An unprecedented trio of live-bait tarpon tournaments being held in Boca Grande this weekend may never again be grouped on the same dates once pressure on the prized silver kings is gauged. The concern among tarpon insiders is three tourneys on four days could drive the tarpon away.
The World's Richest Tarpon Tournament concludes today, followed the Gasparilla Island Kids Classic tournament Saturday and the Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament Sunday. Never before have three tarpon tourneys been held on consecutive days in Boca Pass.
Organizers say their tourneys offer education to help preserve a tarpon fishery under pressure from jigging fishing techniques and loss of habitat.
Capt. Dickie Coleman on the Momma Leslie fishing in the Boca Grande Pass with Nicole Coleman and Sam Steyer.
Tarpon fishing has always offered anglers an unmatched thrill of the fight. The sound of silver king gill plates rattling is thrilling as they leap out of the water contorting their bodies trying to spit the hook from their oversized mouths.
Boca Grande (Spanish for "big mouth") sits at the mouth of Boca Grande Pass, one of the deepest natural passes in Florida. Tarpon fishing in Boca Grande is world-renowned for the thousands of tarpon that come every year to congregate, feed and rest before going to spawn about 100 miles offshore. Tarpon can weigh well over 200 pounds.
Holding the three tournaments so close together is designed to get in Boca Pass during the right tides and before boat pressure and jiggers take a toll. Jigging disrupts tarpon patterns worse than the eco-friendly live-bait methods used for more than 100 years.
Unprecedented tarpon weekend
May 17-18: World's Richest Tarpon Tournament
May 19: Gasparilla Island Kids Classic
May 20: Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament
What is the best for the fish?
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission has fought for years with the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association about this very issue. FWC OKs jig-fishing; the BGFGA wants it banned.
The World's Richest Tarpon Tournament, resurrected after a five-year absence by the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce, returns on the 30th anniversary of its creation with an important new sponsor: Guy Harvey, which adds stability from a nationally known, conservation-minded organization.
The entry fee for the WRTT is $2,000. If 50 boats fill the field, first place will earn $44,000, second place receives $24,000 and third place nets $12,000.
Lew Hastings, Boca Grande Chamber Of Commerce executive director said he expected 40 boats.
The WRTT began in 1983 and much has changed over the years, including 2005 when the decision was made to take a hiatus as sponsors and participation had ebbed.
The Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association ran a replacement tourney through 2011 but it was not known as the World's Richest Tarpon Tourney.
Hastings said the WRTT will focus on conservation, education, sportsmanship and safe boating in all of its family themed fishing events.
The trio of tourneys will be connected by the Chamber's over-arching downtown Tarpon Festival that will include food, music and games.
The 22nd annual Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament had 14 boats signed up as of April 1, Hastings said. Winner team members will split a $ 500 first-place prize and Barbara Ann's jewelry.
Hastings said the 50-boat Ladies Day maximum filled with ease a year ago and he expects a similar rush ithis year. The Ladies Day Tournament will attempt to break a two-year drought of not hooking a single tarpon.
The Gasparilla Island Kids Classic runs from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Capt. Sandy Melvin's event will benefit the Moffitt Cancer Center Institute.
"The kids will be fishing to help other less fortunate kids in the World's Greatest Kids Fishing Tournament," Melvin said.
The Kids Classic tournament is at full capacity with 25 boats already signed. Apple iPads will go to winning team members. The runner-up captain receives $500 and a $500 credit at Abel Marine.
Prizes will be added before tournament time, Melvin said. There will also be activities on the beach for spectators. Prizes and trophies will be handed out at the downtown festival after the tournament.