of or had any “side deal” with the tournament. Although we have published editorial coverage of their events in the past and will in the future, we also intend to cover the live-bait tournaments in more depth this year.

It’s true we have printed much more about the PTTS than other tarpon tournaments over the last two years, but that’s not because we favor their events: It’s because they invited me and offered a boat and captain, freeing me up to shoot photos. Nor does the tournament buy our support through Ingman Marine’s advertisements — Ingman advertises with us because WaterLine is the most widely read outdoor publication in the area. Ingman was an advertiser long before we covered the PTTS at all.

I have my criticisms of the PTTS, and expressing them doesn’t violate my new policy because these are things that I have seen for myself. The tournament needs a limit on how long a tarpon can be fought. The FWC recommends no more than 20 minutes. Perhaps a points loss starting at 20 minutes followed by a disqualification at 30 minutes would work.

Under PTTS rules, fish that are foul-hooked aren’t eligible for points, but there’s no observer or photo to document hook placement — just a judge’s say-so. The way at least some tournament participants operate their vessels is dangerous — perhaps not to others in the tournament, but definitely to the boating public. Boca Grande Pass belongs to the people of Florida, not to any one group, and anyone who wants to utilize it should be able to do so in safety. And as a for-profit business, the PTTS ought to be giving more back to the resource that makes them their money.

With regard to the Pass jig and whether it snags fish, I don’t know enough to take a side. There appears to be a consensus building that the jig is a snagging device, and it’s a fact that the men who say they developed the Pass jig now decry its use. Similar devices with the hook above the weight are used to snag fish elsewhere.

To me, that’s not strong enough evidence to make a conviction, and at this point, I believe people should be able to fish how they want. But I’ll say this: I sincerely hope someone is able to prove whether or not tarpon eat the thing. If it can be shown definitively that most of those fish are hooked without trying to eat the jig, then the jig needs to go. In fact, if and when that happens, I’ll be one of the loudest voices shouting about it.

To anyone who is still not quite sure where WaterLine or I myself stand, I’ll summarize as clearly as possible. We didn’t give Save the Tarpon the opportunity to explain themselves and have their say in the magazine. I apologize for that. We endorse neither Save the Tarpon nor the PTTS, but we believe both have the right to exist, to conduct themselves as they see fit within the law, and to their respective viewpoints.

We also believe both are important enough to include in WaterLine, and going forward I’ll make sure the magazine’s portrayal of those viewpoints is balanced and unbiased.

(Josh, you’re welcome to join us March 3 at the Boca Grande Community House-Community Center from 2 to 6 p.m. Kick back and enjoy a nice cold Miller Budweiser – on us.)

 

You’re right, Josh: ‘It’s not just a handful of people …’

Protest

June, 2012 – ‘A handful of people …’

Save The Tarpon’s supporters and members now number nearly 15,000 worldwide. Worldwide? Yes – worldwide. But that’s just part of the story when it comes to spreading the message of a group that is less than eight months old.

WaterLine Publisher Josh Olive wrote in the magazine’s Feb. 28 edition that he once viewed Save The Tarpon as just a few people with “axes to grind.” He’s since changed his thinking on this one. “Turns out it’s not just a handful of people on Boca Grande,” he says in a column he headlined “Mending the bridge to Boca Grande.”

He also notes “I was wrong to take at face value what I was told by (PTTS) tournament supporters.” He’s likely not alone. Maybe it’s a good idea to take a moment to tell the story of Save The Tarpon’s growth over these past eight months. It is, of course, your story. You wrote it. You made it happen.

Now

February, 2013 – A really big handful. (Eleven days later and this number is now approaching 14,000.)

When Skeeter Boats recently announced it was ending its sponsorship of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, the news reached 58,172 people in the United States alone. And that’s just through Facebook. And it’s just the beginning.

When Farlow’s on the Water in nearby Englewood told us they were finished with the PTTS, the news reached 6,256 potential customers in Sarasota, 2,487 in Port Charlotte, 1,884 in Englewood, 1,335 in nearby Venice, 1,272 in Fort Myers, 1,078 in Tampa, 856 in Cape Coral, 779 in Punta Gorda and 747 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Okay, maybe the folks in Barquisimeto won’t be dropping by for dinner tonight, but they certainly know where to eat if they’re in the neighborhood.

