Tarpon Study Raises Angler Ire.

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Tarpon Study Raises Angler Ire.

FRANK SARGEANT, Tampa Tribune

Published: Nov 14, 2001

While members of the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association (BGFGA) are looking forward to a planned study of tarpon survival at Boca Grande Pass next spring, members of the Florida Guides Association (FGA) are less enthused.
FGA members who fish the pass are primarily jig fishermen, and they feel the purpose of the study is to push them out of the pass and leave it in possession of the BGFGA, which is made up of live bait anglers.

Crowding at the pass has become intense in the past 10 years. Up to 100 boats at a time pack into the waterway, about 100 miles south of Tampa.

One theory of the live bait fans is that the lighter tackle of the jigging fans causes longer battles, which wears out the tarpon to the point that they might not survive, or at least can't escape from the abundant sharks in the pass.

But Dave Markett, spokesman for the FGA, said the theory is bunk.

``We might fish 40- or 50-pound mono instead of 80-pound Dacron,'' Markett said, ``but we set our drags at 11 pounds on a spring scale, and that's more drag than many of the 80-pound-rigs used by other captains.''

Markett also said tournament records prove jigs, which are fished very close to the bottom, consistently catch larger fish.

``The bigger the fish, of course, the longer the battle,'' Markett said.

Markett said the concerns about increasing shark attacks are justified, but said the attacks are the result of more sharks in the pass.

``The controls on shark harvest over the last decade have definitely increased the number of big sharks, not only in the pass but elsewhere,'' Markett said. ``It's natural that they take more tarpon if there are more of them.''

Scott Moore, who does not fish the pass but has observed fishing there for more than 30 years, said so far the jigging method does not seem to have hurt the overall tarpon catch.

``If anything, I'd say that a lot more tarpon are being hooked than I've ever seen in the past,'' Moore said. ``I don't know if that will continue to be true if they get more people in there, but right now, it seems to be.''

In fact, Markett also agreed that too many boats can slow the bite.

``On the worst days [for fishing pressure], the bite slows down to a trickle,'' Markett said. ``So we may have to find some way to deal with that somewhere down the road, but I have no idea how.''

Tampa guide James Wisner, who also fishes the pass regularly, said the initial survey on the issue, developed by the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg, was not sent to most guides who were not residents of the Boca Grande area.

``I called six guides who fish down there with jigs, and none of them had gotten the survey, so it sounds like they're going to get pretty selective results,'' Wisner said.

Regarding issues of boat traffic, Wisner said most of the collisions in the pass are the result of live bait boats giving a burst of throttle when they get a bite, a standard tactic to take up slack and set the hook.

And Markett said collisions are rare, though near misses are common.

Bottom line, Markett said, is that although the FGA welcomes the coming study, it wants to make sure it gives equal hearing to both sides in this hotly contested fishery.

``We want to make sure the playing field is level and the issues equitably defined,'' Markett said. ``That is one of the great fisheries anywhere in the world, and it has to be protected, but the people's opportunity to fish has to be protected, too.''
 
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