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

Capt Dave Markett of Team Power Pole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That sure sounds like snagging to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sponsors – is your PTTS team obeying the law? Here’s one that didn’t even try

Miller's Ale HouseHats off to the Miller’s Ale House PTTS team captained by Artie Price. His Miller’s Ale House team caught and weighed a 154 pound tarpon to win Week 2 of the PTTS 2011 season.

But Price didn’t get the job done all by himself. The Miller’s Ale House PTTS team of Greg Devault and Frank Massaro, both of New Port Richey, plus Myakka’s Jon Turner also share credit for “gettin’ ‘er done.”

Unfortunately for Miller’s Ale House, the boys aboard Price’s Miller’s Ale House boat left Miller’s Ale House with something of a public relations black eye where Florida law is concerned. You see, the boys aboard Price’s Miller’s Ale House boat didn’t really get the job done that week. Not the whole job. They probably guessed nobody would notice.

Putting a $50 tarpon tag on that 154-pounder they weighed got just half the job done for the Miller’s Ale House team. But FWC regulations say, quite clearly, that the Miller’s Ale House team was required by law to finish the job by returning a tag card to the state within five days of its Miller’s Ale House 2011 Week 2 PTTS victory. These cards, to be filled out by the angler who “possessed” the tarpon, help the FWC with its conservation efforts. Especially in Boca Grande Pass. The tag cards tell FWC researchers where the fish was caught, its condition, its size and other useful tarpon conservation information. Useful, only if someone cares enough and takes the time to put the tag card in the mail.

See a list of all tags issued and returned in 2010/2011 here.

According to FWC records, Miller’s Ale House captain Artie Price never returned the required tag card for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2. Miller’s Ale House team member Greg Devault never returned the required tag card for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2. Miller’s Ale House team member Jon Turner never returned a tag for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2. Miller’s Ale House team member Frank Massaro never returned a tag for that tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2.

Here's one of the tarpon which Team Ale House weighed without using a legal tarpon tag.

 

In fact, it seems nobody aboard the boat sponsored by Miller’s Ale House bothered to return a card for that 154-pound tarpon the Miller’s Ale House team caught in Week 2 of the PTTS. Or, for that matter, any other week during the 2011 PTTS season. Cards returned for tarpon caught last year in Boca Grande Pass: 38. Cards returned last year for tarpon caught in Boca Grande Pass by the Miller’s Ale House team of Price, Devault, Turner and Massaro: 0. That’s zero. Zilch. Nada. None.

According to FWC records the Miller’s Ale House team never caught that 154-pounder. According to FWC records the Miller’s Ale House team didn’t capture, gaff, drag and weigh that 154-pounder. According to FWC records the Miller’s Ale House team couldn’t have won Week 2 of the 2011 PTTS, Miller’s Ale House couldn’t have won that nice new boat. That’s because, according to FWC records, Miller’s Ale House wasn’t there. According to FWC records, in 2011 the Miller’s Ale House team didn’t exist.

Except it did. It was on the TV.

The Miller’s Ale House team that went out and got the job done in Week 2 couldn’t be bothered to take the time or make the effort to get the whole job done as state law requires. But we understand. Filling out those forms, putting them in an envelope, spending money on stamps and hiking these things out to the mailbox can be inconvenient and expensive for a Miller’s Ale House team whose career PTTS winnings as of Week 2 of the 2011 season totaled a scant $300,000.

And really, who’s going to notice? Where tarpon regulations are concerned, it’s easy for teams like Miller’s Ale House to get away with just about anything with a wink and a nod. And even though FWC regulations state that failure to return a tag card can cost you the privilege of purchasing future possession tags and weighing fish in future PTTS tournaments, nobody in Tallahassee is paying attention to any of this. Either is the PTTS. Either, apparently, is Miller’s Ale House. Maybe they should.

In 2011 the tarpon tag program generated little more than $15,000 for the FWC. Care to guess how much the FWC spent on administrative and other costs associated with the tarpon tag? Care to guess what four letters benefitted most from what, in reality, is a financial drain on an agency that can better use its resources just about anywhere else than subsidizing a television show?

Sponsors like Miller’s Ale House need to spend a little time questioning what’s going on in their name in Boca Grande Pass, what’s going on their name in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and what’s going on in their name aboard the boats bearing their name.

If a law so simple and basic and beneficial as returning a tarpon tag card to the state agency that oversees Florida’s conservation efforts is being so blatantly ignored, it should give sponsors pause to ask what else is or isn’t happening inside this sports exhibition called the PTTS? Are those aboard all those boats all wrapped up in all those logos for all those folks at home to see really playing by the rules, following the regulations and obeying the law?

Is it honestly worth taking the chance that their team, their PTTS, their television show and, by association, their valuable brand name might – like team Miller’s Ale House – not be getting the whole job done?