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.

Sorry, Joe – but the FWC vote really does change everything

By Bill Bishop

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

PTTS Host, Joe Mercurio, poses next to the Hooters sponsored team boat.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is the importance of a person’s reputation. Without that, success is virtually impossible.

The “success” of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series is no different. The way I see it, the unanimous vote sent a message throughout the state and beyond that the commissioners believed the evidence brought before them was credible and something needed to be done to stop snagging. They were and will remain dead serious about this.

Anyone who says the vote didn’t change a thing is living in a dream world. The vote changed everything, including how the angling community and business owners will view violators in the future.

I recall a quote, “we won’t stop until we are told to stop.” They were just ordered to stop by the FWC commissioners. They were previously told they must stop gaffing, roping, dragging and weighing fish. They have now been told they must stop using the jig designed to snag fish.

They must also stop bypassing the process of enticing a fish to strike the lure. Earlier this month, the unanimous vote in favor of the proposal – and the change of the definition – changed everything. Any attempt to re-invent a lure that meets the guidelines – but is still used to snag fish – will be dealt with swiftly. Any attempt to sidestep the law will be done under a microscope and in the light of day.

Left to right: Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Mr. Bill Bishop.

Bill Bishop, at right, with (from left) Capt. Mark Futch, Dr. Aaron Adams and Capt. Tom McLaughlin.

Yet, here we have PTTS host Joe Mercurio was quoted in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune as saying: “We’re Americans, we’re anglers, we’re adapters, we’ll find a way, we’ve already found a way. If anything, this has united some of our fishermen in using the new baits that we can use.”

How about this, Mr. Mercurio? The WAY is to realize that at the very core of honest angling is the art of enticing a fish to strike. It takes a lifetime to master this art. Those who have bypassed this art by way of snagging fish have wasted time that could have been used to learn and become more proficient as anglers.

The WAY isn’t easy. It’s complicated and challenging, but it is also one of the most gratifying experiences a person can have.

Not one thing that lives inside an honest angler has anything to do with harming the fishery or offending other anglers. At the end of each day I know whether I fished well or not. I know if my conduct was becoming. I know if the decisions I made were fair and honest.

I also ask if a young budding angler looked at me – would I be a good example to follow or not? Adapting… to me means to continue to improve my skills as an angler while staying within the boundaries of good sportsmanship and fair play.

We have already found a “way” as well. It’s called angling. If you haven’t tried it, you should.

(Bill Bishop is a noted wildlife artist and an ardent tarpon angler. He is the author of “High Rollers: Fly Fishing for Giant Tarpon” published in 2008.)

FWC votes 7-0 to ban controversial ‘tarpon jig’ in Boca Grande Pass

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC's historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

Yes, there was a little celebrating to do Thursday in Pensacola after the FWC’s historic vote to ban the bottom weighted jig in Boca Grande Pass. And yes, we were there. In numbers.

This time it wasn’t even close.

After narrowly surviving a preliminary vote in June, a regulation banning the use of bottom weighted “tarpon jigs” in Boca Grande Pass was adopted by a unanimous vote Thursday, Sept. 5 by the seven-member Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Pensacola.

The new rule will take effect on November 1. Despite some initial confusion over which way Panama City lawyer Adrien “Bo” Rivard had actually voted, the final tally was eventually set at 7-0. Bottom line, it passed.

Before adopting the Boca Grande “jig” ban on Thursday, the commissioners shot down an 11th hour bid by Florida Tarpon Anglers Association lobbyist Lane Stephens who sought to delay action on the proposed rule by demanding the FWC first hold a series of public workshops and conduct an economic impact study prior to voting on the measure.

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

By land, by sea and by air. Save the Tarpon board members traveled to Pensacola to attend the FWC Commission meeting. From Left to Right: Capt. Mark Futch, Capt. Frank Davis, Capt. Tom McLaughlin, and Capt. Chris Frohlich

Stephens, speaking for FTAA vice president and Professional Tarpon Tournament Series angler Craig Abbott, unsuccessfully repeated his “economic impact” argument later in the meeting. “The assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true,” Stephens said, adding that adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Responding to Stephens and his claim that “a ban on this tried and true method used by 65 fishing guides” could cost the state an estimated $8 million annually, Save The Tarpon Inc. Chairman Tom McLaughlin noted that the potential impact on a few dozen guides pales in comparison to the big picture.

“We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

“In my lifetime I’ve seen several regulations that decreased the effectiveness of certain fishing techniques,” he said. “We don’t regulate on the effectiveness of a method of fishing. There is substantial evidence saying that by not acting, this could result in the loss of the fishery.”