At the same time, the numbers tell us there are 116,993 people who likely won’t be living the High Life – as in Miller High Life – along with their Farlow’s scallop salad. Miller/Coors is a sponsor of the PTTS. Just as we once did with Farlow’s prior to this past week, we’re asking our supporters to continue to stay away from the company’s products as long as it’s associated with the tournament. And, according to Facebook, those 116,993 people who dropped by for a visit in the last seven days passed the word along to 5,554,577 of their friends and neighbors online.

Somewhere in Barquisimeto, there’s a cantina owner wondering why everyone has suddenly switched to Budweiser. And somewhere at Miller/Coors corporate headquarters in Chicago (so much for the whole Rocky Mountain shtick) there’s a marketing exec wondering where 5.5 million customers went. Hint: Ask Skeeter Boats. Ask Tires Plus Total Car Care. Ask Costa del Mar Sunglasses. Or ask one of those PTTS team captains who isn’t getting a freebie wrap boat this year, is peeling all those sponsor patches off his NASCAR-style fishing shirt and is now faced with shelling out the tournament’s hefty entry fee –  from his own pocket.

Did you know that last week there were 182 people who read our Facebook page in a dialect of Norwegian? Or that 1,079 of you visited us online from Paris? As in Paris, France? In fact, the page was translated into French 11,502 times. The language is ranked third, behind English (63,629) and Spanish (39,219) among our visitors. And in case you’re wondering, the French word for “tarpon” is “tarpon.”

Tarpon fishing is popular in Venezuela. Which probably explains why 18,632 of our recent visitors call the country home. Did you know there’s a Boca Grande in Venezuela? It’s also an island. The similarity ends there. It’s ranked among the most affordable places in the world if you want a beach a few steps from your front door. Our Boca Grande didn’t quite make the list.

When Save The Tarpon talks about preserving our fishery for future generations, those future generations are paying attention. And they really do care. A remarkable 60.4 percent of our visitors are under the age of 34. And 75.3 percent of our visitors are in the target “under 45” demographic that brands like Miller/Coors spend millions in advertising dollars to attract. Money that’s being largely wasted through the company’s affiliation with the PTTS – and through your affiliation with and support of Save The Tarpon.

Save The Tarpon began in June, 2012 as a small group of people standing on a beach overlooking Boca Grande Pass. We watched as the PTTS gaffed and dragged fish to that beach to be tossed into a sling and weighed. We watched the PTTS pretend these fish weren’t dead or dying as they dumped them in the deepest part of the Pass. We counted the corpses the following day. We resolved to take PTTS host Joe Mercurio up on his offer to stop what the tournament was doing to the fishery “when someone tells us to stop.”

Eight months later, a few dozen have grown to nearly 15,000 who have come together to tell Mercurio it’s time to stop. And the message continues to grow. Or, as Olive now admits, “turns out it’s not just a handful of people on Boca Grande.” The folks in Barquisimeto would likely agree.

Off the gaff, but not off the hook

This article, written by Captain Tom McLaughlin on behalf of Save the Tarpon, Inc., will be published in the upcoming edition of WaterLine Magazine at the request of publisher Josh Olive.  We are posting it here first as submitted. WaterLine is published weekly and distributed in the Sun family of newspapers each Thursday.

Save the Tarpon, Foul Hooked Tarpon

Foul hooked? This hook placement is commonly seen in the jig fishery.

Just as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s was poised last week to move forward with a plan to make tarpon a catch and release species, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series suddenly and unexpectedly announced it would abandon the controversial practice of gaff, drag and weigh in the events it holds each season in Boca Grande Pass.

While obviously too late to compensate for the harm already done, the decision was welcomed by all Floridians with a stake in the health of our shared local tarpon fishery. While not entirely voluntary, of course, and accompanied by a chorus of protest aimed at the FWC from PTTS corporate management and tournament participants, Save The Tarpon Inc. sees the decision as a step in the right direction.

