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Pro tarpon tour reels in money, crowd, controversy

The Miller’s Ale House team of, left to right, Greg Devault, Artie Price, Frank Massaro and Jon Turner are veterans of Boca Grande’s pro tarpon tour.

Courtesy of Joe Mercurio

The Miller’s Ale House team of, left to right, Greg Devault, Artie Price, Frank Massaro and Jon Turner are veterans of Boca Grande’s pro tarpon tour.

BOCA GRANDE — Artie Price admits that hooking a tournament-winning tarpon often comes down to luck.

"But keeping it on the hook … that's where the skill comes in," said Price, whose crew captured team of the year honors in the 2011 Professional Tarpon Tournament Series.

Every May through June, Price and perhaps as many as 100 other guides migrate to the pass that marks the entrance to Charlotte Harbor to catch tarpon.

But on weekends, the stakes get a little higher, and the narrow waterway becomes packed with boats fishing the PTTS, a big-money, action-packed spectacle that has attracted an international following thanks to cable television. Event winners take home a boat valued at $35,000, and cash prizes are awarded for second ($7,000) and third ($4,000).

Price, a New Port Richey resident, has led the Miller's Ale House to victory six out of the last eight seasons. Though he sits tied for ninth after the first event this year, he has his eye on another title. But the 48-year-old guide knows that when it comes to tarpon fishing, especially in Boca Grande Pass, nothing is certain.

"We had a 180-pounder on last weekend but lost it at the last minute," he said. "It might have won the tournament, but who knows. That's how it goes."

Price and his team still earned points toward team of the year honors. In this game, boat-side releases count. So do DNA samples gathered for research during each of the five regular-season events before the Tarpon Cup.

Anglers only tow the largest fish to the scale, where they are weighed and then, ideally, released alive. Despite this commitment to catch-and-release, the PTTS and the anglers who fish it have been the subject of controversy since the tournament series, now in its ninth season, began.

Boca Grande's native guides, many of whom are second- or third-generation charter boat captains who fish with live bait, contend that the popular tournament series and the crowded conditions it creates have ruined the world-famous fishery.

Traditionalists charge that the tournament anglers, most of whom do not live on the island, don't hook the tarpon in the mouth, but instead snag the fish (often in the side of the body), which makes them more vulnerable to marauding sharks.

The PTTS anglers, on the other hand, say the locals are jealous of the publicity they don't get and the prize money they don't win.

The dispute, which seems to get uglier each year, is not going away. There's no shortage of opinions and conspiracy theories, and plenty of videos, stories, blog posts and photographs on the Internet to add to the controversy. But you can judge for yourself. The weigh-ins can be viewed from the beach.

Or you can watch it on TV when the events air in July on Sun Sports and the World Fishing Network. Learn more, at pttstv.com.

Suncoast Roundup tarpon event closer to home

You don't have to drive two hours to enjoy tarpon fever. The 78th Suncoast Tarpon Roundup kicked off last weekend, and the great thing about this catch-and-release tournament is you can join in any time.

You don't need to be a professional fishing guide or even an experienced tarpon angler to fish this 10-week tournament, which benefits the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Anglers can fish from boats, off bridges and piers, even the beach if you've got the tackle to land one of these chrome-bodied brutes. The Roundup, a not-for-profit organization that promotes sportsmanship, research and education, has always been a family affair.

It has divisions for both adults and juniors, and it is the latter group that has kept this event going for more than seven decades. It is not uncommon to find two, three and even four generations of anglers in the same family who have fished the tournament over the years.

You can fish every week or just head out for one of the tournament's specialty events. For example, the angler who releases the most tarpon during the 24-hour period of Memorial Day will win the special Dave Crisp Memorial Day trophy.

Other special events include the Full Moon in June Trophy, which goes to the angler who releases the most tarpon during the 24-hour period of the full moon on June 4; the Jim Mastry Father's Day Trophy (June 17) and the Ralph and Gene Gell Trophy (July 4).

But don't worry if you enter and don't catch anything. This is an anglers' tournament run by anglers, so there is even a Hard Luck award.

To learn more, go to suncoasttarponroundup.org.

. fast facts

PTTS schedule

at Boca Grande Pass

Sunday, 7-10 a.m.

June 3, 7-10 a.m.

June 3, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

June 10, 7-10 a.m.

Tarpon Cup Championship

June 17, 7 a.m.-noon

Closer to bay, Suncoast Tarpon Roundup under way

You don't have to drive two hours to enjoy tarpon fever. The 78th Suncoast Tarpon Roundup kicked off last weekend, and the great thing about this catch-and-release tournament is you can join at any time.

You don't need to be a professional fishing guide or even an experienced tarpon angler to fish this 10-week tournament (entry fees vary), which benefits the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Anglers can fish from boats, off bridges and piers, even the beach if you've got the tackle to land one of these brutes.

The Roundup, a not-for-profit organization that promotes sportsmanship, research and education, has always been a family affair. It has divisions for both adults and juniors, and it is the latter group that has kept this event going. It is not uncommon to find two, three and even four generations of anglers in the same family who have fished this event.

You can fish every week or just head out for one of the tournament's specialty events. For example, the angler who releases the most tarpon during the 24-hour period of Memorial Day will win the Dave Crisp Memorial Day trophy. Other special events include the Full Moon in June Trophy, which goes to the angler who releases the most tarpon during the 24-hour period of the full moon on June 4; the Jim Mastry Father's Day Trophy (June 17) and the Ralph and Gene Gell Trophy (July 4).

But don't worry if you don't catch anything. There is even a Hard Luck award.

Learn more at suncoasttarponroundup.org.

Terry Tomalin, Times Outdoors Editor

Pro tarpon tour reels in money, crowd, controversy 05/24/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 24, 2012 8:42pm]

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