Commissioner Ken Wright agreed. “When you consider the effectiveness of a device or method, if it’s indeed snagging then it shouldn’t be a consideration at all,” Wright said. “This rule is not intended to change human behavior, it’s designed to protect a fish that lives to be as old as 80-years-old.”

But the jig lobbyist hinted that his clients might not be done despite losing Thursday’s vote. Stephens noted that state law “allows small businesses impacted by a rule to challenge (the FWC’s) findings.” In June, a lobbyist representing the same group and the PTTS threatened the commissioners with a lawsuit and budget cuts if the jig ban was adopted. That lobbyist, Tallahassee attorney Timothy P. Atkinson, did not appear at Thursday’s meeting.

The majority of those who spoke at Thursday’s meeting were individual anglers or representatives of a number of groups who urged the commissioners to adopt the anti-snagging regulations. Representatives of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Florida Guides Association voiced their opposition to the measure.

Following the meeting, McLaughlin said a lot of hard work went into the effort to ban the jig. “Our more than 21,000 supporters and their combined voices clearly made a difference. This has been a long time coming, and our members and supporters, our core group of volunteers, the Boca Grande Community, the people of Florida and the people around the world who embraced this cause finally made it happen,” he said.

“The FWC’s action today is more than just a message, it’s a historic step forward in protecting this iconic fishery for generations to come.”

UPDATED: The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, via its Facebook Page, has issued a response to the FWC’s vote to ban the bottom weighted hook favored by its competitors.

In an apparent contradiction to the “economic impact” argument put forward by lobbyist Lane Stephens on behalf of the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association and its vice president Craig Abbott, the PTTS statement predicted no economic problems for the tournament or its anglers.

“This ruling will have no impact on the future of the PTTS. As demonstrated during this past season, 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 that meet the new definitions. In addition, anglers will still be able to utilize live bait,” according to the PTTS.

Stephens, however, told the seven commissioners that “the assumption that jiggers can easily switch to another lure isn’t true.” Stephens also predicted adoption of the rule would put many of his fishing guide clients out of work.

Meeting Notes

What’s the score? 6-1? 7-0?

Florida has a long history when it comes to counting votes. Thursday’s FWC meeting was no exception – minus the “hanging chads,” that is.

So, was the vote 6-1 or 7-0? While the math wouldn’t have changed the outcome, the actual tally remained a mystery for about five hours on Thursday. It took FWC Marine Fisheries Management spokesman Amanda Nalley, who initially said 6-1 based on what she saw on the record, to solve the numbers puzzle by going directly to the source.

Why the confusion? When the vote was called, there was some question whether commissioner Adrien “Bo” Rivard had been a yea or a nay. Sensing this, Rivard apparently replied “no, I’m with you guys.” Unfortunately, the clerk only heard the “no” part, and Rivard became the “one” in a vote that was officially recorded as 6-1. Meanwhile, new FWC Chairman Richard A. “Dick” Corbett was thanking the commissioners for their “unanimous” vote.

With her cell phone overheating from media calls all asking the same question, Nally said FWC staff eventually decided to take the bull by the horns. They asked Rivard. And the vote went from an official 6-1 to an unofficial unanimous. But even though the Boca Grande rule is a done deal, it appears Rivard will have  to wait until November 20 when the FWC meets in Ft. Lauderdale to correct his vote and officially close the book on this one.

So, if you read somewhere that the vote was 6-1, it was. Even though it was actually 7-0. It’s a Florida thing.

Are we still in Florida?

Many local supporters of the FWC’s rule banning the bottom weighted hook had no choice to make the 520 mile trek across the state to Pensacola for Thursday’s meeting. But for Ryan Hawks, the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel was little more than a commute. Hawks, an avid angler and supporter of Save The Tarpon’s efforts, lives in nearby Fort Walton Beach. Needless to say, his 41 mile drive was the envy of everyone with a Southwest Florida Zip Code.

Ryan made an effective local case – local for those in the Central Time Zone, that is – for the new anti-snagging rules. “On behalf of all the tarpon anglers in the area, we strongly endorse the proposed gear restrictions,” he told the commissioners. “We share the same fishery. As the Pass goes, so goes the entire fishery.”

On the other hand, when tarpon season rolls around next year, Ryan gets to make the 520 mile drive to Boca Grande Pass. But no matter. Pensacola, and those 520 miles, turned out to be well worth the trip.

