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

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 // Buy this photo

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

David Albers/Staff 
 -  Author Randy Wayne White has added his voice to growing opposition to a form of tarpon fishing called jig fishing, or snatch-hooking, used by some fishermen in this weekend's Professional Tarpon Tournament Series in Boca Grande.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

David Albers/Staff - Author Randy Wayne White has added his voice to growing opposition to a form of tarpon fishing called jig fishing, or snatch-hooking, used by some fishermen in this weekend's Professional Tarpon Tournament Series in Boca Grande.

A Southwest Florida tarpon fishing tournament is stirring up more than just the waters of Boca Grande Pass.

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.

"They are essentially hijacking the fish," said White, a former Sanibel Island fishing guide who authors a series of novels featuring marine biologist Doc Ford.

For months, an anti-tournament group has collected about 500 petition signatures at fishing shows and through the YouTube video sharing website, calling for organizers to stop poor tarpon handling practices at the tournament or end the contest.

"The silent majority is getting less silent," said petition organizer Rick Hirsch, a New Yorker who spends summers fishing in Florida and founder of Save the Tarpon. "It's pretty clear to us that the broader fishing public hates the tournament, hates its tactics and is scared of the impact it has on the fishery."

Tournament organizers say they have science on their side and that any impact to the fishery is insignificant.

"What you have with this petition is a group of individuals attempting to use tactics to get people emotional because everybody cares about the fish," said Joe Mercurio, the tournament's vice president and general manager.

The tournament, which began in 2004, turns Boca Grande Pass into a fishing spectacle, with about 50 boats maneuvering for position in a kind of bumper boat rodeo. Teams come from all over North America for a string of a half-dozen weekends in May and June to contend for a piece of the men's and women's tournaments' combined $750,000 purse.

Their targets are thousands of tarpon that gather in a deep part of the pass, literally stacked on top of one another in a mountain of fish 40 feet tall, before they head offshore to spawn.

One of the tournament's allowed fishing techniques has teams of fishermen on each of the boats dropping artificial baits called jigs into the tightly packed school of fish and then jerking their lines upwards to snag a fish rather than waiting for the fish to bite.

Critics of the practice say many of the fish are hooked in the side, tail or belly, making it more likely they will not survive or will become easy prey for sharks.

Tarpon that reach the boat are gaffed through the lower mouth and then dragged to a weigh station, where teams pose with the giant fish for the benefit of tournament television crews. The shows, hosted by Mercurio, are broadcast weekly on sports channels to a loyal following of tarpon fishing fans.

"It's just very dramatic," he said. "It definitely adds to the excitement of the show."

But tournament critics want the weigh-ins to end, saying they are too stressful on the tarpon and make them more vulnerable to predation and death.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission study has found that tournament-caught tarpon had higher levels of stress indicators in their blood than tarpon caught in the overall recreational fishery.

As for the tournament's effect on the tarpon fishery: "I don't think science has directly answered that question," said Aaron Adams, a senior scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota and director of operations for the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.

The science so far was enough to prompt another Boca Grande tarpon tournament, the "World's Richest," to kick off Thursday without the weigh-ins. Instead, teams will be judged on the number of tarpon they catch and release, not the size of the fish. Jig-fishing isn't allowed.

Tarpon fishing is too important to the region to risk harming the fishery, said Lew Hastings, director of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the "World's Richest."

"You can't be the Tarpon Capital of the World if we don't have tarpon," Hastings said.

Mercurio, with the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, defends the tournament's record on conservation. He cites a 2004 study by the Conservation Commission that found the number of tarpon snagged by jig-fishing is similar to the number snagged with other styles of fishing and that it does not contribute significantly to tarpon mortality.

On average each year, only 82 tarpon are dragged to the tournament's weigh station; even if each one later died, it would not have a significant effect on the fishery, Mercurio said.

Still, the tournament has changed its boundaries and increased the permitted fishing line size to try to land the fish more quickly and reduce stress on the fish.

Teams will no longer be allowed to hoist the fish out of the water for pictures at the weigh station, and trained "Release Teams" will be responsible for reviving the fish and releasing it, new rules say.

As for Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille yanking its sponsorship from the tournament, Mercurio said he doesn't expect other sponsors to follow suit.

