‘Homeless’ man ridiculed in PTTS Facebook ‘gag’ speaks out: ‘They failed’

PTTS participants mock recreational anglerChris Morelle says he’s just a guy who likes to fish. A guy who’s spent his entire life with a rod and reel in his hand. A guy who never sought the limelight, a modest kind of guy who’s never had a great yearning for the kind of “attention” he’s been getting these days courtesy of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and the outfit the PTTS employs to produce its cable TV fishing show. Oh. And for the record, he isn’t homeless. Far from it, in fact.

Chris rose before dawn on May 19 to drive his center console boat from Cape Coral to Boca Grande Pass. “I sensed an injustice, that’s why I was there,” he says. He’d spent part of the night before transforming an old piece of cardboard he found laying around the house into a sign be planned on using the following day. He grabbed a can of lime green spray paint and went to work. There was nothing fancy about that sign, or the message it carried.

“PTTS: No Skill Needed,” it said. Chris and his handmade sign spent the next three hours quietly drifting in the Pass, all but lost among the nearly two dozen other boats that had turned out for Sunday’s protest. And, of course, the slimmed down field of wrap boats and Spandex “professionals” who made the equally long trek that morning to parade their sponsors’ logos (but not those two dead tarpon) before the cameras.

It wasn’t until nine days and a phone call later that Chris discovered the PTTS and REC Media Group had turned him and his simple cardboard sign into a bad Facebook gag. A photo of Chris standing alone on his boat with that simple cardboard sign had been posted to REC Media Group’s “Save The Tarpon” spoof page. The Photoshop Rangers at REC Media Group pasted one of those cartoon bubbles next to his head. “Time for another photo caption contest!” REC’s instructions read. “Winner gets 50 gallons of diesel fuel for the next protest.” Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. Thud.

Protest Boat

Among the 56 eventual contenders was REC Media Group’s own entry. “Oh crap,” one of  REC’s junior high school interns wrote. “I just used my house to make a sign.” Jason King weighed in with “I shaved my balls for this?” Classy. Then along came David Harper, suggesting “Will protest for food …” Alligator meat, maybe? Peyton Powers contributed this gem: “Can’t wait to get home and see my wife. i mean sister.” Lee Longworth wasn’t quite up to the challenge. “What an asshole,” he wrote. And it appeared that noted “recreational angler” Craig Abbott wasn’t doing captions. He was doing chest thumps. Says Abbott, “we got close and he and I had a few words.”

“You know what? It could have been considered clever,” Chris says. “But if they are trying to get at me with this, they failed. They are only encouraging me more, they are only strengthening my resolve to see the day when people like me, average everyday guys like me, can return to the Pass and fish in peace. Anyone who would be on there (the Facebook page), anyone who would comment like that, I don’t value their opinion to begin with. So why should I care at all?”

Chris admitted he hadn’t seen what the PTTS crowd had written about him and his sign over there on that Facebook page spoof. And, he said, he didn’t much care. Yeah, he might take a peek. Maybe leave a message of his own. No, on second thought, why bother? Plus, he laughed, “they might ‘unfriend’ me.”

“It pretty much convinces me that this is all they have, you know … making fun of those who disagree. It tells me, and it should tell everyone else, that they know they are wrong. I mean, any rational person would have to wonder.”

Then there are those witty but bewildering homeless “gags” the crew at REC Media Group aimed at Chris. It seems Chris, his wife of 27 years and his two Brittany Spaniels (he left the pups at home on Sunday – “didn’t want them to get foul hooked”) are doing just fine, thank you. Today, at 52, he’s a successful self-employed inventory control consultant.

Home, he says, is Rhode Island. But no matter where he’s lived, from Cape Cod to Montauk Point to the smallest lake to the largest ocean, Chris has found a way to pursue his passion for fishing. It’s what would ultimately lead him to Southwest Florida. And to Boca Grande Pass shortly after sunrise on May 19.

“I’ve fished the Salmon River in New York, and I witnessed the snagging they were doing there first hand. It’s the same thing we see going on in Boca Grande. There’s no skill needed. That’s what the deal is. There’s no skill. Just like on the Salmon, they drop those bottom weighted hooks and snag the biggest fish that swims by. The state finally stepped in and stopped it on the Salmon River. The state needs to step in and stop it here. It’s criminal.”