Tweed Roosevelt speaks out in support of gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass to protect tarpon from snagging

Conservation quote from Theodore Roosevelt.Last week, Tweed Roosevelt,  the great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, sent a letter to FWC’s seven Commissioners urging them to adopt the proposed rule amendments for tarpon and Boca Grande Pass gear restrictions.  The final public hearing for these proposed rule amendments will take place during the September 5 Commission meeting in Pensacola, Florida.

The proposed rule amendments would modify the existing snagging definition for tarpon statewide and prohibit anglers from attaching a weight to the bottom of a hook while fishing within the boundaries of the Pass.  Save the Tarpon believes these rules are a vitally important way to help protect the health of the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery.  We couldn’t more pleased that Mr. Roosevelt agrees with us.

Here is the letter:

August 14, 2013

Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission
Ferris Bryant Bldg.
620 S. Meridian St.
Tallahassee, FL 3399-1600

Dear Commissioners, 

I understand that you are considering various alternatives for regulating the Boca Grande Jig.  I know a little about the controversy but not in depth.  Others who are far more knowledgeable will address the specific issues relating to this.  My purpose is to provide some context for making the decision as to what is best for all parties concerned based on my great grandfather Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership applicable to situations such as this.

TR’s approach is relative simple, straight forward, and sensible.  He saw that there are two fundamental approaches that are not mutually exclusive but both have their place – preservation and conservation.  An easy way to understand the difference is to compare the National Park service to the U.S. Forest Service.  Parks are meant to be preserved in a state altered as little as possible by man.  Forests are meant to be conserved so they may be a continuing source of natural resources from generation to generation.  A relatively small portion of the land should be preserved and by far the greater amount conserved. Theodore Roosevelt

In situations requiring conservation, the issue is always one of balance.  How much should be consumed today and how much saved for tomorrow.  One can always argue where the line should be drawn, and these are legitimate arguments, but the extreme and illegitimate positions are usually clear and inappropriate.  TR understood this but usually felt we should err on the side of protecting future generations, as the immediate benefits are so attractive that they can cloud our vision.

The Boca Grande Jig issue is clearly one that falls into the conservation side.  The job of the Commissioners is to decide whether or not the Jig is sufficiently destructive to require it banning.  Others will make the various arguments.  I urge you to remember TR’s wise approach to these kinds of problems and rule accordingly.  I think it is very clear where he would stand on this issue, that is saving the species for future generations so they can enjoy the fishery and I hope you will live up to his standard.

Best,

Tweed Roosevelt 

Tweed Roosevelt (born September 9, 1942) – The great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt via Roosevelt’s son Archie. He is Chairman of Roosevelt China Investments, a Boston firm. He occasionally lectures and writes on the topic of his great-grandfather. He is the President of the Board of Trustees of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

Theosore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919) – The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt embodied the conservative values of personal responsibility, hard work and prudence. He abhorred waste and sought to protect capitalism from the excesses of greed. He believed that conservation was essential for keeping America strong. Roosevelt was a champion of the Burkean ideal that a moral partnership exists between present and future generations. That view helped instruct his passion for conserving America’s natural resources.

Bonefish Tarpon Trust gives its position on jigging issue in Boca Grande waters

The following article was originally published in the August 16, 2013 edition of the Boca Beacon.
By Marcy Shortuse

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

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

On Thursday, Sept. 5 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will make a decision that will impact Boca Grande tarpon fishing enormously. The proposal on the table, which was discussed at the FWC’s last meeting, is in part regarding the possibility of banning the Boca Grande jig. One organization of some influence in Florida, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, has weighed in on the issue just prior to the September meeting in Pensacola, where a final decision will be made.

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust supports the proposed new rules that would ban the Boca Grande Jig,” said Aaron Adams, Director of Operations at BTT.

The commission will decide at the September hearing how to refine the two-part proposal that would include the definition of “snagging” and the modification of gear used in the Pass. According to the FWC,

“The proposal adds language that prohibits catching or attempting to catch tarpon that have not been attracted or enticed by the angler’s gear to the snagging definition that applies statewide. This change would apply to tarpon fishing statewide. The second part of the proposal would prohibit fishing with gear that has a weight attached to the bottom of a hook. This change would apply to fishing for all species year-round within Boca Grande Pass.”

Currently live bait fishermen using traditional fishing methods in the Pass do not use bottom-weighted jigs (often referred to as the “Boca Grande jig”). Others, such as anglers in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, do use them … frequently. The debate that has raged on for years in the Pass is this: Is a bottom-weighted hook a snagging device?

