2017-05-18 / Top News

Tarpon tournament draws anglers from around the world

“As you have probably noticed while watching tarpon fishing videos, tarpon anglers most often point their rod to tarpon when they jump,” writes Like Simonds for the fishing lifestyle website SaltStrong.com. “This act is often referred to as ‘Bowing to the King,’ and … it’s a practice that has been around for many years.

“The reason anglers bow to tarpon,” he continues, “is because these powerful fish jump like crazy (putting on some of the best aerial acts in fishing history), and bowing (aka holding your rod tip down in the direction of the tarpon and taking some of the pressure off of the line) helps decrease the odds of the hook pulling out or the line breaking as a result of their powerful jumps and violent head shakes.”

On May 25 and 26, avid anglers from all over the state — and even across the globe — will participate in the thrill the 35th anniversary of The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. But it’s not just the thrill of the catch. The two-day boasts $80,000 in prize money for those anglers whose combination of skill and luck can snag the famed, fighting silver king.

“It is something that we are passionate about, and it represents the fishing community in Boca Grande,” said Wesley Locke, executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce that organizes the event. “We have a lot of fun putting it together, putting it on. Growing up here, I think it was my and my friends’ favorite event of the year.”

Festivities begin on Wednesday evening, May 24, with the annual captains’ meeting, where captains and anglers gather to discuss the rules of the tournament and socialize before the competition begins. Fishing will take place on Thursday and Friday in Boca Grand Pass. Festivities will commence with an awards ceremony held downtown on Friday night.

Internationally renowned as one of the world’s top sport fishing destinations, Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach’s Charlotte Harbor sits on Florida’s second-largest marine estuary and is often referred to as “the Tarpon Capital of the World.”

The tournament comes in the middle of peak season for tarpon fishing (May through June). However, the destination is a year-round ecological breeding ground for numerous fish: snook, redfish, grouper, snapper, king fish, barracuda and mackerel. But it’s the tarpon that will take center stage.

There will be a maximum of 40 boats in the tournament, with four anglers per boat. That alone usually brings in 200-300 spectators, Ms. Locke said.

“It is quite the spectacle, so we have a big turnout on the beach,” she added. “We also have a tarpon festival that goes on the Friday and Saturday of tournament week, and that brings in 800 people per day. It will be a lot more this year because it is the week before Memorial Day, so there will be a lot of people already on the island for boating purposes anyway. We will have a very full island that week.”

It’s no surprise that fisher folk get all worked up over chasing tarpon.

Steeped in local tradition

According the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, tarpon don’t mature until they’re 7 to 13 years old. Anglers catch these fish that weight 40 to 150 pounds on average. However, the state record is a whopping 243-pound specimen that was caught near Key West.

The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament was originally called the Boca Grande Club Invitational when it started in 1983. It was sponsored and run by the private Boca Grande Club located on the north end of Gasparilla Island, and traditionally run during the summer.

In 1991, the Boca Grande Club decided to discontinue its sponsorship, allowing the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce to take the reins and opening entries to the general public.

At its height, the tournament’s total purse was more than $175,000 — and anglers from all over the world began trekking to Boca Grande for a chance to win it.

In 2005, the Chamber decided to cease sponsorship of the tournament to focus more on economic development for its growing membership base. Enter the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association, which took over the tournament and renamed it the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association Tarpon Tournament. The event under that moniker ran until 2011 — until the Chamber once again took it back in 2013.

This year, as with every year in the foreseeable future, the focus will include education and conservation of the fishery in addition to sport fishing. Safe boating, sportsmanship and responsible angling will be promoted in order to encourage a safe, successful family friendly event that will ensure the protection and proper stewardship of the area’s natural resources so that they may be enjoyed for generations to come. For this reason, the Chamber’s tournaments are all release, no weigh and no kill.

For those whose interests extend beyond fishing, the tournament has joined with the Boca Grande Tarpon Festival, which includes the sixth annual Boca Grande Invitational Art Festival on Saturday and Sunday.

The Tarpon Festival will also feature live music during the day and into the evening, local food booths and a beer and wine café. The awards ceremony for the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament will be at 7 p.m. Friday evening — then the street party begins with The Boca Band on the stage. The art festival continues on Saturday morning.

The tournament takes about a year to organize, Ms. Locke noted. She attends fishing expositions to garner as much support as possible and interest anglers and captains for the following year.

“So, it takes a village — but this community is very passionate about it and everyone is very generous and happy to work on it,” she added. “This tournament is very close to the hearts of the community.”

The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament is steeped in the history of traditional pass fishing, Ms. Locke explained.

“It’s all live bait, catch and release. This fishing is very special and unique. It feels like you just stepped into the 1940s when you see it going on, because of the awesome inboard Morgans and these captains who are six-generation fishing captains. They know their stuff, and they’re very passionate about it. It’s just a really cool community event, and it means a lot to everybody.” ¦

The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament

>> When: May 25-26 (annual captains’ on
meeting May 24)
>> Where: Boca Grande Pass
>> Info: www.worldsrichesttarpon.com or call
Wesley Locke at 964-0568

Boca Grande Tarpon Festival

>> What: The sixth annual Boca Grande
International Art Festival
>> When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. May 26 and 10
a.m.-4 p.m. May 27
>> Where: Downtown Boca Grande
>> Info: www.worldsrichesttarpon.com or call
Wesley Locke at 964-0568

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