"They understand the facts," Mercurio said, "and they understand we're not doing anything wrong."

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 43

donkeydrone writes:

I agree, I have fished this tournament several times and when you have to drag a fish out of the pack of boats in order to fight it where is the sport. I had a lot more fun fishing the tarpon on the flats.

smunstrldr writes:

More "Tree Huggers" trying to mess up a fun sport. What is Florida belonging. Sponsors afraid to stand their ground because of a book writer. You won't see me at Doc Fords Bar & Grille again.

beetlejuice writes:

plumes
skins
fish
live mollusks
when will madness stop in Florida
Tarpon
conchs
panther
gator
birds
extinction
will end tournaments

ForPlay writes:

Snagging is not a sport. I hunt and fish, not a tree huger. Snagging should banned similar to other states up north. If its a true sporting event be a sport and use bait or lures, if fish is snagged its not a legal fish.

cman writes:

This is not a fishing tournament, it's a snatch and weigh. The redfish tour, now that's a real tournament requiring skill.

np writes:

Agree with Mr White. It's as bad as Illegal roostercock fighting. Humans need to leave the wildlife ( sea or land ) alone . We can be pretty pathetic with our apathy, unfortunately.

freedomsailor writes:

in response to smunstrldr:

More "Tree Huggers" trying to mess up a fun sport. What is Florida belonging. Sponsors afraid to stand their ground because of a book writer. You won't see me at Doc Fords Bar & Grille again.

Sure happy to hear that you won't be at Doc Fords anymore.

One less drunk to contend with.

dixielee writes:

in response to smunstrldr:

More "Tree Huggers" trying to mess up a fun sport. What is Florida belonging. Sponsors afraid to stand their ground because of a book writer. You won't see me at Doc Fords Bar & Grille again.

Brother Randy White has forgotten more about fishing and the area of south west Fl than you'll ever know....If you kept your mouth shut, no one would know exactly how s----- you really are!

WizeOlMarco writes:

They call that fishing?...come on people, that is TV making. Let them set it up in a large tank in a warehouse, use toys and photoshop, their audience won't know the difference. Catch the tarpon, sure, but don't gang tackle them. Call me crazy, but when the fish are natuarlly gathered in a pod to go out to sea the sporting thing to do would be to leave them alone until you can pursue them at sea or in the bays upon return. Another reason to shut off the TV and step outside into the real world.

Carrot_Stick writes:

in response to smunstrldr:

More "Tree Huggers" trying to mess up a fun sport. What is Florida belonging. Sponsors afraid to stand their ground because of a book writer. You won't see me at Doc Fords Bar & Grille again.

Really....a fun sport? There is no 'sport' involved with this tournament. A real fisherman would never waste their time on such a corruption of the sport.

bkindr writes:

I have personally seen the event. It is not about anything other than making money at the expense of the fishery. Snagging fish and gaffing them in the way that it is done is not a scientifically proven way to handle fish that is sporting those techniques are employed for HARVESTING. Dont mislead the public by throwing science into the reasoning. Snagging and Gaffing are damaging.

fishguts writes:

Besides being an unsporting snatch and weigh series of tournaments, it's also a blasted nuisance. These "Pros" come down with their fancy boats plastered with sponser stickers and matching shirts, hell they look like NASCAR on the water. Then there are boats for the tournament officials, camera crews, & weigh in boat. They hijack the pass and if you're not part of their little game they will literally run you out of the pass.

OP writes:

I can't stand to watch the television show showing this tournament, the hosts are creepy, and the whole thing does not seem sporting. And, now I learn they are jig fishing, (essentially snatching), which tells me this is not about fishing, it must be about money. Clean up your sorry act Mercurio.

I applaud RWW for pulling the sponsorship.

beetlejuice writes:

in response to fishguts:

Besides being an unsporting snatch and weigh series of tournaments, it's also a blasted nuisance. These "Pros" come down with their fancy boats plastered with sponser stickers and matching shirts, hell they look like NASCAR on the water. Then there are boats for the tournament officials, camera crews, & weigh in boat. They hijack the pass and if you're not part of their little game they will literally run you out of the pass.

well said

trueamerican writes:

in response to np:

Agree with Mr White. It's as bad as Illegal roostercock fighting. Humans need to leave the wildlife ( sea or land ) alone . We can be pretty pathetic with our apathy, unfortunately.