Boca Grande Pass Chart

In 2002-2004 FWC scientists conducted a study in the Pass, examining fish caught by both live bait and jig fishermen. At that time FWC researcher results showed that there was little difference in the mortality rate or the snagging rate between tarpon caught with live bait and those with jigs. However, the two scientists contacted to give their opinions in the study, Dr. Phillip Motta and Dr. Justin Grubich (two of the leading fish researchers in the world), have said that their opinions given in that study were not correct, and that they were not given enough information to make an informed and complete decision.

Since then, the people of Boca Grande and several conservation groups have said they witness more dead tarpon washing up on shore after some of the tournaments held in the Pass every year, in which many of the anglers use the bottom-weighted jig. Nick Wiley, the president of the Florida Wildlife Research Institute, said he believes it’s time to change some FWC rules, and said after all of the testimony they have heard, as well as after taking a close look at the equipment, his organization is not happy with how the jig is fished.

“I feel there was plenty of evidence that this jig could result in a snagging situation,” he said at the June meeting.

The agenda for the September meeting shows that the jigging and snagging issue is at the top of the agenda for the first day of the conference.

68B-32.002 states that the proposed final rule would enhance the definition in the tarpon chapter of “snagging” or “snatch hooking.” The second part of the proposal, 68B-4.018, Boca Grande Pass Gear Restrictions states, “The proposed final rule would prohibit the use and possession of gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook in Boca Grande Pass.”

A vote to pursue refining these definitions was passed with a 4-3 vote by commissioners at the last meeting.

The following is text from the BTT press release issued on Thursday, Aug. 15:

Bonefish Tarpon TrustThe Boca Grande Pass – Charlotte Harbor estuary is a unique place, and is an essential location for the regional tarpon population.

Adult tarpon gather in both pre-spawn and post-spawn groups in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor. The Pass provides a unique biophysical feature that provides special advantage to tarpon during their spawning process – a deep place to gather in inshore protected waters. The adjacent estuary is also unique in that it is one of the biologically richest in the region, providing abundant prey for large numbers of adult tarpon during spawning season. Satellite tracking data show that some of the tarpon that gather in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor migrate seasonally, supporting the recreational fishery from the Mississippi River to the southeastern coast as far north as Chesapeake Bay.

Charlotte Harbor is also an important tarpon nursery. Oceanographic currents carry tarpon larvae from the likely offshore spawning locations to the extensive mangrove wetlands of Charlotte Harbor and southwest Florida, further increasing the importance of this location for the region’s tarpon population.

Much has been made of the fact that: 1) catch rates have not changed with the advent of the vertical fishing method with the Boca Grande Jig; 2) that the number of tarpon caught or snagged with the Boca Grande Jig was too small to cause a negative impact to the tarpon population. Both of these suppositions are problematic.

First, when applied to fishes that occur in groups, catch rates often provide inaccurate measures of population size and fishery health. More worrisome, they can provide misleading information that leads to overfishing. This is explained by the phenomenon of hyperstability. In effect, the overall catch rate can remain relatively stable even as total abundance declines because the total number of fish that can be captured is not correlated with the abundance of fish. For example, the maximum catch rate of tarpon might be two tarpon per boat per hour, which will remain unchanged even as the abundance of tarpon in an aggregation can decline from 100,000 to 10,000. However, such a massive decline in abundance is clearly cause for concern. By the time the catch rate declines, the damage has been done and recovery will be a long, slow process.

Second, because Boca Grande Pass is an important pre- and post-spawning location, it is not the number of fish snagged/caught that is of primary concern. The measure of concern should be how the fishing method alters tarpon behavior. Considerable research has been conducted on the complex behaviors often associated with fish spawning, with successful spawning dependent upon successful execution of these behaviors. Interruption of such behavior has potential negative consequences for spawning success. The concern in Boca Grande Pass is that the vertical jigging method is altering tarpon behavior in the pre-spawning aggregations. In the ‘traditional’ method of fishing in the Pass, boats drift with the tide, presenting bait or lures to tarpon that are in the pathway of the drift. This allows tarpon that are not going to eat, or are in a pre-spawning behavior mode, to refuse the bait/lure, which continues to drift down-current. The tarpon can remain in position within the aggregation. In contrast, the vertical jigging method entails using the boat motor to maintain boat position over a tarpon aggregation (the school of tarpon is recorded on Fish Finders), with multiple jigs lowered into the group of tarpon. This removes the ability of tarpon to reject the jig and remain in place. Instead, the tarpon must change location to avoid the jig, possibly interrupting behavior. Such behavior alteration may have deleterious population-level effects.

