Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Outdoors

Round of applause for Tarpon Roundup's all-release format

For several years my 6-year-old son, Kai, has been bugging me to go out and catch "a big metal fish" like the one hanging on the wall at Mastry's Bar & Grill on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.

Now before you call the authorities and report me as an unfit parent, let me explain. I do not drag my son to saloons on a regular basis, although he does share his share his father's passion for a nice cold root beer now and then.

No, we were in Mastry's to talk fishing, tarpon in particular, with owner Jay Mastry, who has probably caught more of these chrome-bodied bruisers than any other bartender east of 16th Street.

Mastry and his family have been fishing the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup since the first shad was soaked in 1934. That's the great thing about this 10-week tournament. Three, maybe four, generations of anglers have shared good times and bad on the water in pursuit of a sport fish that has no equal.

In the tournament's heyday, fishermen from across the United States came to St. Petersburg each May to fish for "the Silver King" of game fish.

An advertisement in the June 1936 issue of National Sportsman magazine (Where Good-Fellows Get Together) urges anglers to head south.

"For the thrill of a lifetime, come to Florida's Gulf Coast," the ad reads, and fish for "… the gamest fish that swims … fast as greased lighting."

These were the days before Tampa Bay had professional baseball, football and hockey, when the two biggest sports in town were fishing and sailing. The Suncoast Tarpon Roundup was the social event of the season. Why they even crowned a "Tarpon Queen," who rode a parade float down Central Avenue.

But times changed. By the early 1990s, angler attitudes had evolved. "Catch-and-release" fishing caught on, and sponsors would no longer back a tournament in which fish were killed for sport.

The Roundup endured a steady barrage of criticism from the media (this writer included) and membership plummeted.

It was time for a change. If the tournament that started during the Great Depression was to survive in the New Millennium, organizers had to forget the past and look toward the future.

This year, that is exactly what they did. Jason Gell, a 29-year-old who started tarpon fishing when he was 5, was elected the Roundup's president and set out to return the tournament to its former grandeur.

Gell's first action was to adopt an "all-release" format, a move that had some of the old-timers crying foul.

But despite criticism from within the Roundup ranks, Gell has stuck to his plan, and the event even landed a major sponsor in MirrOLure. He hopes a new generation of anglers will sign up for the 74th Roundup and soon will be yelling "Fish on!"

Gell should be commended for his courage. But talk is cheap. The Roundup's critics, this writer included, have been doing plenty of that in recent years, especially in the vitriolic world of online fishing forums.

The time for talk is over. The Roundup has taken the first step, now it's time for conservation-minded anglers to rally around this tournament and show their support. I, for one, have already signed up Kai to fish in the junior division on opening day May 24.

He's looking forward to his day with Uncle Jay. Hopefully, he will still be fishing the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup in 74 more years.

To sign up, go to www.suncoast
tarponroundup.org.

Terry Tomalin can be reached at (727) 893-8808.

Comments

Captainís Corner: Cold weather brings different but effective fishing styles

This past week has seen a variety of different fishing styles prove effective. Fishing for trout in deeper depressions with live shrimp has provided steady action. Rig as follows: Use a ?-ounce jighead, grab a shrimp from the well and pinch the tail ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Captainís Corner: Devise a strategy before heading out into the cold

The quality of fishing this month depends on how many cold fronts are in our future. When the water creeps down below 60 degrees, many fish will slow their metabolism in order to survive. They require less food than in the warmer months, making some ...
Published: 01/16/18

Captainís Corner: Make sure the fly gets in front of a hungry fish

Back-to-back winter cold fronts not only confuse inshore fish but the fly fishers who pursue them. The most perfectly tied fly is not effective unless it is in front of a fish that is anxious to eat it. The best daytime tides, very low early and inco...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/14/18

Captainís Corner: Cold, windy days just fine for trout fishing

Trout have been my most productive target during the start of this new year. Winter cold fronts and cold water are making conditions difficult to target snook and reds. Strong winds from passing fronts make it hard to work the shallow-water flats. Th...
Published: 01/12/18
Updated: 01/13/18

Captainís Corner: Cold driving out kings, but there are alternatives

Mother Nature gives and she takes away. Nature gave us warm water and great king fishing until Dec. 31. She ushered in the new year with a severe cold front with high winds and rough seas that kept us in port every day. The cold air and overcast skie...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Captainís Corner: Techniques for catching (and cooking) tasty sheepshead

Cold water has fishing in sort of slow motion. Middle bay temperatures (Gandy area) are holding in the 54-56 degree range. During this time of year the stalking of large snook and redfish take a back seat to finesse fishing and trying to figure out w...
Published: 01/10/18
Captainís Corner: Colder weather calls for different approaches

Captainís Corner: Colder weather calls for different approaches

With colder weather the first big change is what bait to use. Before the cold fronts in the first week we were using greenbacks and catching a bunch of snook. With the cold weather that has hit us we are now shifting gears and using shrimp and throwi...
Published: 01/08/18
Updated: 01/09/18

Captainís Corner: Winter need not interrupt fishing

The inevitable effects of wintertime fishing have finally arrived, but there are plenty of opportunities for the determined angler. Trout, both silver and specs, are cold water tolerant and among the best bets inshore. Now too is when schools of shee...
Published: 01/07/18
Updated: 01/08/18

Captainís Corner: With this cold, itís time for sheepshead

With cold air and water temperatures, nothing is hot when it comes it fishing. An eight-year recovery on snook erased by water temperatures in the 50s. January has not been kind so far. Thereís basically one solid option in times like these: sheepshe...
Published: 01/06/18
Updated: 01/07/18

Captainís Corner: Cold weather shouldnít stop you from targeting trout

Dealing with cold water is nothing new for trout anglers. Most often, fish head to deeper water as they seek more stable temperatures; consequently, deep water near your favorite grass flat will often hold schools of trout until the water temperature...
Published: 01/06/18