Thursday’s capitulation by the PTTS is even more significant as just three short months ago, as Save The Tarpon was still finding its footing, the tournament insisted it would continue to gaff and drag tarpon until told to stop. When it became apparent that state regulators were laying the groundwork to do exactly that, the tournament softened its stance and found what appears, in theory, to be an acceptable alternative. We are certain the PTTS is up to the challenge of making it work in practice. We will, of course, be there on your behalf to make sure this happens.

That’s just part of why Save The Tarpon Inc. and savethetarpon.com exists. Thanks to your efforts and the work of our more than 2,000 supporters here in Florida and throughout the world, we were able to provide the FWC with the assistance and encouragement it needed to begin work on a plan that will statutorily bring an end to the days of the beach-side corporately sponsored weigh boat and those now-vanished Internet glory shots of PTTS teams proudly posing with large, roe-laden tarpon cradled in their arms rather than in the water where common sense tells us they obviously belong.

Under the plan now proposed by the PTTS for the season to come, a tape measure and laptop computer will replace the gaff, the sling and the scale. As currently proscribed by law, the fish will be immediately released at the back at the boat rather than at a beach more than a half-mile and up to 30 minutes away. As we said, clearly a step in the right direction.

The initial concept of the Save the Tarpon movement was to act as an intermediary in the user group conflicts that have, unfortunately, become synonymous with Boca Grande Pass.  Our mission was (and still is) to act on behalf of all users by not only protecting the fish, but by also ensuring anglers equal and safe access to the fishery.

As input was compiled from  tarpon anglers and community members, it became apparent the problems in the Pass centered around the PTTS.  However, the goal was not to fight the PTTS, but to garner its support and cooperation. Working together was obviously the best way. Or so it seemed.

Possible changes to tournament policy were proposed by Save The Tarpon to Gary Ingman, owner of both the PTTS and Ingman Marine. Ingman flatly refused. “We will stop weighing those fish when the state ends possession of tarpon,” Ingman insisted. What a difference a few months and 2,000 voices speaking as one can make.

It was made apparent from day one that ownership and management of the tournament were concerned solely with how change for the better would impact their highly profitable cable TV show. There was no talk of the fishery, not other anglers, not our local economy, not even you.

The founding principle of Save the Tarpon back then was to save the tarpon by calling for an immediate end to the PTTS. It was, it appeared, the only option left. You told us that if the PTTS was unwilling to reform its gaff and drag policy, hyper-aggressive pursuit of the fish, exclusion of other user groups, unsafe boating practices and manipulation of gear, it was obvious the conflict in Boca Grande Pass would never subside. Most importantly, it was equally obvious the health of the tarpon fishery was at stake.

What goes on in Boca Grande Pass in May and June would appear to most to be more of a demolition derby on water than sport fishing. The PTTS agrees, promoting its tournament as a form of “controlled chaos.” If you’ve seen the TV show, you know. A pack of more than 60 boats will race to position themselves directly atop a pod of fish. As the tarpon are driven from the pass, the pack gives chase. You don’t want to find yourself and your family in their way.

There are those who say fish caught during PTTS events and other times on artificial devices are being deliberately “snagged” or foul-hooked by anglers using the so-called Pass jig. It’s hard to tell. PTTS participants routinely block attempts made by Save The Tarpon and others to figure out where on any given fish the hook has managed to lodge itself. The PTTS has now pledged to stop hiding its fish and have hook placement observed and recorded by a third party.

The PTTS has partially addressed some issues, but others remain. Save The Tarpon, for instance, is not entirely comfortable with the tournament’s continued opposition to the FWC’s efforts to make tarpon a catch and release species. It will be ending possession, it says, in the name of “conservation.” Yet in the next breath it insists there are no conservation issues with the status quo. It’s tough to have it both ways. We expect the PTTS will clarify its true position once it figures out what, exactly, it is.

Our members are also concerned with something else. Something not as tangible as catch and release or hook placement. It is, quite honestly, the culture of institutionalized, pack mentality disrespect the PTTS has created and apparently fostered simply to make better TV. It’s there. Fish the Pass during a PTTS tournament. You can see it, you can feel it, you can almost even smell it. There’s an implied sense of ownership of a public fishery taking place. Recreational anglers aren’t welcome. Just ask the competitors in their NASCAR style outfits and NASCAR style wrapped boats. They’ll tell you. If not, they’ll see to it you get the hint.