Other states have already realized and addressed the impact of snagging and associated angling methods in similar situations. For example, salmon on spawning runs or on spawning beds are susceptible to snagging and behavior-altering fishing methods. Implementation of bans on snagging gear and methods has resulted in improved fishing and increased fish abundance, with positive effects at the population level.

Lest we consider tarpon conservation as overkill, a recent international assessment of tarpon suggests a cautious approach to their management is required. The recent assessment classified tarpon as Vulnerable due to habitat loss and degradation, declines in water quality, and harvest in parts of its range. The Vulnerable status means that the population has declined at least 30% in the recent past and/or is expected to decline in the near future. Commercial fishing in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico caused a major population crash in the 1960s and 1970s, and ongoing issues threaten a future population decline.

Because of its importance as a pre- and post-spawning aggregation site, Boca Grande Pass requires application of the precautionary principal. When the health of the fishery is in question, it is imperative to error on the side of the fish and enact conservation-oriented measures. In conjunction with the catch and release regulations recently passed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which in part address angler behavior in Boca Grande Pass (e.g., prohibiting dragging tarpon after capture), the proposed changes to Boca Grande Pass regulations should decrease post-release mortality and allow tarpon to revert to previous behavior patterns, which should have positive implications for the regional tarpon population.

 

Former FWC chair: ‘I would have voted to ban the jigging technique as a form of snagging’

Rodney Barreto

Former FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto says if he had known then what he knows now, he would have voted to ban the bottom weighted “pass jig” as a snagging device in 2006.

Barreto is a Miami native who served 10 years on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

He was appointed to the FWC by Gov. Jeb Bush and re-appointed to a second five-year term by Gov. Charlie Crist.

He served as chairman of the commission for seven of his 10 years as a commissioner. In recognition of his leadership, the FWC established the Rodney Barreto Conservation Award for outstanding achievement.

The following email was sent by Barreto to current FWC Chairman Ken Wright and the other six commissioners:

Chairman Wright,

I’ve recently had a chance to review Dr. Grubich’s letter dated May 8th, 2013 with regards to his involvement in the 2003 Foul Hooking Tarpon Study.

If the information that he is now elaborating on would have been presented when I was on the Commission I would have voted to ban the jigging technique as a form of snagging of tarpon.

As you know we as policymakers are only as good as the information that is presented to us. Unfortunately, it appears that when the Commission deliberated this item back in 2006 that information provided was not as thorough as it should have been and was incomplete. A situation resulted that the Commission can now rectify.

Thank you for your consideration and your public service.

Is a bottom weighted hook a snagging rig?

By: Norman Duncan

Boca Grande tarpon "jig"

The Boca Grande Pass tarpon “jig.”

The controversy regarding the use of the “Boca Grande Pass Jig” or “jig rig” has become contentious, vociferous and sensational in the communities of the region and on line. It has social, cultural, conservation and political / legal impacts that are guided by the socioeconomic relationships that exist there.

There can be more scientific studies of the interaction of a loaded hook and a tarpon’s jaw that will give some degree probability as to whether the fish was intentionally / unintentionally snagged. On the other hand, the mechanics / physics of any rig that has a weight attached below the bend of the hook should be analyzed to determine the snagging ability.

Let’s start with the leader, if the leader engages any protrusion or ledge it will slide along until the hook eye also engages. If there is any bulbous mass in the area of the hook eye the hook would be deflected and most likely not snag. If there is a weight on the hook shank at the hook eye, as most conventional jigs are configured, the hook is also less likely to snag. However, if a mass / weight is attached directly below the bottom of the bend of the hook the rig becomes an efficient snagging tool.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

The shape (morphology) of the mouth and throat area of the tarpon has protrusions, declivities and soft spots that can provide a place to engage a properly rigged “J” hook or offset circle hook that is being pulled up through a close-packed aggregation of fish.

Snagging is a very old method used around the world to capture fish. It could be eels in a mud bottom or schools of mullet on the surface. The usual device employs a multiple (treble) hook or gang hook with a weight or mass at the bottom. This mass forces the alignment of the point of the hook out past the hook eye and therefore enables it to snag more effectively. This can make any rig with this configuration a snagging tool if used properly.

Mullet run sngging rig for snook.

Mullet run snagging rig for snook.

