Back in May 1934, people didn't have much to celebrate. Unemployment peaked at 21 percent. The Midwest had turned into a dust bowl. On the international stage, Adolf Hitler was stirring up all kinds of trouble in Europe.
But in St. Petersburg, fishermen had one thing to keep them happy: tarpon. The silver king of gamefish loved to run along local beaches. The little fishing village down the coast called Boca Grande might get all the city slickers, but local anglers knew Tampa Bay had just as many fish, without the crowds.
Newspapers of the day were full of stories about schools of these chrome-bodied brutes so large off the downtown pier that the fish could be herded just like cattle. That was when somebody decided to get the whole town in on the fun and have a tarpon roundup.
On Saturday, the 80th Suncoast Tarpon Roundup, the world's oldest and largest tarpon tournament, will hold a kickoff party from 3-6 p.m. at the Bay Pines Marina in St. Petersburg. This all-release event attracts the best tarpon anglers in the Tampa Bay area.
The roundup is a not-for-profit organization that promotes sportsmanship, research and education. The tournament has divisions for both adults and juniors. It is not uncommon to find two, three and even four generations of anglers in the same family who have fished in the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup.
In its heyday, fishermen from across the United States came to St. Petersburg to fish for tarpon. An advertisement in the June 1936 issue of National Sportsman magazine urged anglers to head south: "For the thrill of a lifetime, come to Florida's Gulf Coast … and fish for the gamest fish that swims … fast as greased lighting."
Before Tampa Bay had professional baseball, football and hockey, the two biggest sports in town were fishing and sailing. The Suncoast Tarpon Roundup was the social event of the season. They even crowned a "Tarpon Queen," who rode a parade float down Central Avenue.
This year, the roundup will let junior anglers (14 and under) fish for free. But they must register before fishing.
Regular angler registration is $150. The tournament begins May 17 and ends July 25. Check suncoasttarponroundup.org for more information.