(Here’s the anti-snagging rule adopted by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation: “Weight shall not be added to the line, leader, swivels, artificial fly or lure in any manner such that the weight hangs lower than the attached hook, artificial fly or lure when the line or leader is suspended vertically from the rod.” Sound familiar?)

Protest Boat

He scoffs at suggestions those who turned out for the May 19 “Protest in the Pass” were somehow coerced or otherwise “bullied” into getting up before the sun that morning. “Nobody contacted me, I came of my own volition because of what the PTTS stands for is wrong. Not only to the fish, but to the average Joe. They are making it (the Pass) inaccessible to the guy who simply wants to take his kid out fishing. They disrupt the Pass so bad those fish are gone for the rest of the day. There’s no way they should be able to exclude the public for a TV show. They are ruining this fishery, and they are profiting from it.”

Really Chris? Nobody put a gun, or a bullhorn, to your head? “Hell no. You guys inspired me to do something about it. I started following this situation when I was looking for tips on how to fish tarpon. Save The Tarpon was the first site that popped up. I did a lot of reading. Then I came to Boca Grande to see for myself. I finally said enough. Fisheries, particularly this fishery, are something I care a lot about. I don’t want to be pushed around when I go fishing. And they make it impossible. Pardon the French, but it pisses me off.”

About that sign? “Just why should I invest more than a can of spray paint and an old piece of cardboard on those guys?” he asks. “Actually, one of the PTTS guys said they were going to take up a collection and buy me a nice piece of plywood for the next one. Guess it got lost in the mail,” he says with a laugh.

“You know, I love to fish. For just about anything. But I just won’t snag. That’s not fishing,” he says. “There were some things said in the heat of the moment by both sides, but this is about a lot more than just a sound bite. They have this ‘gotcha’ mentality going. This isn’t about ‘gotcha.’ This is about saving what’s left of a fishery. I hope the state is paying attention and outlaws the bottom weighted jig just as they did on the Salmon. There’s no reason the PTTS can’t use conventional and ethical fishing means.

“And if this doesn’t make for good TV, if that’s what this tournament is really all about, then I guess the PTTS will just have to go away.” That REC Media Group, PTTS Facebook pillory page was a bad joke in search of a punch line. Kind of ironic that the guy they were ridiculing would wind up delivering it to them. Nine days and a phone call later.

REC Media Group is located at 1227 W. Colonial Drive in Orlando, Florida.  They may be reached at 407.283.7732.  Their list of clients include: the PTTS, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC)Bass2Billfish, Threadfin Boats, Skeeter Boats, Sea Hunt Boats, Scout Boats, and the World Fishing Network (WFN).  For the full list, please visit their “Clients” page.

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.

Protest in the Pass

Protest In The Pass

Join Save the Tarpon and its supporters on May 19th at 6:45 am for “Protest in the Pass.”  We are showing up by water to protest the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) as it begins its 2013 season events.

Last year we were on the beach. But, this year we will be on the WATER! If you don’t have a boat, but would like to attend, please contact us and we will connect you with a captain.

All participating boats will meet up on what is known as the Hill. It is the area just East of the old phosphate dock. We will meet at 0645 on May 19th. Please bring your bullhorns and banners. The PTTS opening event is from 0700 to 10am.

WHY: We strongly oppose, and call for the immediate termination of, the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) in Boca Grande, Florida. Our opposition stems from the destructive, unethical fishing practices and unsportsmanlike conduct promoted by this six week long, for-profit fishing tournament television show. We believe the disruptive fishing methods endorsed by the PTTS and employed by its participants are likely causing the Tarpon to change their movement, feeding, and spawning behaviors and is threatening the survival of the fishery. The hyper-aggressive culture of disrespect created by the PTTS has, and continues to severely hinder fair and equal access to the fishery by all other user groups for the sole purpose of generating increased revenue for shareholders of the tournament and its associated production.

If you’d like to RSVP, please do so by visiting the Save the Tarpon Facebook page.  Your name will not be visible to the public.

The PTTS dead (err… we mean sleeping) tarpon cover-up

This video was filmed on June 17, 2012 during the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) Tarpon Cup Championship. Unlike all other PTTS events, no DNA samples were taken by the PTTS during this event. Here is a short explanation from a first-hand witness who was on the boat which captured this footage. For more of the story, read this.

“When I was asked to participate in the PTTS championship protest I didn’t know what to expect or what reaction I would receive from some of the PTTS participants as I had been a participant myself at one time. I expected to see some of the typical bumper boat type action the PTTS is well known for. Having not participated in the PTTS for some time now, I was completely unaware of what happens behind the scenes to the tarpon after they are weighed.