During the fall mullet run on Florida’s East Coast the most effective way to catch large snook is on the bottom where the fish are busting up from below through the schools of bait. The “rig” used for this was a 7/0 Mustad O’Shaughnessy hook on a four foot wire leader to a swivel. The hook must have a ¼ ounce or ½ ounce sinker wired to and hanging below the bend of the hook. This rig is cast out into a school of mullet and jerked through the school, if your hook is filed sharp you can snag a mullet 9 out of 10 times. With the same rig the mullet is hooked up through the lips with the sinker riding below the throat. When the fish are being busted, the mullet is cast out and worked slowly along the bottom. When a fish takes, you quickly try to lip hook it so they will be easier to release. My best morning was 12 snook over 20 pounds and 2 over 30 pounds.

Several groups of fishermen from Miami fished Boca Grande Pass in the 1960s using the same lures and jigs that are successful in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami’s Government Cut; we had very poor results unless we used live bait. The artificial lures that are successful elsewhere don’t seem to work as well in the Boca Grande Pass area unless you fish the beaches and bay side flats.

This “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook.

These large snook were harvested during the "mullet run" in October of 1964.

These large snook were harvested during the “mullet run” in October of 1964.

The point here is that this “jig rig” is a very effective snagging tool because of the weight attached below the bend of the hook. In my opinion, the Boca Grande Pass and PTTS Tournament “jig rigs” are used with the primary intention of snagging tarpon, and that this type of rig should be regulated throughout the State of Florida.

Read the full article from Norman Dunan at flylifemagazine.com.

These PTTS anglers demanded answers – so we decided to help them out

Craig Abbott is vice president of the Florida Tarpon Anglers Association, a group formed with the backing of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and largely comprised of PTTS participants. Abbott is a vocal opponent of measures proposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aimed at helping to grow Boca Grande’s iconic tarpon fishery.

As you will see, Abbott posed a number of question’s on his PTTS-backed group’s Facebook page. He was joined by fellow PTTS angler Nathan Stewart. Abbott and Stewart both seem a bit confused. So we sent their questions off to Capt. Andy Boyette. If there’s anyone who can set them straight on the bottom-weighted jig, it’s Boyette.

Boyette is a full-time Southwest Florida guide who has spent the past 33 years fishing for tarpon in and around Boca Grande Pass.  Like Abbott and Stewart, he fished the PTTS.   In 2009 he quit the tournament and renounced the bottom-weighted jig method of fishing.  Boyette is not a member or supporter of Save the Tarpon.  He has been outspoken in his opposition to the bottom weighted jig, as evidenced by this interview  that appeared in WaterLine Magazine in April, 2012.

Here are Abbott and Stewart’s Facebook questions. They are accompanied by Boyette’s responses.

Q – Craig Abbott: I would like someone to explain why we drift for hours on end with no snags and when the bite turns on we get hook up.  When someone answers that question and says we are flossing the fish because they are active will then need to explain why we don’t floss them if we fish the bait 10 foot off the bottom of the middle of the school.

Craig Abbott Ptts Captain

A – Capt. Andy Boyette: When fish are being flossed it’s because the fish are turning circles and changing directions. When the fish are just holding in a straight line in the current and not changing directions they can’t be flossed. Those tarpon actually ball up on the bottom of the Pass and do a daisy chain.

You can see it on a side finder machine. Flossing was just a term that I used it is also called lining or lifting.  The reason they fish on the bottom is so they can lift that hook from underneath the tarpon.In Michigan in the lakes they floss the salmon suspended in deep water. They refer to it as lifting and the hook is positioned underneath the fish.Flossing, lining, lifting, snagging, and snatching are synonyms with Boca Grande Pass jigging.

Q – Nathan Stuart: Nobody has still answered my question that opposes jig fishing.  How can 200 of the best tarpon fishing guys in florida mark thousands of fish be on top of them and nobody jooks up for a hour? Then like a light switch, boom, 20 boats hook up? ITS CALLED A BIGHT. Nathan Stuart

A – Capt. Andy Boyette:  Although it was a typo, he is correct. From Wikipedia: In knot tying, a bight is a curved section or slack part between the two ends of a rope, string, or yarn.  “Any section of line that is bent into a U-shape is a bight.” An open loop is a curve in a rope narrower than a bight but with separated ends.

Very interesting misuse of words.  When the fish are turning on a slack tide the so called ‘bite’ gets on when the fish are moving and the current conditions are right, as everyone has witnessed. There are eddies in the Pass that can cause a bight in your line that loops around the tarpon and allows for the line to run over the sides. Only a theory, but it got me thinking.

