Florida's Tarpon Tourneys Wince At Tag Rules

The Gold Cup’s advice to participants regarding the use of tarpon tags is making some anglers wonder whether the state’s rules haven’t gone too far. As a result of conversations Gold Cup organizers had with Florida FWC officers, it was decided that in order to comply with the state’s tarpon tag law, as soon as a fish was reduced to “possession,” a $50 tag must be affixed to the lower jaw. For practical reasons, that means that in order to “strap” (measure) a weight fish, it must be tagged while being brought into the skiff, and anglers will then most certainly cut and remove the tag (a zip-tie-like device) before returning the fish to the water. One angler, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, commented: “So in essence, there will be two holes in the fish: one from the gaff and one from the tag.”
While making anglers uneasy, the Gold Cup’s struggle to conform to the state’s new strict definition of possession also raises plenty of questions. Why shouldn’t tournaments have to follow the same rules as everyone else, especially as they set examples for recreational fishermen? On the other hand, is it really necessary to damage a tarpon further than necessary when the rules call for releasing the fish anyway? Or should the tournaments consider changing a long tradition of rules designed to ensure fairness to all anglers — which encourage anglers to gaff and lift tarpon over 70 pounds into a skiff — and use some different sort of scoring? Lots of questions, and no easy answers.

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  • What’s wrong with measurring the fish in the water using one of those fish cradles that muskie guys use? (obviously it would have to be bigger and stronger but would work) I am not much on flyfishing tournaments anyway. Kind of subverts the whole idea of what flyfishing is supposed to be about.

  • David Dalu

    Fighting a tarpon of 70-150# to the point of exhaution so that it can be cradled in such a manner is worse than lip gaffing it earlier in the fight, strapping it and getting it back in the water quickly.
    Florida Keys Fly tournaments (tarpon, bonefish and more recently permit) have a long and storied history in our fly fishing heritage. They represent a who’s who of saltwater fly fishing pioneers: Billy Pate, Sandy Moret, Ted Williams, Steve Huff, Del Brown…the list goes on.
    The FWC has strictly interpreted the definition of possession to mean anything more than briefly hand grabbing the fish by the jaw while still in the water to remove the hook and then immediately releasing it.
    Even if we as tournament anglers try to measure the fish in the water without lip gaffing it, we are still technically possessing the fish. Therefore a tag is required to be affixed to the lower jaw of the fish, even though we are required and fully intend to release every fish unharmed. The discolored water of the Florida backcountry and Everglades can pose a real problem of shark bite by trying to accomplish the strapping and measuring of fish (i.e length and girth) while in the water.
    While the number of fish that are brought aboard and measured and released in the Golden Fly and Gold Cup is small, the issue of further prolonged the time out of water in order to affix a tarpon tag and then immediately remove the tag concerns me, but this is what FWC requires.
    The real issue not mentioned here is the significant number (40 in 2007) of large tarpon that are KILLED in the yearly Suncoast Tarpon Rodeo every year. That number represents greater than 90% of all tarpon killed in Florida each year. Under mounting pressure from conservation groups, I understand that this year’s tournament is all release. http://www.suncoasttarponroundup.org/
    The fly tournaments that I participate in have been all release since their inception (the Golden Fly and the Hawley).
    http://www.goldenflytarpon.com
    http://www.donhawleyfoundation.org/annualtt_text.htm

  • mark hlis

    Finally, the 10 week Suncoast Tarpon Roundup stops killing fish this year.It took a newly elected tourny leader to implement change.