In years prior, the team that caught and weighed in a fish was responsible for reviving and releasing that fish. In my opinion, I feel the PTTS was under some pressure from the public for dead tarpon washing up on the beach the day after the tournament. The PTTS decided to use a “trained” release team to be in charge of all tarpon after they have been dragged to the scale and weighed in. I was fully aware of their new policy, what I was not aware of however was the blatant disregard for the tarpon once the release team took possession.

What we filmed that day was a total lack of respect for the the tarpon that were to be released. The PTTS crews were not happy about us filming their actions that day and they did their best to cover up the dead tarpon they were dumping by having other PTTS boats wake our boat. This is what happens at the PTTS behind the scenes.”

Florida Sport Fishing magazine takes a look at the PTTS

This article is featured in the recent issue of Florida Sport Fishing magazine.
By: Capt Mike Genoun, Founder/Editor-In-Chief of Florida Sport Fishing
[imagegrid]

A Mostly True Account of What May Have Happened at the 2012 PTTS Tarpon Cup Championship

Actually, it’s completely true.

June 17, 2012 6:45 AM:  Today is not just the day of the PTTS Tarpon Cup, but it also marks the first time the community of Boca Grande has organized and come together to show their displeasure for this tournament and the actions of its participants in the form of a protest during filming of the season’s final event.

I’m dilly dallying just West of the Pass, trying to affix my “Stop the PTTS Tarpon Kill, SaveTheTarpon.com” banner to the t-top of a borrowed boat, wondering what today will bring.  The plan was to have a peaceful protest on the beach by community members, while a few guides attempted to interrupt some of the filming of the made-for-TV series by navigating our boats into a position where the banners could be seen on camera.  We hoped this would cause enough frustration for the show’s producers and owners that the pleas of the community, and sportsman from around the country, would stop falling on deaf ears.

The PTTS thought things would go smoothly for them today.  Scoffing at the idea that even a small group would actually show on the beach. Our newly formed rag tag not-for-profit thought things would go smoothly for us too.  Thinking the deep passion our community held for the cause would carry us far.  FWC apparently just thought we were all going to lose control and need to be arrested. I could already see their army of officers, complete with paddy wagon.  None of these things happened that day.  The truth is no one was arrested, no tickets were written, the paddy wagon left empty and things definitely did not go smoothly for the PTTS.  How would things turn out for us?  Well, lets just say that I couldn’t have pictured what would happen that day in my wildest imagination.

6:50 AM, still just West of the Pass: I glance up to see a twenty seven foot pink center console coming our way at high speed. Rusty Hooker approached, stereo blasting, belching smoke from its ancient twin outboards as they were pinned at full throttle in reverse, coming to just rest inches from my bow as I sat drifting and still fumbling with that silly banner.

“You ain’t fuckin’ goin’ no where,” said the captain as he took a swig from his beer…at 6:50AM.

Now, I know what your thinking, I should have expected things would not go quite as easily as I had imagined. But, I guess I just gave a little too much credit to the “P” in PTTS.

Rusty Hooker, belonging to PTTS participant Chris Molinaro, is seen here blocking the view of a tarpon being "revived and released" by the PTTS drag and dump boys.

Rusty Hooker, belonging to PTTS participant Chris Molinaro, is seen here blocking Capt. Tom’s  camera view of a tarpon being “revived and released” by the PTTS drag and dump boys.

Over about the next fifteen minutes a few more choice words were exchanged by both parties as the captain of the Rusty Hooker shifted frantically from forward to reverse, over and over, in a desperate attempt to keep us from interfering with the tournament that had now started.  I’m pretty sure the nearby FWC officer must have overheard my boisterous objections to this blatant disregard for Coast Guard navigational safety, as he made his way over to us and had a few words for the captain of the Rusty Hooker.   Who had, by the way, quickly stashed his now empty ‘breakfast of champions’ somewhere under his console where it appeared to have a few friends.  After a little more bantering he scurried towards the PTTS support crowd that was now gathering on the beach.

The tournament had started but the beach side protesters and other boats weren’t scheduled to show up for several more hours.  I hopped in the tower, cranked her up, and sped around the corner into the Pass.  Banner flapping in the wind, still not securely attached to the boat,  apparently upside down, and smoke billowing from my ears. But I didn’t care. I was absolutely fuming about the unprovoked little exchange that had just taken place.  If this was how we were going to play today, I was ready to blow off a little steam. To hell with the plan.