Most people do not understand that the tide flips to out-going on the bottom before it does on the top.  It swings around the compass, which allows for your line and hook to make contact with the fish.

Jig fishing is basic geometry.  The best understand it, the others all follow.

The bite gets on when the fish change sides in the Pass from either North to South, or East to West. Watch some video of the fishing and you will notice the bite is on when the fleet is moving mostly Boca Grande to Cayo Costa, not harbor to Gulf.  This allows the line to slide against the side of the tarpon, which in turn catches on the clipper.

Sometimes the sharks move them from ledge to ledge and the bite gets on.

But for sure when they just hold in place, it is almost impossible to hook fish with the BGP jig.  Last season it was a very bad year for the jig.  The tarpon stayed for long periods of time in the deep hole at the demarcation line.  They spent hours drifting all spread out with few hook-ups.  When the fleet is tight, the tarpon are tight and move side to side.  The bite is on.

When I jig fished I always swung to the outside of the fleet ahead of their direction so the fish would push through my lines. The jig fishermen have learned to swing out in front of a hooked fish.  The best jig fishermen swing to the outside, or mark a daisy chain on the bottom.

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

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook?

Waterline Magazine June 6, 2013This article, written by Josh Olive, Publisher of Waterline Magazine, was originally printed in the June 6, 2013 edition of the magazine.

Tired of tarpon yet?

We’ve been talking a lot about tarpon fishing in the past few editions of WaterLine. For those of you who have no interest in these fish, I apologize. However, we’re smack in the middle of tarpon season, and our silver king obsession will continue for a little while yet. Hey, that’s why we have 32 pages — even though there’s an abundance of tarpon talk, there’s still plenty of other information and entertainment for those of you who just don’t get all the fuss about an oversized sardine.

This coming Wednesday will be a big day for anyone with an interest in local tarpon fishing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be meeting in Lakeland to (among other things) hold a public hearing for draft and final rules that affect tarpon both statewide and locally. The final rule would make tarpon a catch-and-release-only species, with possession legal only in pursuit of an IGFA record, and then only with a $50 tarpon tag. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m in favor of no one keeping tarpon, but the record exemption is silly and unfair — why just tarpon? If you catch a record redfish or snook, law says it’s got to go free.

The draft rule is in two parts: First, it would change the definition of snagging only for tarpon. The gist is if the tarpon does not actively participate in being hooked, it’s snagged. I’m OK with that, and I would think any other sportsman would be as well.

Tarpon snagged with a circle hook in Boca Grande Pass.

This tarpon was snagged with a bottom-weighted circle hook under the pectoral fin during a PTTS tournament.

Second —and this is the part that’s got a whole bunch of people in a tizzy — the draft rule would ban the use of a weight attached to a hook and hanging lower than said hook when the rig is suspended vertically. It’s a big deal because that’s exactly how the Boca Grande Pass tarpon jig is commonly rigged, and the jig is fished by a fairly large number of people. I’ve always said that there’s no proof the jig is snagging tarpon. But I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how that device works, and talking with people on both sides of the debate about why it works. Absolute conclusive evidence that favors either camp is hard to come by, but I’ve got some questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered.

See, I’m certainly no expert on tarpon or tarpon fishing. In fact, I still have yet to actually catch one (came close, though). So I have to ask those who do this day in, day out, all tarpon season long. And a lot of what I hear just isn’t adding up.

Why does the jig have to be fished so close to the bottom? In jig fishing, you drop your rig to the bottom and then reel up 2 to 4 feet of line. The schools of tarpon you see on the fishfinder while you’re doing this are stacked sometimes 20 or 30 feet from the bottom. What I’ve been told is that the fish at the bottom of the school are the ones that are feeding. Why, then, is the traditional presentation of a live bait above the school of fish, not below them? Many jig fishermen switch over to live bait in the afternoon. Why don’t they put those live baits right on the bottom, if that’s where the fish are feeding?

Why does it take so long to feel the fish after you get a bite? I’ve jigged the Pass on a handful of occasions. After you drop the jig down, you wait to feel tiny taps on the line. When you feel that, you reel like crazy. I’ve only hooked two fish doing this. One of them took about four reel cranks — let’s call that 20 feet — before I felt the weight of the fish. The other took about two cranks (still 10 feet). I’ve been told it’s either line stretch or the fish racing toward the surface with the jig. I know monofilament stretches, but 20 feet of stretch fishing straight down in 50 feet of water? It’s fishing line, not a gummy worm. And what possible reason does a not-yet-hooked tarpon have to race toward the surface, jig in mouth?