We remain concerned that despite the concessions promised by the PTTS in light of the proposed FWC action, the fishing public will still be denied access to the fishery and will continue to be bullied out of the Pass. Is PTTS behavior altering the habits of the fish? Honestly, we don’t know. What we do know is that the impact on the fishery as a recreational destination is clearly evident.

Save the Tarpon isn’t resting on last week’s victory in Tampa. It was a good start, but it’s just that. A start. It is our intention to work towards meaningful and enforceable improvements to special regulations the FWC already has in place for Boca Grande Pass. As we begin this effort together, we want your thoughts. Go to savethetarpon.com or look for us on Facebook. Give us your ideas. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

 

 

Josh Olive & Waterline Magazine, are you ignoring the recreational angler?

Save the Tarpon, Inc was recently contacted by Nick Garbacz, a local resident and recreational angler.  He provided us with a copy of a letter dated July 16, 2012 which he sent to Josh Olive, Publisher of Waterline Magazine, a weekly publication distributed in the Sun family of newspapers each Thursday.  As you can see from his message below, Josh Olive did not acknowledge, reply to or publish his letter.

To: Save the Tarpon
From: Nick Garbacz

Message:

Below is a letter I sent to Josh Olive that he did not acknowledge. I wasn’t openly aware of your organization at the time, but felt I had to respond to his ridiculous editorial so in my amateurish way I responded as forwarded.

I have signed the petition and encourage the right fight to Save the Tarpon.

Respectfully yours,

Nick Garbacz

 

July 16, 2012

Mr Josh Olive
Publisher, Waterline Magazine
23170 Harborview Road
Port Charlotte, Fl 33980

Dear Mr Olive,

I consider myself to be an average sportsman and conservationist and have been able to hunt, fish, and observe nature in various places in the world. I do not presently belong to any conservation or sportsman’s organization and have no ax to grind with those that do. I do however take exception to your articles concerning the PTTS and those that oppose its concept and execution. Your attempts to gain the middle ground in my opinion fail miserably. I must also confess I do not view the PTTS in a favorable light even though I know and respect many of the participants in the event.

As everyone knows the tarpon gather each year in the May to July timeframe to seek and accomplish pre-reproductive activities and this occurs in a very small area with the Boca Grande Pass so it seems like the old saying “LIKE SHOOTING FISH IN A BARREL” has meaning in the case of the PTTS. Could you picture the FLW Tour staging a BASS Tournament in a Four Acre Farm Pond stocked with 10 pound bass? I would also ask any sportsman to view the PTTS TV show or boat around the pass during the event and truthfully say this looks like a true sport fishing event – maybe a Daytona 500 crash. I am especially fond of the one where the participant holds the DNA swab and says ”Just doing our bit for preservation of the species” for a fish he just caught that has less than a 70% chance of living.

If the show must go on, why not have it after the tarpon have accomplished their goals for being in BG Pass . Of course the obvious solution to preserving the fishery, would be to close Boca Grande Pass to all fishing during May and June, isn’t that a novel idea ? You could still fish for tarpon just not in a very small area.

If you believe that most fish in the pass are not foul hooked you are a very light thinker. The last time I fished the pass I was 3 for 3 foul hooked and that is why I stopped, but have fished the walls, beaches and other areas with crab, lures, and white bait with great success. Also, just because a tarpon is hooked in the jaw does not mean it wasn’t foul hooked. Almost 100% of Sockeye Salmon are legally snagged in the mouth with sockeye fly rigs and techniques as they do not eat upon entering the rivers. (It is yet to be proven if tarpon actively eat in pre-spawn pass activities)

In answer to your question “It’s all about saving the tarpon – right?” In the case ot the PTTS it certainly is all about the M_O_N_E_Y that is the one fact all can agree on.