8:55 AM, Boca Grande Pass:  For nearly an hour, I had been expressing my extreme displeasure for the previous exchange, mainly in the form of heckling, complete with words only appropriate for a true sailor.  My four-letter word barrage was hap-haphazardly directed at anyone involved with the PTTS who was unfortunate enough to get within earshot, including a few participants of the tournament, PTTS owner Gary Ingman, host Joe Mercurio, the production crew for the show, and at one point, even the acting Captain for our region of the FWC (whoops).  It was starting to look like they might need that paddy wagon after all.  And then something brought me back. A grounding reminder of why we were here this day.

Up until now, I had jumped around, chasing the camera boat, getting in a few shots here and there, beaching next to the weigh boat for a short while, and generally just causing a little confusion.  On the outside it appeared to be a brilliantly orchestrated effort as we confused our newly adopted shadow boats with unpredictable and random movements.  But in reality, I was just really pissed off and had forgotten ‘the plan.’

We had been posting up a little West of the weigh boat, tight to the beach, and made a habit of following the Tires Plus “release boat” as they dragged once mighty fish slowly away from the crowd of proud PTTS family and friends.  As the Tires Plus “drag and dump” crew (as I had now dubbed them) came by, we quickly took position.

By this point, we had already followed more than a half dozen or so other fish as they had been towed away, watching as some of these fish would struggle momentarily, roll on to their sides, and quietly sink into the dark water and swift moving tide of Boca Grande Pass.  Others, not willing to show signs of life, were quickly stuffed underwater by the PTTS “trained professionals” in an effort to hurry back to the beach and pick up the next nearly-dead “live release” victim of television entertainment.

A few of these fish had briefly floated to the surface, and one was even deliberately run over by the drag and dump boys. I had managed to get a short series of still photos of that little gem, but after spending a few minutes to review them my heart sunk as I realized that I was holding a pretty poor excuse for a lens and lacked two vitally important things needed to accurately depict the gravity of what was unfolding before my eyes.  A polarizing filter and an even the slightest inkling of skill as a photographer.

If you ever had a bucket full of minnows as a kid you don’t need a PHD and a half-million dollar study to understand what happened to those fish as they swirled around.  I’m sure you would be able to recall what it looked like as the minnows spiraled out of control on the surface in ever tightening circles, rolled belly up, and sank to the bottom.  They were not napping.  They were dead.  Just think, giant minnows in a giant bucket.

But as this particular fish was pulled past my boat, something just felt different about it.  My interest was piqued.   It wasn’t the lifeless calm it exuded as the release team member held tight to its lower jaw. It wasn’t its size or who caught it. Quite honestly, there was really nothing notable about this fish, it wasn’t all that unusual. It was just a feeling I got.

Capt. Tom seen following the drag and dump boys as they are protected by the Rusty Hooker.

Capt. Tom seen following the drag and dump boys as they are protected by the Rusty Hooker.

Up to this point there had been nothing we could do except stare in abject horror and snap a few photos as fish after fish was hauled off and stuffed beneath the waves in what had become an obvious attempt to hide it from the view of the crowd.   But as the drag and dump boys pulled away and out into the deep waters of the Pass, the worn tarpon surfaced slowly in a feeble attempt to catch her breath.  It almost appeared like she had an expression on her ancient face.  I don’t know how to fully explain it.  I swear when I looked into her eye, she returned a fleeting look back as she sunk back beneath the surface. It was probably nothing, but I took it as a sign to pay close attention to this one.

As they eased by, bracing for the onslaught of insults I’m sure had now become nothing more than background noise for the PTTS drag and dump boys, I instantly transformed from a profanity wielding Tasmanian devil on the verge of being hauled off by the clam cops, to some type of big cat quietly stalking its prey. Or, something like that.

We trailed closely, jockeying for position with the BudgetHeating.com boat who was trying to keep us from taking pictures.  We finally got a solid position next to the donated Sea Hunt piloted by the Tires Plus drag and dump boys. We had to push in a little more closely than was probably comfortable for all of us, but if we gave an inch, tournament co-owner Rodney Taucher was sure to stick his BudgetHeating.com boat smack dab in between us to obscure the fish from the view of our prying eyes and cameras.  The feeling I had in the pit of my stomach about this fish made me press a little harder this time.  I was willing to take the risk as well as take full responsibility for anything bad that might have happened to any of us or our boats.

