Boca Grande Tarpon Tournament Makes a Splash
The small but delightful village of Boca Grande in Lee County, south west Florida recently played host once more to the "World's Richest" Tarpon Tournament. This annual competition brings interest from anglers across the USA and around the world. Two afternoons of competition chasing the giant tarpon of Boca Grande Pass brought lots of action.
Tarpon or 'the Silver King', are a gamefish of legendary status and draw anglers from all over the world to the locations where they can be found and fished for. There is perhaps nowhere more famous for its concentration of particularly large tarpon of 100lb and more (the largest go over 200lb) than the Boca Grande Pass in south west Florida which divides the south end of Gasparilla Island from its neighbouring State park barrier island of Cayo Costa, providing the main passage into Charlotte Harbour, itself a State Park and huge recreational fishing area.
Pods of rolling tarpon heightened the excitement amongst the crews in Boca Grande Pass
Tournament of Kings
There is a long history of both tarpon fishing and tarpon tournaments in the Boca Grande area dating back to the early 1900's but the modern version that has become known as the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament was started back in the early 1980's by the Boca Grande Club. It was then handed over to the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce in 1991 who gave it the name that has stuck until today. The Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association ran it for about a decade just after the start of the new millenium before the Chamber of Commerce once again picked up the challenge again in 2012.
This educational short film and documentary preview, "Rich History...Priceless Future - the Tarpon of Boca Grande Pass" is presented by The Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce. It was written, produced and edited by Sean Paxton and Brooks Paxton II and made in the USA by Think Out Loud Productions. For more information about this short film and the upcoming full-length feature documentary, please visit: www.BocaGrandeChamber.com and www.ThinkOutLoudProductions.com.
At it's height, the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament certainly lived up to its name and the total purse reached almost $200,000 which attracted anglers from all over the world to compete. Under the guiding hand of Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and passionate angler Lew Hastings, the tournament is once again on the rise and now also includes Tarpon Festival Weekend in downtown Boca Grande which features a fantastic art festival. This weekend includes the Gasparilla Island Kids Classic Tarpon Tournament, where a new generation of young anglers get to taste the experience and the chance to hook up with perhaps the fish of their lifetime.
A Blast in the Pass
Running over two afternoon sessions on a Thursday and Friday, the 30+ assembled teams with their boats and captains joined the throngs of other recreational anglers as well as other boats carrying judges, press and interested onlookers making the Pass look at times like a watery parking lot. The sheer number of boats packed into this relatively small area require 'rules of the road' and when a boat is hooked up, neighbouring boats must be sure to keep out of the way while the hooked-up boat must make an effort to extracate themselves from the masses if they can. Fouled lines and lost fish are never good at the best of times and especially not when thousands of dollars are literally 'on the line'!
Team Sitarah release another fish on their way to third place overall in the 2013 World's Richest Tarpon Tournament
The strong conservation ethics of the tournament and the experience of the local skippers who of course wish to see the fishery stay strong have led to the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament using live bait on circle hooks only. Once hooked up, a judge boat is hailed who heads over to witness the fish and touching of the leader which qualifies as a catch followed by the release which is a quick break off at the side of the boat (the hook will rust and drop out very quickly in the salt water). Fight times are kept to the absolute minimum by the use of strong tackle and manouevering the boat to keep pace with the tarpon. This is very important as the schools of tarpon are shadowed by much larger predators such as bull sharks and giant hammerheads who will happily pick off any tired or worn out fish they come across who are struggling to recover.
Everyone's a Winner!
The rules of the tournament are simple - most tarpon wins with 1st, 2nd a 3rd places up for grabs accompanied by a handsome reward! This year both days saw good numbers of tarpon breezing through and rolling, even right in the middle of all the assembled boats although actually hooking into a fish was harder than it looked it seemed sometimes. However, over the course of the two afternoon fishing periods, there were a few boats whose names started to become more regularly heard over the radio and the standings along with fish caught and released were updated by the tournament crew at regular intervals so everyone knew who they had to beat and how many more tarpon they needed to catch.
