Unafraid, unfazed, and certainly not intimidated.

“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.

This is NOT a catch and release tournament. According to the state of Florida "catch and release" is classified as the fish being "released immediately and unharmed". This lifeless Tarpon was harvested only for the purpose of creating television drama for the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS). Regardless of whether it was thrown back after the fact, its chances of survival have been drastically reduced by this handling.

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

Comments

  1. says

    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?

    I’ll tell you right now, the answer is NO they won’t. I’ve been run off for the last two years when I tried to take pictures for our magazine. Then when I finally got a shot I noticed the gaff was sticking out of the side of the fish’s head. That was against the PTTS rules but since it was Team YamaHa there was no DQ. These guys know exactly what they are doing and it’s all about money. If you want to make some progress with this I suggest you call out Gary Ingman of Ingman Marine. The PTTS is his tournament and it’s all about him selling boats. Gary could stop this, but he won’t.

  2. chuck jenks says

    Very well written. Unfortunately I do not think anyone will be able to get the points across in your letter to any PTTS anglers. PTTS anglers seem to judge the health of the tarpon fishery by how many tarpon are “jumped,” “hooked,” and “weighed” in a single weekend of tournament fishing. They (average PTTS anglers) are judging the health of the fishery by the success they are having during 4 separate weekends of fishing. But they do not see how their actions overflow throughout the week because once the weekend party is over they leave. Boca Grande Pass is for the most part a monkey see monkey do type of fishery. It is very easy for a small group of rude captains/fisherman to start a chain reaction that last the entire day. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the PTTS anglers SHOULD judge the overall health of the fishery by their very own tournament results. There has NOT been a tarpon weighed in over 200 pounds this year, furthermore there hasn’t even been a tarpon weighed in at 190 pounds. Last year I believe there was only one tarpon over 200 pounds weighed in and it was during the first week of the tournament. Just 5 YEARS AGO it was not uncommon to have multiple 200+ pound tarpon weighed in during a SINGLE PTTS tournament. Now, I’m going to use the same logic as the average PTTS angler does when judging the overall health of our tarpon fishery. If it was common 5 YEARS AGO to weigh in multiple tarpon over 200 pounds during a single tournament and it is not common to do that anymore, then judging by the PTTS results I would say there is a decline in the overall health of the tarpon fishery. I can’t put this any simpler. The PTTS is nothing more than a party, a party on the backs of our tarpon fishery, other fisherman, and the on the backs of future generations.

    • Chace Morris says

      Damn well said Chris! It is so unfortunate that this still goes on and that it has come to a petition to get these, as you said, “anglers” to realize they are the farthest they can be from actually being an angler! I’d love to fly back from Germany and go document the atrocities that they not only allow, but condone!

  3. Bucky Deppert says

    Well said Capt. It sure isn’t anything like it used to be 20 years ago. The unfortunate thing is some of those “anglers” have been around this abundant fishery their whole lives and don’t see the tragedies affecting it right in front of their face. We’ve all been guilty of the excitement of the moment for pictures sake, I will say myself included, but I can say I will never do it again. I hope that the cry is heard from the concerned and something is done for our generation’s kids’ sake.

  4. Jess (Wilson) Wiliams says

    Wow! This piece was amazing Chris. As a person that has had the wonderful opportunity to fish these waters, and to witness the beauty of this species flying through the air, I feel honored. I was given great advice to never to pull mine out of water, hell after that fight, who wins? I got a scale and not even a picture, but that was enough for me. Apparently, we as competitors and humans have forgot where we came from…. I only hope people can respect the fish and the sanctuary, as their own.

    Regards,

    Jess

    • Debi Wilson says

      Well said Jess, I can’t believe this is going on!!! Everyone believes that the Tarpon will be okay, but obviously, that is not so. I hope they will put an end to this soon to save the few females that are left.

  5. Constance Salidis says

    When will humankind learn? This is our ONLY home and we share it with all of God’s creatures. We are here to share, not to take over.

  6. says

    Please forgive me but just recently heard of Save The Tarpon. Must admit my first thought was, oh great more namby pamby liberals in kayaks & Volvos “saving” something. (No offense!) ‘Til I read on and learned more about the nature of your cause. Not to mention the destructive fishing tactics used by these “Professional Anglers”. (read: Bad Actors.) I had no idea. Consider me enlightened.

    Best of luck. Common sense is on your side and you will prevail. Send those Hollywood Tarpon rapists packing!

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