“Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.” Mahatma Ghandi
Each May and June, cobwebs of ignorance sprawl across Boca Grande Pass. These cobwebs seem to multiply exponentially each year, running rampant across this world famous tarpon fishery, and collectively tightening a web of lies in an attempt to suffocate the truth. The cobwebs of ignorance enshroud the harsh realities of the damage done by the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. Until now, the truth has been covered up and well hidden from the general public. The atrocities committed during this tournament can no longer be tolerated. The consensuses among a growing number of those in opposition to the tournaments existence feel that this cover-up is a heavily strategized, deliberate, and collective effort undertaken by those involved.
The Profession Tarpon Tournament Series, or “PTTS” tournament as it is often referred to, is a source of major controversy in this area. On paper this tournament appears to be espousing conservation. But a closer look at the tournament practices reveals that conservation of the species might not be quite as important to the competitors as they claim. These “anglers” (we will call them anglers for ease of reference, and not because of any actual skill or competence while fishing) compete for money or prizes in a series of 5 tournaments. Each of these tournaments is a travesty; they are a despicable display of grown men prioritizing greed, ego, and the need for recognition over character, self-respect, or species preservation.
It appears that the PTTS believes that in its infantile existence it has amassed a wealth of tarpon fishing knowledge that trumps the collective knowledge of generations of Boca Grande families and fishing guides. The PTTS defends the tournament practices that they employ, and give no reverence to any opposing party, nor heed any warnings about potential long-term harm they might be causing. But there are generations of fishing guides who have watched the fishery change before their eyes, and they are speaking out against the PTTS to protect a fish, and a way of life passed down to them. Do not be fooled by the propaganda spewed by the PTTS crowd. This is not, as they would like the public to believe, a movement brought on by a bunch of “angry old fishing guides.” This is a movement made up of a wide range of socioeconomic groups, coming from all over the country. We are not of a common demographic, and there is no label that you can put on us. We are diverse in all respects. We are all brought together by one common goal; we aim to protect the fishery that we all cherish. More specifically, we join together to protect and to preserve the tarpon of Boca Grande Pass.
This letter is a call to action. I call on the public to demand an explanation from the PTTS tournament. I call on the public to demand the truth. If it is so “obvious” to all the PTTS anglers that tarpon aren’t snagged by the jigs, that the fish aren’t dying, that the migration patterns aren’t being changed, and that conservation is a priority, then evidence supporting these contentions should be readily available.
I have never jigged fished in my life. Therefore, I will not pretend to know everything that happens at the bottom of Boca Grande Pass. Rather, I will pass along information that I have heard from people that have. I have interviewed current PTTS anglers about jig fishing. I have interviewed Captains that have personally competed and won PTTS tournaments. This is the information I have collected: Those individuals who are against the PTTS claim that the fish are primarily, if not exclusively, snagged by the use of “Jigs.” The tournament rules state that no tarpon can be snagged, which mirrors the state of Florida rules regulating tarpon fishing. The PTTS “anglers” and staff claim that the use of circle hooks makes it impossible to snag fish. However, circle hooks can be bent or “offset” which allows jig fisherman to easily circumvent the rule proscribing the use of circle hooks. In fact, many tarpon Jig fisherman callously refer to jigging as “snagging and dragging.” Let that phrase sink in.
Ever hear a jig fisherman defend himself by using the “tarpon bite” defense? Those that defend the PTTS ask “if tarpon don’t eat jigs, why does the bite go hot and cold during the day?” A simple explanation that I received is available to dispel this rumored tarpon bite. The tarpon jig is designed to snag the tarpon in the gill, the clipper plate, the face, or any body part it will grab tightly enough. It is effective because tarpon stack up in the pass in massive numbers, literally on top of one another. Jig boats make drifts past the tarpon, and “anglers” are instructed to reel as fast as possible at the slightest bump. These bumps that are felt are the jigs passing the tarpon, bouncing across their bodies. A successful hookup is when the hook snags a fish on its way past the schools. Snagging is less effective when the fish aren’t stacked in a small area. So a hot “bite” is when more fish are being snagged, and a cold “bite is when the fish aren’t in a place where snagging is possible. It’s pretty simple, really.
This is just what I have been told by the people who fish in these tournaments currently, and those who have fished them in the past. But the PTTS rules explicitly say that fish that are hooked outside of the mouth are ineligible for weight or leader touch points. I can’t imagine that the sponsors, tournament directors, and anglers knowingly violate the rules of the tournament as well as the rules of the State of Florida. Can you imagine if such a blatant violation of the law was taking place in such a storied and cherished fishery? Can you imagine the public outcry, not to mention the potential legal ramifications of such violations? I know that I would be concerned if I was in any way involved in such an abhorrent display of disrespectful and irresponsible behavior.
Perhaps the most pathetic attempt at justifying these brutal fishing tactics is referencing the fishing practices of the past. Yes PTTS advocates, we all know that the early years of tarpon fishing saw countless tarpon being hung from trophy boards. Ask any of the Boca Grande Families, and they will tell you that tarpon were killed for mounts, for tournaments, and for photos. I am personally guilty of holding fish out of the water for photos before I knew of the dangers. Tarpon fishing history is rife with what would now be considered wrongful actions. But that is not an excuse to condone the behaviors of today. The PTTS commonly uses the tactic of pointing to the harms done in the past as way to justify what they are doing now. But guess what guys, the fishing practices have evolved…Maybe you can join the evolution, and stop pleading ignorance. I know that I am not proud of holding tarpon out of the water when I was younger and uninformed. But I quickly became informed, and made an effort to cease any practice known to cause unnecessary harm to the fish. Everyone makes mistakes. It is human nature. But the real test of human character is the way people respond when they are given the chance at redemption. It is not too late to stop these practices, as many of us have already done. I am asking the public to do the same, and I am asking the PTTS to join us. We all care about the same fishery. We take for granted that these fish will continue to return here each year. But what if that’s not the case?
Let’s be clear about a few things: this is not about “territory” or who has the fishing rights to Boca Grande Pass. And this is not simply about jig fishing. This is about an entire style of fishing that has infected our waters. Years ago, live bait boats and jig boats fished the pass together. This was before the PTTS gained popularity. Jig fishing, although frowned upon as unethical by many anglers, is not the only problem. It has become an entirely different style of fishing because of the popularity of the PTTS. The PTTS brought to Boca Grande a “run and gun” mentality. Anyone who fished Boca Grande Pass before the inception of the PTTS knows that the style of fishing was one of respect. It was calm, it was elegant, and it was beautiful to watch. Now, it is utter chaos. Visually, it is a nightmare. But this is not the true cause for concern. The real cause for concern is the impact is has on the fish populations and migration patterns. Pre-spawn tarpon come here to feed, to rest, and to congregate before they move offshore to reproduce. However, with the “run and gun” style of fishing, these fish are constantly bombarded by a fleet of boats and a pack of heavy lead jigs. It is overly disruptive. It should be stopped before it is too late. Are we, as recreational anglers, captains, guides, and members of the community, really willing to take a risk so great? Are we really willing to gamble on our cherished fishery? I hear advocates of the PTTS constantly defend the practices they employ, but how sure are they that this style of fishing is not doing any lasting damage?
The PTTS rules say that an observer is allowed on each PTTS boat. Several individuals, myself included, will be happy to observe and document the championship tournament. We will gladly watch, photograph, and take notes of the tournament practices. Will the PTTS, since they have nothing to hide, allow us to do so? Let’s find out. More importantly, if such ethical and legal violations are occurring, will the public demand recourse? Will we stand up hold accountable those responsible? I think we will.
Captain Chris Frohlich