Jigs OK to use if FWC moves forward with gear restrictions.

All of these jigs would remain legal under proposed gear restrictions for Boca Grande Pass. In fact, there is not one commercially manufactured rig we would find which would be banned if the proposed rule is made law.

Why are jig fishing leaders so short? Most anglers use tiny leaders, maybe 18 inches long. Perhaps it’s because they don’t need long leaders, but in the tournament — where leader touches count for points — wouldn’t a longer leader be an advantage? The anti-jig guys say it’s because the knot spooks fish as it runs across their bodies, so they know they must be very close to the hook. I don’t know if that’s really true, but if it isn’t, why not use longer leaders and prove them wrong?

Why does the jig only seem to work on tightly packed schools of fish? Obviously, you’ll have a much better chance of hooking a fish of any kind if you present a bait to a bunch of
them, but I’ve watched jig anglers choose to not fish because the schools of tarpon weren’t thick enough. I would rather find a school of redfish to cast on, but if I can’t I’m still going
to fish. Why would you not fish at all — surely if the jig is mistaken for food, you have a reasonable chance of a tarpon spotting it and pouncing on it even when the fish are scattered very thinly.

I’d love to have verifiably truthful answers to these questions. But there’s one more, and it’s the one that matters the most:

What is the big hairy deal about moving the hook from above the weight to behind it? The guys who are saying the Pass jig snags fish say the only reason it can do that is because when the line is reeled past the fish, the hook is the first thing that makes contact. OK, that’s plausible. The guys who defend the jig say that the fish are biting it. OK, that’s plausible too.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook.  By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

The only gear which would be made illegal under the proposed FWC rule is that which uses a weight attached to the belly or bend of the hook. By definition, this is considered a snatch hook.

So why not shut the anti-jiggers up for good by moving the hook? The anti-jig crowd’s entire argument falls completely apart if you can move the hook literally two inches and continue to catch fish. Several people have told me they’re working on just this type of rig, but I’ve not heard from anyone that they’re actually using it successfully. Of course, they might be doing just that and not talking to anyone about it. But I can tell you that if I were one of those guides whose livelihood depends largely on being able to jig fish for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, and I had a rig that would catch tarpon as efficiently as the jig but couldn’t be accused of being a snagging device, I’d be on the 6 o’clock news that night crowing about it and telling them all to stuff it.

The fact that this hasn’t happened lends credence to the argument that jigs snag fish. It makes it harder to believe the anglers who say they’re not snagging but can’t explain why minor changes — changes that don’t affect the jig’s presentation in the water — render it ineffective. Many jig fishermen have told me they don’t believe that they’re snagging tarpon. And I believe that they’re being sincere. But it seems to me that not looking for real explanations is a problem. Saying, “I know I’m not doing anything wrong because I know I’m not doing anything wrong,” just doesn’t cut it.

When I first became involved with the jigging debate, it seemed very simple to me: It just couldn’t possibly be that all these fishermen were somehow snagging tarpon in the mouths. Anybody who said so must be carping about sour grapes. Besides, the state had done a study that didn’t find tarpon were being snagged. Anyone who said tarpon were being snagged would have to prove it.

Things have changed a little. The study has been cast into doubt, with two of the quoted experts now saying they didn’t say what the study says they said. One of them, Dr. Justin Grubich, has provided a plausible (that word again) explanation for how at least some of the tarpon might be snagged in their mouths. Other fisheries have turned up that snag fish in the mouths — admittedly, salmon fisheries.

But still, there are all these unanswered questions. I have little doubt the FWC is going to move forward with the draft rules — perhaps with minor changes, but probably to close loopholes rather than open more. If they do, a final vote will probably be held in September. The new regulations would likely go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. The burden of proof now lies on those who fish with the jig. If the commissioners look solely at the evidence they currently have — which, taken as a whole, says it’s more likely jigs are snagging tarpon than not — I don’t see how they would have any choice but to outlaw the Pass jig.

If anyone has that evidence, I’m sure it will surface at the meeting this Wednesday. And let me tell you, I would be very happy to see it. I don’t at all like the thought that jig fishermen, many of whom I know well and have formed close friendships with over the past few years, are knowingly or even unknowingly doing something as unsporting as snagging not just any gamefish but the ultimate Southwest Florida gamefish. Unfortunately, I have a heavy feeling in my gut that says that might be exactly what’s happening.

Read More from Waterline Magazine >

Read the Boca Grande Pass: Tarpon Gear Review and Discussion by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission >

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.