"roostercock fighting" Really ? Your showing your ignorance...If I were you I would just shut up, before everyone finds out you've escaped from the village.

airboatboy writes:

in response to smunstrldr:

More "Tree Huggers" trying to mess up a fun sport. What is Florida belonging. Sponsors afraid to stand their ground because of a book writer. You won't see me at Doc Fords Bar & Grille again.

Gee, I hope it survives without you......

trueamerican writes:

I agree with alot of what RWW is saying. I think the use of "JIGS" in Boca Grande should be made illegal. I've fished there too many times to count. I prefer live bait, and not because jigs make the easier to catch, it's that most people use break away jigs. This is where once the fish hits the lead part of the jig breaks away leaving only the hook in the fish. I would rather see everyone only use circle hooks, catches the fish in the corner of the mouth and it make's the realese so much easier and you don't end up with gut hooked fish that will probably die. Same goes for grouper, snapper, snook etc...

dmarko326 writes:

Don't know much about Randy White other than being a mystery writer. Is he qualified to comment on the sport? Personally, I think most of these tournement participants are a bunch of yahoos. Too much stress is put on the tarpon when they haul them in for weighing. It's one thing to catch and release the tarpon. And quite another to drag it around for so long until its too weak and stressed.

MisterK writes:

I was happy for these tournament people and anglers, because they had created something fun for themselves. But, I'm also glad RWW is pulling sponsorship and calling for an ethical, sporting tournament. I don't think the tournament actually harms the tarpon population in any meaningful way. I think the problem here is the image and culture reflected in this unsportsmanlike tournament. I wouldn't want my company name and likeness associated with this event based on what I've watched on Sunsports.

fishourwaters writes:

Question for the wise retired Captain White - Why do the tarpon only hit ... sorry ... snag during the typical tide patterns of fishing. I've grown up and fished this pass all my life. They only hit certain jig color patterns on certain days and only hit when the tide is right and fish are feeding. Please explain how "snagging" lines up perfectly when the bite in the pass is on and there is no "snagging" when the bite is off. Please answer with your honest opinion why the bite/snagging patterns line up. I've caught hundreds of tarpon with jigs in the pass and they are certainly not snagged with a circle hook.

wentfishn writes:

in response to fishguts:

Besides being an unsporting snatch and weigh series of tournaments, it's also a blasted nuisance. These "Pros" come down with their fancy boats plastered with sponser stickers and matching shirts, hell they look like NASCAR on the water. Then there are boats for the tournament officials, camera crews, & weigh in boat. They hijack the pass and if you're not part of their little game they will literally run you out of the pass.

I agree, just a bunch of would be Macho Macho Men !

Captian_Cataracts writes:

So I guess this year I won't be able to use hand grenades eh?

RichardBalles writes:

End this fish tournament....

cgbexec writes:

in response to beetlejuice:

plumes
skins
fish
live mollusks
when will madness stop in Florida
Tarpon
conchs
panther
gator
birds
extinction
will end tournaments

Exactly what are you saying?

I think Florida does a good job of protecting its native species while at the same time allowing sportsmen to enjoy fishing and hunting.

Queen Conchs are a protected species banned from harvest since the early 80s. (I have seen more live Queen Conch in the last few years than ever before)
Tarpon are a protected species, which require a purchased tag to harvest.
Alligators are a protected species requiring a license to hunt. (Alligators have made a huge come back, so the conservation is working.)
Many birds are protected from molestation.
Panthers are protected.
When my family goes shelling, we check each shell for live animals. We only keep vacant shells and live shells are returned carefully to the water. We even move live shells from the smaller tidal pools that heat up in the sun and dry out at lower tides back to the water off the beach.
The list goes on and on.

I’m in agreement with Mr. White about the Tarpon Tournament being a free for all. There is nothing sporting about dropping a jig into a large school of tarpon and snagging them. The tournament needs to evolve into a live bait tournament with circle hooks only with no weigh in. Make it a pure release tournament with photos taken with number tags while the fish remains in the water.

cgbexec writes:

in response to dmarko326:

Don't know much about Randy White other than being a mystery writer. Is he qualified to comment on the sport? Personally, I think most of these tournement participants are a bunch of yahoos. Too much stress is put on the tarpon when they haul them in for weighing. It's one thing to catch and release the tarpon. And quite another to drag it around for so long until its too weak and stressed.

