PTTS – Profitable Televised Tarpon Slaughter

Thanks to Sun-Herald Columnist Gary Dutery for this article.

If news is defined as something that doesn’t happen every day, then what happened this past Sunday at the entrance to Charlotte Harbor qualifies as news. It’s likely a few of the military veterans, Wounded Warriors invited to gather on the beach in front of the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, recognized the aircraft flying overhead as a Piper L-4C. Perhaps, considering their day began with four skydivers, a color guard and the national anthem, they likely figured the flyover by the L-4C was part of the Memorial Day observance.

It wasn’t. Not officially. But maybe it should have been. Trailing behind the plane, more commonly known as a Piper Cub, was a large banner. You know the kind. They’re usually found being towed into the wind just beyond the breakers wherever people gather to go blanket-to-blanket and shoulder-to-shoulder on a stretch of hot sand. But this one wasn’t touting Coppertone or salt water taffy or some boardwalk saloon.

The message on the banner read “Save Boca Grande Tarpon. No Jigs. No Killing.” Down below, their buzz boats churning the waters of Boca Grande Pass, were 31 teams of “anglers” playing dress up in their NASCAR-style costumes covered in NASCAR style logos of NASCAR-style sponsors, both real and imagined. They were part of a cable TV infomercial posing as a sporting event known as the “Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.” Or, as the locals have tortured the acronym, the “Profitable Televised Tarpon Slaughter.” The banner was meant for them.

It’s a debate that’s been raging in the Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World ever since someone came up with the notion of attaching a green latex tail and a brightly painted lead weight to a miniature grappling hook way back when. It worked. The thing caught tarpon. Literally. While traditional live bait methods of fishing tarpon tended to involve some participation on the tarpon’s part — like actually eating the bait — the device all but eliminated the need for the fish to get involved. The jig, as it’s known, doesn’t so much attract fish. It attacks them. Through what can charitably be called a “design flaw,” the jig grabs whatever part of the tarpon’s anatomy it happens to find. The tail, the gills, the outside of the jaw. Even, sometimes, the mouth. Doesn’t really matter.

The thing is even more effective when the jig angler, sensing a fish has bumped his line, begins wildly reeling up. Drag a weighted barbed hook towards the surface through a stack of a few thousand tarpon and, like the carnival game with the metal tub and little plastic fishies, you’re bound to wind up with something. That something, more often than not, is shark food. Jiggers discovered the device worked best when combined with lightweight monofilament line rather than the heavy stuff favored by the traditionalists. As a result, it takes nearly twice as long to bring your tarpon to the boat — if, that is, the hook embedded in its tail doesn’t fall out after the first 30 seconds or so. The fish, of course, is exhausted and — when sharks are in the water — easy pickings. Chomp. They even proudly post video of these attacks on Youtube. ROFLMAO!

The jig, ultimately, begat the PTTS. Which begat a cable TV show modeled after all those popular professional bass fishing things. To make good TV, the PTTS needed good TV. And this came in the form of tarpon being gaffed, roped, dragged across Boca Grande Pass, hoisted out of the water and, as the anxious NASCAR-style team looked on, weighed. Then there were the photos of the happy anglers posing with their fish. This naturally begat people who reckoned that when tarpon are gaffed, roped, dragged across Boca Grande Pass, hoisted out of the water, weighed and asked to smile for the camera, they would likely wind up dead. The tarpon, that is. The anglers would go out drinking.

Bill Bishop is a Tampa wildlife artist and author. He is also an avid tarpon fisherman. “I have a love affair with the sport,” he says. “It’s been a love affair of mine for a very long time. I probably fish 150 days of the year.” Bishop paid to have the 65 hp L-4C tow “Save Boca Grande Tarpon. No Jigs. No Killing” above the heads of those 31 NASCAR-style teams on Sunday. “I kept watching in horror this spectacle, this BS that they’ve been doing for the past seven years and said enough is enough. This mishandling of fish is something I want to stop. The tarpon fishery doesn’t belong to the PTTS, it belongs to all of us. I wanted to make a statement and raise awareness about what’s going on.”

A 100-foot-long banner usually does the trick. In fact, one tournament participant lamented over the radio that it was too bad nobody had a rocket propelled grenade, or RPG, handy to shoot the little Piper out of the sky. He was promptly told to shut up. People might be listening. They were.

Bishop catches most of his tarpon on a fly. He’s not a big fan of the jig. But his real issue is the idea that tarpon, which translate into a $100 million industry for Charlotte County each year, are being killed for profit. For the amusement of a cable TV audience that is repeatedly told the PTTS is a “live release” affair. Yes, the fish are alive when the PTTS and the TV cameras and the photographers are done with them. They don’t stay that way very long.

The PTTS has been taking its hits lately. Author Randy Wayne White recently and publicly pulled his sponsorship of the tournament through his Doc Ford’s restaurants in Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach. White cited the event’s use of “snag fishing” for his decision. “Snag-fishing is contrary to every historic ethic associated with sport fishing — a fact I hope to communicate unequivocally to other sponsors,” White said. “We urge all sponsors to join us by withdrawing from future tournaments … that promote snag-fishing by turning a blind eye, by using silly euphemisms (‘jig-fishing’), by failing to ban this most ‘unprofessional’ of techniques.”

