In the last competition of an unprecedented Tarpon Festival weekend, Capt. Charlie Coleman led Team Hudson's to first place in the 22nd annual Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament by catching and releasing four tarpon Sunday.
The winning captain and team collected $500 apiece. Rebecca Riker (formerly Burch) won the most-releases title with three.
It was the first time in three years a Ladies Day Tourney team actually caught and released a tarpon. That's one of the reasons why the Ladies Day Tarpon Tourney was moved into what became the first Tarpon Festival weekend along with the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament and the Gasparilla Island Kids Classic.
"It was kind of a perfect storm the way that happened," said Lew Hastings of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce. "We didn't plan it that way."
The Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association had already picked its tourney dates based on the tides in order to ensure optimum fishing. So when the Chamber decided to revive the World's Richest brand name, the BGFGA ceded its tourney dates to the Chamber, Hastings said.
Then two other scheduling dominos fell together.
"It was kind of a perfect storm the way that happened. We didn't plan it that way."
- Lew Hastings, executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce.
"Capt. Sandy Melvin already had the (Gasparilla Island) Kids (Classic) dates set," Hastings said. "And for the Ladies Day, we made the decision early on last year that pushing it forward a week - we hadn't caught any tarpon the year before because it was too early - it kind of fell into place accidentally that way. Once they were all together it only made sense to have a festival weekend."
Capt. Cappy Joiner, president of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, said he has two scheduling concerns. He said the Ladies Day Tournament should be moved back to a Saturday slot next year.
"A lot of the ladies said they had to work the next day," Joiner said. "They said they wished it was held on a Saturday."
Joiner was also concerned about the fishing pressure placed on the tarpon from bunching three tourneys in one weekend.
"It was just too much," Joiner said. "We need to spread it out next year. Next year, the tides will be different so we can spread things out."
A little hoarse from a week of media interviews and tourney organization confabs, Hastings said Monday most of his early Tarpon Fest impressions are positive as are calls coming into his office.
"I think it went great for the first year," he said. "We got a lot of attention. The mission statement was put out there: the education of the conservation of the fishery."
Hastings said people from 47 states, 612 cities and 10 countries had checked out the Chamber website and media coverage was widespread in print, television, radio and online.
"The sponsors were real happy and we're happy to have them," Hastings said. "They weren't sure how this was going to play out this weekend."
Joiner said spreading the three tourneys out would give a bigger boost to the Boca Grande economy.
"It was hard to find a place to park or to eat. You couldn't even get in the Temp," he said. "Plus, the festival activities were held at night and we couldn't go because we had to work the next day."
A competition wrinkle that worked involved eliminating judge boats in favor of a less intrusive observer program.
"Everyone seemed to be happy with the observer program," Hastings said. "It allowed competition a little more freedom to move. They didn't have to worry about having judge boats get too close to them."
Hastings agreed it's possible all three tourneys will not be held on the same weekend next year.
"We'll probably do an exit meeting soon with the committee and really triangulate on something that will hit it out of the park next year," Hastings said.