They dragged this one much farther down the beach in order to get a little bit more distance between themselves and their cheering section who seemed to have taken notice of the previous fish as it awkwardly thrashed about on the surface in obvious distress. What the crowd didn’t see from the beach was, after the gut wrenching display, the fish then rolled on its side and fell to the bottom like too many others had in just the past two hours.

I was well-aware ‘some’ of the fish in the PTTS did not fare so well after being released. I had stumbled onto enough evidence of that, bloated and rotting, on Monday mornings following the weekend events.  What I certainly did not know until this moment was that based on what I had already seen this day, and the calamity that was about to ensue, the carrion at the foot of the lighthouse after each event was just the tip of the iceberg.  Unless its normal for healthy tarpon to sink motionless, upside down, after being released, then fully half of the fish I had seen let go today today had perished.

My guess is that the wind, waves, current, and sharks take out most of the PTTS trash before it can become the all to familiar silver flotsam that turns the stomach of every true sportsmen or sportswomen unfortunate enough to run across it on Monday morning.

9:05 AM, still in Boca Grande Pass:  I continued to follow as closely as possible, without becoming a physical danger to the release team. I maintained my position despite the constant maneuvering and blocking by the Budgetheating.com boat, still captained by tournament co-owner Rodney Taucher, as well as our suds-guzzling friend from earlier in the morning aboard the Rusty Hooker, who was now accompanied by several friends as well as what appeared to be the vessel’s namesake.

The drag and dump boys in the Tires Plus shirts were taking us on a different route this time, running parallel to the beach and heading offshore instead of towards the middle of the pass.  It seemed that the spectators’ reactions to the prior struggling fish were not sitting well with whoever was calling the shots today.  Although we were surely headed for waters farther offshore, running along the beach allowed tournament detractors to follow us on foot and observe what was happening from the waters edge.  A fact that was visibly upsetting the drag and dump boys.

Despite efforts to make it out of sight of the growing crowd and much to the dismay of the drag and dump boys, we  had made very little headway due to the incoming tide. Only having moved a few hundred yards in about ten minutes.  The reality of the situation was sinking in with the two sorry bastards in the Sea Hunt.  The fish was looking worse by the minute, numbers on the beach were growing, and it had become painfully obvious that anyone with a Tires Plus t-shirt was going to bear the brunt of the crowds’, and our, growing frustration.

She made a feeble attempt at taking a breath, showing us that she was still alive at least. They seized their moment. Her head was quickly shoved downward while she was on her side, making her body into a plane and sending her head first towards the bottom.  It was over.  There was a quick and awkward high five aboard the Tires Plus sponsored Sea Hunt as the duo turned back towards the weigh boat.  Then we saw it.  A silver flash just off our starboard bow.  She materialized from the murky depths and laid on the surface, broad side to the sky.  She halfheartedly fluttered her tail and began to move towards the beach.  We knew what was about to happen, and I quickly jammed the throttle and headed straight for dry land.  As we approached, the cameraman for the day hopped off the bow and ran up a few yards up the beach.  The commotion had now drawn the attention of not only the Tires Plus Sea Hunt, but also of tournament co-owner Rodney Taucher.

Our cameraman stopped running and waded out into the water to about waist deep, putting the camera underwater facing the Pass.  I stared in bewilderment as she swam directly to him, floundering along the bottom on her side.  With a few weak kicks of her tail, she was belly up inches from the sand.  The crowd gathered, shouts such as “This is because of you!” and “Come get your fish! Take off your mask!” began to echo from what I’m sure will be described as an angry mob at some point by the PTTS.  Despite the rising anger, the drag and dump boys were making their way slowly towards the beach.  They were intercepted by Taucher, who had  a quick word with one of the masked fellows.  After the exchange, Taucher slowly idled towards the Pathfinder sponsored camera boat piloted by tournament owner Gary Ingman, as PTTS front man Mercurio slouched in the fighting chair on the bow with a cigarette hanging from his lip.

 

Click here to see the video shot of the dying fish during the PTTS protest.

 

After the chat, the drag and dump boys once again headed towards the fish.  They beached their boat, one of them hopped in the water, and then nonchalantly reattached their rope to the hole in the fish’s lower jaw. After a brief attempt at feigning concern they quickly dragged the fish off towards the relative safety of waters offshore.