Bishop says there are lots of L-4Cs in the world. There are lots of banners. He intends to keep using both until the PTTS or the state gets the message. Tournament organizer Joe Mercurio obviously hasn’t. When asked about Sunday’s fly-over, Mercurio sarcastically asked if this meant the skydivers, the flags, the color guard, the national anthem and the veterans. He apparently didn’t see the L-4C and the big banner. The PTTS and its sponsors are good at not seeing. Maybe it will take a few more Bill Bishops and Randy Wayne Whites to open their eyes.

Gary Dutery is a Sun columnist. A veteran journalist, he resides in Port Charlotte. Readers may reach him at gdutery@sun-herald.com or on Twitter @GaryDutery.

Novelist Randy Wayne White says tarpon tournament unsporting, restaurants pull sponsorship

Special thanks to NaplesNews.com for this article on the sponsors who are already pulling out of the PTTS – Professional Tarpon Tournament Series in Boca Grande, Florida.

Renowned Sanibel Island mystery writer Randy Wayne White has joined a growing grassroots group of anglers who say the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, which will begin this weekend, is unsporting and putting too much stress on the tarpon fishery.

Organizers of the catch-and-release tournament say the opposition is baseless but have changed some of their rules this year to try to reduce the number of Silver Kings that end up dead. Critics say the changes don’t go far enough.

White, who owns the trademark for the Doc Ford Rum Bar & Grille in which he is a partner, has told tournament organizers that the restaurants on Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach are pulling their sponsorship of the tournament because it allows a style of fishing White considers unethical.

–Eric Staats, NaplesNews.com

This 100-plus pound silver king tarpon was hooked by Bonita Springs Realtor Jim Gilboy during a weekend fishing trip in Chokoloskee.

This 100-plus pound silver king tarpon was hooked by Bonita Springs Realtor Jim Gilboy during a weekend fishing trip in Chokoloskee.
Photo by ERIC STRACHAN

Letter to the Sponsors of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS)

Below is a copy of a letter which went out today to a few of the major sponsors of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).  If you have a moment, please take a moment to write some of these sponsors as well.
Dana.Metz@tiresplus.com
Don.Becker@tiresplus.com
Jeremy.Persinger@tiresplus.com
Stuart.Watterson@tiresplus.com
dale_barnes@yamaha-motor.com
ben_speciale@yamaha-motor.com
aperkinson@costadelmar.com
cmacdonald@costadelmar.com
Nehl.Horton@millercoors.com
Andrew.England@millercoors.com
rick.gomez@millercoors.com
We have written you previous emails informing you that there exists a growing public backlash against the PTTS and its highly destructive fishing and handling techniques. Today there are many, many newspaper articles being written, online sites and blogs are humming, communities are organizing, sponsors are withdrawing, petitions and bumper stickers are appearing and a plane flew a negative banner over the PTTS events. We had informed you this might grow into a real brushfire. It is starting. A boycott of your product is now being advocated. Your brand will be caught up in this whirlwind and it will not be positive for your image, nor your sales. Your brand is generally respected, but now the wider boating and fishing community is turning against you as a management, and against your product because you are supporting and thus condoning the PTTS. The controversy is becoming self sustaining.
Again we ask that you consider the consequences. If you have questions, suggestions or need more information about the real and potential damages caused by the PTTS,
Mark Futch has asked that you contact him directly. Mark Futch is the Secretary of the respected Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association.
PTTS Sponsor Boycott
Captain Mark Futch
Cell: (941) 740-0662
bgseaplane@gmail.com
www.bocagrandefishing.com

Sign the Petition

The first Tarpon ever recorded caught on hook and line was caught in 1885, just miles from Boca Grande Pass. That achievement marked the beginning of what has become a world-renown fishery that seasonally stretches all over Florida and from Virginia through Texas and the Caribbean.

Biologists believe that Tarpon use Boca Grande Pass as a meeting place before and after offshore spawning migrations. The Pass also provides an abundance of food giving the tarpon a better chance of healthy survival after the rigors of spawning. The fish come to the area from throughout the region. Since we know Tarpon can migrate long distances, we also know that what happens to tarpon in one location is important to tarpon in other locations. What happens in Boca Grande has implications for the regional Tarpon fishery from the Keys to the Panhandle.

The recent and alarming inception of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS), a high-impact, season-long for-profit tournament in Boca Grande Pass, is causing significant negative impacts to the Tarpon fishery. Tarpon have changed their movement, feeding, and spawning behaviors. The change in these patterns has altered the quality of the fishery.

Additionally, by the glorification and promotion of unsafe boat operations by the PTTS contestants on television, the safety of all anglers and boaters in Boca Grande Pass and the surrounding waterways is now threatened.

The actions of the PTTS, its sponsors, and participants show total disregard for the historically and culturally important tarpon fishery in Boca Grande Pass. The PTTS has purposely adopted unethical fishing practices to help facilitate higher TV ratings and profits–fishing practices that have long been known to the angling community as outdated and unsportsmanlike.

I, the undersigned, support the Save the Tarpon movement and call for the immediate termination of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS). This must be done to preserve the fishery for anglers of today and for the future health of the fishery.

Boycott the PTTS

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.