Team Jill Marie was just one of many of the tournament boats which caught and released tarpon during the tournament
With the winners ceremony slated for downtown Boca Grande on Friday evening, a last minute flurry of hookups added some extra spice to the dying minutes of the tournament and then it was all over. Boats and crews headed back to the multitude of marinas and docks scattered all around Gasparilla Island and the Boca Grande area, before everyone converged once again in front of the stage erected in the festival area in the heart of town on Park Avenue.
As darkness decended the winners were announced. In third place was Capt. Mark Futch and team Sitarah who took home a cheque for $10,240. In second place was Capt. Waylon Mills and Team Blaze who collected a cheque for $15,360 but top of the podium was a very popular win by Capt. Steve Ahlers and team Spooked Again who netted the winners cheque for $25,600 by catching and releasing 8 tarpon over the 8 hours total fishing time on the Thursday and Friday. Along with the cash prizes, there were handsome winners plaques, championship style rings specially made for the tournament winners and of course for the top team the winners trophy, which not surprisingly is a stunning statue of a leaping tarpon.
2013 World's Richest Tarpon Tournament winners Team Spooked Again with Capt. Steve Ahlers (far right)
The evening was then rounded off in rousing fashion by Nashville recording star Colton James taking to the stage and belting out some music which kept the crowd dancing into the night.
Even though only one team could take the top spot in the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament, thanks to the beautiful south west Florida location, the stunning weather, ocean and beaches plus the other great opportunities for fishing and watersports in and around Charlotte Harbour and the Boca Grande, Fort Myers and Sanibel area, this meant that everyone was a winner!
How to Enter or Find Out More
If you are interested in fishing in next years tournament, contact the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce at +1 941-964-0568 or email WRTarpon@gmail.com. Alternatively keep a watch out for details of the 2014 World's Richest Tarpon Tournament on their website at http://worldsrichesttarpon.com/
To find out more about what is going on locally in Boca Grande - sign on to the Boca Beacon for the latest news, commentary and events. (Thanks also for their support in supplying the historic details of the tournament.)
Visit the beaches of Fort Myers, Sanibel and Boca Grande
If you like a slightly slower and more relaxed pace of life than the hustle and bustle of Orlando or Miami, then look no further than Lee County in south west Florida, home to the beautiful shell-laden sandy beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel and the world class tarpon fishing and relaxed village life of Boca Grande. A great place for a family holiday.
Somewhere to Stay?
Boca Grande Real Estate handle vacation rentals around the village and can find the perfect property for you just steps from the beach and the ocean.
Gasparilla Inn & Club - if you really want to stay in style, this is the place to be in Boca Grande.
Veranda Inn in Englewood - If you'd like to stay around a larger hub with a wider range of stores and easy access to the freeway and beaches but still only half an hour from Boca Grande then check out this very convenient inn just up the coast in the beachside town of Englewood.
Something to Eat?
Stefanos Family Restaurant - If you stay in or visit Englewood then do yourself a favour and ask to be pointed towards Stefanos. I only wish I had found it earlier!
Outlet Restaurant at The Innlet - In Boca Grande there are several nice choices not surprisingly but find your way here and you won't be disappointed for good wholesome fare and a waterside location.
Need a Guide?
Boca Grande Sportfishing - Whether you are looking to catch tarpon, redfish/snook/trout or largemouth bass, l can personally recommend Capt. Roger Crafton.
Other Boca Grande fishing guides are listed on the Chamber of Commerce website.
Fort Myers & Sanibel website outdoor activities and sports listings - For a longer list of alternatives in the area you can also search the choices here.
How to Get There?
There are direct flights from the UK into Tampa via British Airways from where it is roughly an easy 2 hour drive south. Alternatively you can choose to fly to Southwest Florida International Airport which is located close to Fort Myers via a hub such as Charlotte in North Carolina.