Respectfully yours,

Nick Garbacz

Other Recent Articles by savethetarpon.com regarding Josh Olive:

Josh Olive and The WaterLine Magazine: A Disgrace to Journalism and Conservation

Waterline Magazine’s Josh Olive tosses out some questions

Waterline Magazine’s Josh Olive tosses out some questions

Many feel as though “paid advertising section” should be clearly labeled at the top of every article or commentary found among the pages of Waterline Magazine any time the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) is mentioned.  After all, Gary Ingman of Ingman Marine, who coincidentally is also a majority stakeholder in the PTTS, is one of their largest advertising accounts.

As we prepare our answers to Josh Olive’s questions (found on the second page of this editorial), we felt it was fair for us to ask a few in return.  We invite our readers and supporters to ask your own questions in the comment section found at the bottom of this page.  These may be questions for us, questions for the PTTS, questions for Josh Olive, or just questions to the public.  We will use your contributions, in addition to our own questions, in an upcoming response to Mr. Olive’s editorial.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Josh Olive, publisher of WaterLine Magazine, we expected better from you

Waterline Magazine and Mr. Josh Olive,

Apparently you did not receive the memo published directly by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission regarding safe Tarpon handling in Boca Grande Pass.  You also seem to have fallen victim to the bright lights and fame of seeing your magazine’s name adorn the side of a tournament sponsored boat.  Has your interest in the tournament actually clouded your judgement this badly?

 

Taken directly from MyFWC.com, Tarpon and Boca Grande Pass:Waterline Weekly Magazine

• Never gaff a fish unless you are going to harvest the fish.  “Gaff and release” is a practice that may leave the fish with an open wound making them vulnerable to predation.

• Leave fish in the water while photographing, removing the hook, or cutting the leader.  Boating large fish is dangerous to you and your crew, and can injure the fish. Don’t boat your fish, if you can help it.

 

In order for you to have “proof,” why must one use DNA testing to prove the PTTS is killing fish when obviously their handling of the fish is outside the bounds of what is acceptable to every single conservation oriented organization that has an interest in Tarpon fishing?  What is worse, is you personally know that this deviation from the norm is for nothing more than increased drama to boost television ratings and is entirely unnecessary.  Why is it unnecessary you ask? Mr. Olive are you not a supporter, promoter, and sponsor of the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge?  The shark tournament that you tout as bringing tournament shark fishing inline with conservation?  How do you handle your sharks for the tournament? I believe you do not gaff the fish and drag them to a weigh in, but rather briefly hold them up to the side of the boat while they are still in the water whilst a film crew or observer records the length.  I personally have made this suggestion to Mr. Gary Ingman, owner of the PTTS and it has fallen on deaf ears.

If safe fish handling practices tell you that you are likely to have an increase in mortality, and these practices are not condoned by any conservation entity, then why would you continue those practices when they cause so much animosity towards the tournament and its participants, not just by fellow fishermen, but also the hundreds of visitors who sign the Save The Tarpon petition each and every day? The answer is simple: TV Drama, ratings, and money. I guess once your business is plastered on the side of one of the boats on TV no one is above the influence.

I would have expected better from you Mr. Olive, it is sad to see your publication fall to this level of disgrace.

 

Captain Tom McLaughlin, Founding Member of SaveTheTarpon.com

 

CORRECTION:

It has come to my attention that Waterline does not in fact sponsor a boat for the tournament.  One of the contributors for the Waterline operates a “Waterline” wrapped boat in the Pass, but captains a different team during the actual tournament.  After an extensive conversation with Mr. Olive by one of our founding members, we stand by our assertion that Mr. Olive sold out his journalistic soul to Ingman Marine, his largest advertiser and the focus of our Boycott.  Here is some more information for your reading Mr. Olive if you think that handling a tarpon the way the PTTS does and operating their boats the way they do has no effect on the fishery, but those same actions are unacceptable when it comes to your shark tournament.  A true reporter of “facts” would have no problem finding information such as Dr. Adams has provided in his opinion letter below.

http://bocabeacon.com/news/editorial/4636-letter-to-the-editor-responsible-catch-and-release-is-essential

We are also not here to discuss the merits of the Boca Beacon, Dr. Adams is widely considered the worlds leading Tarpon biologist. His opinions are clear though he does not mention the PTTS by name.