Yes, Mr. White is well qualifed to comment on the tournament. In addition to being a novelist, he is also an avid angler and has written many books on the subject.

SeeFuture writes:

I'd fished Boca Grande in the late 60s and early 70s, and am amazed to the see the televised chaos out there now. Yes, bring back skilled fishing, not snatch-and-yank snagging. The fish are too grand for such treatment. And leave most of the channel open for individual sports fishing boats and guides. We want to introduce our grandchildren to the Silver King, not the spectacle that's out there now.

Tommymack writes:

Catch and release but snagging is allowed? Really! Why is that even legal in FLA?

One thing is always true: Sport + Big $$$$$ = Destroyed Sport.

marcotime writes:

This story is missing PLENTY of FACTS!!! People----get them correct before you make judgments!!!!

First is "Doc Ford's" pulling their sponsorship yet the PTTS website still lists a sponsored boat. In fact I saw this boat fishing a few days ago with clients, and they were fishing "ethically"! PTTS rules and regulations state circle hooks may only be used. They are the only hooks on board these boats!!!
"....boats dropping artificial baits called jigs into the tightly packed school of fish and then jerking their lines upwards to snag a fish rather than waiting for the fish to bite.

Critics of the practice say many of the fish are hooked in the side, tail or belly, making it more likely they will not survive or will become easy prey for sharks."

What terrible publishing! First, you can't "snag" fish using a circle hook! They were designed to prevent that practice. It's impossible!! So way to go NDN for doing research on this. Obviously writinga piece on fishing as a non-fiherman is wonderful media practice! Secondly, they are listed as easy prey for sharks. You are kidding me right. Sharks always follow these fish, year round. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat when they want to. Do you relaize how many fish are in the pass, 100's of thousands, and the likely hood of a shark singling out that one fish... good luck!

Finally, the teams that fish the tournaments and charter captains alike protect this fishery like a child. It's is their income and livelyhood! These captains care more for this fishery than anyone who writes , handle the fish properly, and always practice ethics before results. That's called sport fishing, not catching!

Mr. White as a former guide shame on you!! Destroying the good name of fellow charters...isn't there a code to abide by??!! AS for "Doc Ford's" sponsorship, I look forward to seeing the advertising still on the water!!

cgbexec writes:

in response to marcotime:

This story is missing PLENTY of FACTS!!! People----get them correct before you make judgments!!!!

First is "Doc Ford's" pulling their sponsorship yet the PTTS website still lists a sponsored boat. In fact I saw this boat fishing a few days ago with clients, and they were fishing "ethically"! PTTS rules and regulations state circle hooks may only be used. They are the only hooks on board these boats!!!
"....boats dropping artificial baits called jigs into the tightly packed school of fish and then jerking their lines upwards to snag a fish rather than waiting for the fish to bite.

Critics of the practice say many of the fish are hooked in the side, tail or belly, making it more likely they will not survive or will become easy prey for sharks."

What terrible publishing! First, you can't "snag" fish using a circle hook! They were designed to prevent that practice. It's impossible!! So way to go NDN for doing research on this. Obviously writinga piece on fishing as a non-fiherman is wonderful media practice! Secondly, they are listed as easy prey for sharks. You are kidding me right. Sharks always follow these fish, year round. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat when they want to. Do you relaize how many fish are in the pass, 100's of thousands, and the likely hood of a shark singling out that one fish... good luck!

Finally, the teams that fish the tournaments and charter captains alike protect this fishery like a child. It's is their income and livelyhood! These captains care more for this fishery than anyone who writes , handle the fish properly, and always practice ethics before results. That's called sport fishing, not catching!

Mr. White as a former guide shame on you!! Destroying the good name of fellow charters...isn't there a code to abide by??!! AS for "Doc Ford's" sponsorship, I look forward to seeing the advertising still on the water!!

Thank you for clarifying the Jig issue. It makes me feel better. I'm still not keen on the weigh-in portion of the tournament. Pulling these fish out of the water even for a few seconds is stressful for them. I would definatly rather see a pure photo release tournament.

SeeFuture writes:

Problems create challenges that create opportunities. Let's hope a smart group of guides team with engineers to develop a photo measurement system that will eliminate lifting the fish from the water.

