Cathy Green had never caught a tarpon. In fact, the 54-year-old insurance agent had never even seen the silver king of sport fish until she went on a "girls weekend" in Boca Grande Pass.
"I was amazed," Green said. "I had never seen anything so beautiful as those tarpon just rolling on the surface."
Last Saturday, Green and friends Anna Cravero, Debra Travis and Elena Bussey, all from St. Petersburg, fished an outgoing tide in the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament with fishing captain Waylon Mills.
The event, which drew 46 teams, typically marks the start of the summer tarpon season in Boca Grande.
"We left the guys at home," Green said. "We got a room, a golf cart and a captain. What else do you need?"
This "hill tide" tournament, scheduled for when the water is at peak flow, started at 3:30 p.m.
"The captain told us that the tide wouldn't really start moving until 4:30," she said.
Anglers look for peak flow because that's when small crabs, a favorite tarpon food source, get caught up in the current and flushed to the waiting tarpon.
At 5:13 p.m., Cravero caught a 125-pound tarpon. Then at 6:24 p.m., just six minutes before the lines were to come out of the water, Green hooked a 120-pound fish, which she landed after a tough, 15-minute battle, putting her team in first place.
For their efforts, the women from St. Petersburg took home trophies and nearly $5,000 in cash.
"We also got necklaces," Green said. "When you are a girl, you get jewelry."
Pros in action
The fishing continues this week in Boca Grande with the start of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series. The 2008 team of the year, Team Salt Rock Grill/Pro Marine, led by Cody and Kyle Chivas of Belleair, hope to add to the $88,000 it won last year.
Cody, 20, and Kyle, 19, are veterans of both the redfish and kingfish tours. Last year, Team Salt Rock Grill, which also includes Dan Munyon and Grant Johnston, started the season with a win, and many of the older, more experienced teams will be out to stop the young guns.
Last year, the six-tournament PTTS season — every event is in Boca Grande Pass — saw its share of big fish. The average weight of the tournament winners in this catch-and-release series was 186 pounds. The largest was a 210-pounder caught by Paul LaChance of Marty Scott's Team Fast Lane in Week 3.
The 2009 season kicks off Saturday with the PTTS Ladies' Day Exhibition event. The pros fish Sunday, and fans can watch the action from Gasparilla Island State Park.
Fishing for science
Anglers participating in this year's Suncoast Tarpon Roundup, a 10-week family-friendly catch-and-release tournament, will help state biologists better understand the migratory habits of this prized sport fish.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the Mote Marine Laboratory have an ongoing Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study, which is designed to shed more light on how tarpon survive after being caught and released.
To date, anglers have provided more than 3,000 DNA samples. Based on that data, researchers have identified 23 recaptured tarpon from locations across the state, including Miami, the Florida Keys, Fort Myers, Boca Grande, Sarasota, Tampa Bay and the Indian River Lagoon.
To get a free, easy-to-use tarpon DNA sampling kit, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll-free 1-800-367-4461.