May 10, 2012
It was neck-to-neck between Team Doc Ford's and Team Sand Pebble at the inaugural “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament on Saturday, May 5. Each team had landed five fish and each had performed a DNA scrub.
Team Sand Pebble -- consisting of Captain David Holzhauer, Ken Holzhauer, and Gary Jenkins -- had caught the first fish of the two teams, and it looked as if they would be the winning team. (Ties were broken by the order in which the fish were caught.)
At approximately eight minutes before 4 p.m., Team Doc Ford's -- Captain Nicholas Fischer, John Landry, Joe Harrity, and Dennis Florie -- called in with a hook-up. They landed their fish at 4:01 p.m., making them the winning team with a total of six official fish.
Fishing teams had highly anticipated this local tarpon tournament, the first to be held in many years. Stakes were high for the 39 fishing teams – 100 percent of the entry fees awarded, which amounted to a total of $16,400. Anglers weren't the only winners in this tournament, however.
“It was truly a catch, release, and care tournament. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission needs help from citizen scientists, and that was the primary purpose for this tournament,” said Birgie Vertesch, executive director of the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, the tournament's organizer. “This was one of the highest numbers of scrubs in one day they've ever received – 32 total. The other main purpose was to raise money to support conservation and education efforts at the ‘Ding' Darling Refuge.”
DNA scrubs help the state agency to track the migrations of the species with a simple swipe of a sponge. Tournament participants received extra points for participating in the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study.
“Great education for everyone,” said John McCabe, DDWS president and tournament participant. “A new conservation ethic began. A new standard for tarpon tournaments with the aim of ‘let's protect this great fishery.' Everyone had fun and everyone learned something. Great! Great! success.”
The top two teams underwent a truth verification test (more effective than a polygraph) by TVS, Inc., to make the final standings official.
Team Sand Pebble placed second with five fish. Teams called in a total of 39 tarpon catches. Debbie Powers of Team Fishing Divas won the Female Angler Award for the first tarpon she ever caught.
“The day began with a stiff breeze. Spirits were high with whoops and hollers and ‘good lucks' all around,” said Vertesch. “The winds lightened, seas calmed, and the tarpon began to show why they are called the Silver King.”
Judge Randy Wayne White came to the awards dinner dressed in a white wig and robe to "charge" anglers with "crimes of the day" such as lewd language, not catching any fish, talking too much, and the likes.
First-place Team Doc Ford's won $6,560; second place Team Sand Pebble received $4,100. Other tournament placers included Team Rush (Captain Chris Rush, Drew Chicone, James Sublett, and Lucas Sanner) taking home $3,280 in third place, Team R.S. Walsh Landscaping (Captain Ozzie Lessinger, Justin Walsh, Robert Walsh, and Jeremy Walsh) winning $1,640 in fourth place, and Team Yamaha (Captain Ozzie Fischer, Christain Fischer, Adam Bresovits, and Bob Rando) winning $820 in fifth place.