Four tarpon and four DNA scrubs won Team Teasers from the Tampa-St.Petersburg area the first-place title and $10,575 prize at the second annual "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament on May 4.
Despite weather forecasts for stormy conditions, the tournament dawned on a partly cloudy day with only occasional rain sprinkles. A brisk breeze, however, made fishing slightly more challenging than last year's inaugural tournament, anglers reported.
"As long as there's no lightning in the sky, we consider it safe to fish," said Sean McGarry of second-place Team Fintastic Charters. "A little wind, that happens. That's not gonna stop serious fishermen."
A member of the winning Team Teaser pulls in its first catch in the Ding Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament on May 4.
"Most fishermen get the weather thing," said participant Les Boyle. "It actually somewhat leveled the playing field, those who adapted did well."
Anglers had the option to fish in the protected waters of San Carlos Bay and the Caloosahatchee River to get out of the wind, said Birgie Vertesch, executive director of tournament co-sponsor "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) and tournament chief organizer.
The tournament was based at Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on Fort Myers Beach.
"The tournament was once again very well run," said participant Paul Primeaux, a Sanibel fishing guide. "It's great that the tournament awards the anglers with great prizes, but also works so hard to preserve the safety and integrity of tarpon fishing. The tournament committee throws an event that's fun, fair, and real."
Teams began fishing at first light after checking in at the official Diversified Yacht Services (DYS) boat at channel marker 2 in the bay. DYS, along with Sanibel Bean, was presenting sponsor.
The 45 registered teams fished until 4 p.m., calling in their catches and sending photos as proof, thus avoiding the stress caused to fish by bringing them back to dock for weigh-in. Winners undergo truth verification tests.
"We call it a catch, release, and care tournament because education and research are at the forefront of the event's mission," said John McCabe, DDWS president and tourney participant.
All proceeds from tournament sponsorships benefit conservation efforts at the refuge on Sanibel.
"The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission needs help from citizen scientists, and that was the primary purpose for this tournament," said Vertesch. "The anglers get extra points for doing the scrubs, which give the FWC important information to track tarpon and learn more about helping them survive as a species."
Doc Ford's on Fort Myers Beach hosted the captain's meeting and silent auction on Friday night before the tournament and the Silver King for "Ding" awards banquet and after-party following the tournament. Nearly 160 guests attended the after-party which this year was open to the public by reserved tickets.
The top five winning teams took home part of the $23,500 in prize money. Anglers hailed from Sanibel, Captiva, Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Georgia, Tennessee, and Illinois. Winners were: 1. Team Teaser Capt. Rhett Dixon, Jack Hehenberger, Stewart Hehenberger, Kyle Hehenberger, Henry Dixon, Phil Pica; 2. Fintastic Charters Capt. Randy Eastvold, Sean McGarry, Tim Hickey, Bob Rando; 3. Music City Capt. Daniel Andrews, Tony Scoville, Maynard Davis, Alex Porter; 4. Chasin' Poon Capt. Matt Mitchell, Gary Biltgen, Mike Brennemann, Mary DeMik; 5. Rushian's Capt. Josh Constantine, Justin Thompson, James Sublett, John Thompson, Joey Cartens.