Also, give the bull sharks the respect they are due. Those who fish the pass know their explosive, lethal power. And their vast numbers.

Wisdom generates foresight and resulting action. We all love the Silver King. Let's work together to make this fishery, and this sport, even better.

Bronsord writes:

Randy is a hypocrite. He's jumping to conclusions of unethical procedures based upon small amounts of facts. There are major unethical procedures going on right in his own restaurant. How about the unethical procedures going on with the slaughter of many many tuna so they could be served in his own restaurant. Or the long liners taking thousands and thousands of pounds of grouper and snapper so they could be served as sandwiches in his own restaurant.
It's funny how you didn't hear about the tarpon tournament last weekend that Doc Ford's just sponsored at their very own Fort Myers Beach location.

Bramble writes:

Where is the "sport" in snag, maim, dragging such a beautiful fish? Very big sharks hang back and gobble up the tired and injured fish. Some don't even wait for the fish to be landed.

Wouldn't it be better to make a few changes and make it a real fishing tournament?

Thanks, Randy, for speaking up. I never knew that's what was done.

fishourwaters writes:

First of all to be clear... These fish are not snagged. this is just a load of garbage.
Please review the extensive study performed by the FWC regarding jig fishing in Boca Grande and snagging.I just found this link online:
http://myfwc.com/media/201169/clean_f...
After speaking with several guides in the tournament this week, there are many changes this year to put less stress on the fish.

trueamerican writes:

in response to Tommymack:

Catch and release but snagging is allowed? Really! Why is that even legal in FLA?

One thing is always true: Sport + Big $$$$$ = Destroyed Sport.

Snagging or snitching as it's sometimes called, is against the Law in FL. They may do it on "Swamp People", but you let a FWC officer see you trying and , I'll bet you'll either have a hefty ticket or a trip to the clinker, and you may loose your boat or tackle you were using. Just not worth it!

kakman writes:

in response to trueamerican:

I agree with alot of what RWW is saying. I think the use of "JIGS" in Boca Grande should be made illegal. I've fished there too many times to count. I prefer live bait, and not because jigs make the easier to catch, it's that most people use break away jigs. This is where once the fish hits the lead part of the jig breaks away leaving only the hook in the fish. I would rather see everyone only use circle hooks, catches the fish in the corner of the mouth and it make's the realese so much easier and you don't end up with gut hooked fish that will probably die. Same goes for grouper, snapper, snook etc...

Thanks for all your technical advice. Now why don't you stumble down to Publix and get yourself a nice steak and leave the fish alone!

wrightconnection writes:

There is no sport in this tournament. It's all about money. Theses foolS who participate are stressing the very fish they try to catch by snagging. No sportsmanship here. END THIS TOURNAMENT NOW!

wrightconnection writes:

in response to smunstrldr:

More "Tree Huggers" trying to mess up a fun sport. What is Florida belonging. Sponsors afraid to stand their ground because of a book writer. You won't see me at Doc Fords Bar & Grille again.

You will not be missed...UH-BUH-BY...

titanbite writes:

Snagging is NOT fishing,plain and simple.

wentfishn writes:

Why not use hand grenades? Where is Doc Ford when we need him? He could figure this out.

garyOfTheGulf writes:

What a whiner and a cheapskate!!

tarpum writes:

Please watch "Let's Save The Boca Grande Tarpon Habitat" it will show video of CIRCLE HOOKS EMBEDED IN THE THROAT AND CHEEK with PTTS fisherman gaffing the fish (Breaking PTTS's own rules). FISHOURWATERS why do you claim circle hooks dont snag tarpon when it is clearly visible.Get your facts right. To see the video simply type " Let's Save The Boca Grande Tarpon Habitat " into Youtube or Google search engine.

martinm_1 writes:

GO TEND TO YOUR RESTAURANT AND MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

jensen4560#262515 writes:

I agree go back to your bar, You sell your ultimate tarpon book only to find out it was recalled back to the publisher and you made an a-- of me as i g,ave them as gifts shame on you and i will not buy anymore books of yours or anyone you know thanks for ripping off the public and covering up why your book was recalled how about an explaination,if you like you can email me with explaination at jensen4560@yahoo.com otherwise like i said shame on you

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