Looking back at the video after being removed from the events for nearly seven months, I can honestly say that my feeling about that fish was right.  As I watched the events of that day rerun on the monitor in front of me, I couldn’t help but feel like she knew exactly what she was doing.

What happened to that fish next would further solidify in the minds of all those who came to show their concern for the fishery at  Boca Grande that there was a much bigger problem with what is going on in the Pass during May and June than a few dead fish.  The events of the next half hour would prove that the actions of the PTTS, its owners, and some of its participants were not just a minor annoyance to local fishing guides.  Rather, this was a direct assault on not only the history, culture, and community of Boca Grande but a threat to the continued survival of the worlds first recreational tarpon fishery and the literal birthplace of  big game sport fishing as we know it.

PTTS tarpon seen dying on the beach of Boca Grande

This video was shot on June 17, 2012 as the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) was filming their final episode of the 2012 season–the Tarpon Cup Championship.  The tarpon seen in this footage had just been “revived and released” by the official PTTS Tires Plus Release Team after being caught and weighed during the tournament.  Instead of quietly drifting down into the deep dark waters of Boca Grande Pass as the preceding four fish had, this one swam towards the beach.  The final fight for life ended with the tarpon drifting belly up under the gentle surf of Boca Grande’s famous lighthouse beach.  The lifeless tarpon was later retrieved by the Tires Plus Release Team and dragged off shore and out of view of the onlookers as it was stuffed into the prop wash of cooperating PTTS participant boats in an apparent effort to hide the evidence.

More video will be released in coming days illustrating the tragic cover-up performed by the PTTS management and its participants. Please stay posted.

See comments from Capt. Tom McLaughlin at the bottom of this page for more info on the filming of this video.

Boycott Ingman Marine

Gary Ingman is owner and President of Ingman Marine, a boat dealership in Sarasota, Placida and Port Charlotte, Florida. Gary Ingman is also owner of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).  This made-for-TV fishing tournament series is considered highly unethical and unsportsmanlike by Save the Tarpon, Inc and our 17,000 supporters world-wide.

It is because of this, Save the Tarpon asks for your support in boycotting the services and products offered by Ingman Marine.

The PTTS is owned and operated by the Tarpon Anglers Club, a for profit LLC registered in the State of Florida.  Here are the current State records available on sunbiz.org.

TARPON ANGLERS CLUB, LLC

Registered Agent Name & Address
GARY INGMAN
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953 US

Manager/Member Details

GARY INGMAN (President of Ingman Marine)
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

MIZE, GARY (Vice President of Ingman Marine)
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

The PTTS (Professional Tarpon Tournament Series) Television Show is owned and operated by SILVER KING ENTERTAINMENT, LLC.  Here is the info from sunbiz.org as well:

SILVER KING ENTERTAINMENT, LLC

Registered Agent Name & Address

GARY INGMAN
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

USManager/Member Detail

GARY INGMAN, Title MGRM
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Title MGRM
JOSEPH MERCURIO
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Title MGRM
RODNEY TAUCHER
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Title MGRM
VICKIE MIZE
1189 TAMIAMI TRAIL
PORT CHARLOTTE FL 33953

Worried about where to get your Yamaha serviced?  Well, Yamaha is also on our boycott list as they are a major sponsor of the PTTS.  However, for local outboard service try The Boat House on Placida Road or Abels Marine on Gasparilla Road.

Another helpful tactic would be to contact Grady-White Boats (Ingman Marine is an exclusive dealer of this boat manufacturer) and let them know you will not support Ingman Marine or their products because of their destructive attitude towards the Boca Grande Tarpon fishery and local environment.  Their contact information is as follows:

Grady-White Boats Inc 5121 Martin Luther King Jr Hwy, Greenville, NC 27834 (252) 752-2111 ‎ gradywhite.com

Or email them at custserv@gradywhite.com .

Eddie Smith, Jr., CEO of Grady-White Boats has this posted on the company’s website:

“Dedication to Fisheries Resources and Coastal Environment
Eddie Smith has led Grady-White to be recognized as the boating industry’s leader in recreational fishing and coastal environment issues. Eddie himself has been recognized for lifetime achievement by the American Sportfishing Association, and has also been honored by the International Game Fish Association and many others for his commitment. Many of the managers and other employees at Grady-White are similarly dedicated to the long-term health of fisheries and coastal areas. A Grady-White boat is truly a symbol of dedication to the best kind of future for our children, our fisheries and our waterways.”