Tarpon Tournament BenefitsPhoto Caption: 2012 Winning Team: Team Doc Ford's (Nick Fischer, Joe Harrity, Dennis Florie and John Landry) Photo courtesy of "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament.
‘Ding’ Darling Refuge
As many of our readers are aware, living on an island offers boundless opportunities for those who prefer their recreation to be of the wet variety. Boating, swimming, scuba diving – the list is endless. By far the most popular water sport, however, is fishing, and one particular fish has drawn anglers to our emerald shores for over 100 years – tarpon. In fact, the pursuit of the Silver Kings virtually created the sports fishing industry in our area and tournaments held for the ultimate bragging rights draw folks from all over the world. Now that we are in a more conservation-minded era, these tournaments are usually catch and release and some even are held as benefits for local wildlife refuges.
Such is the idea behind the 'Ding Darling and Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament' that will be held next Sunday, May 4th in the waters off of Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel. This tournament – now in its second year – is championed by renowned author and former fishing guide Randy Wayne White and directly benefits the 6,400 acre refuge located on Sanibel Island. Since the tournament is sponsored by one of our local eateries, along with a local marina – Diversified Yacht Services and Sand Paper Publisher, Bob Layfield, will be participating for Team Island Sand Paper, we decided to interview team member Bruce Page to find out more about what it's like to go after the big ones.
"I've been fishing around here all of my life,” said Page, a Florida Cracker who originally hails from Punta Gorda. "I've fished everywhere from Charlotte Harbor to Boca Grande to Marathon.”
Page attributes both his love of the sport and his fishing knowledge to his father, 86-year-old Gordon Carlson.
"He taught me everything there is to know about catching fish, and I still love to fish with him,” Bruce said. "We've gone after snook, reds, cobia, mahi – you name it – and, of course, tarpon.”
Page moved to Naples in 1987, and opened his business – The Shutter Guy – in September of 2006. Since then, the once-little company that sells, services and installs hurricane shutters along with interior window coverings and more - has gone gangbusters – something Bruce attributes to a little ad on the classified page of the Island Sand Paper.
"Our company is overwhelmingly successful, and I attribute it to that one ad,” he said. "That's how I got to know Bob Layfield, and when he offered to sponsor me to be in this tournament I got really excited.”
Team Sand Paper will also include Captain Jim Griffith – a charter fisherman from Marathon, and David Boyce – a local angler with over 20 years of experience.
Bruce said he's thrilled to be participating in his first ever tarpon tournament, and that anyone who sees his ad in the Sand Paper will be given an extra 15% off from The Shutter Guy.
The 'Ding Darling and Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament' is unique in that it offers anglers extra points for helping with a Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) tarpon study.
"Professional, field-based data collection is costly, making it difficult to obtain the large number of DNA scrubs needed to study tarpon effectively. Anglers in this tournament are encouraged to become citizen scientists and obtain scrubs, which are key to getting the number of samples needed to better understand tarpon and learn how to protect them,” said tournament representative Chelle Koster Walton.
The tournament also requires conservation-minded fishing practices; winners are based on photos taken onboard during this catch and release event.
Walton told us that one hundred percent of the entry fees will be awarded in prize monies to the teams that catch the most tarpon, with event sponsorships and donations going to support the wildlife refuge on Sanibel.
The J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States and is world famous for its spectacular migratory bird populations – providing habitat to over 220 species of birds. Originally named the Sanibel National Wildlife Refuge by President Harry S. Truman in 1945, the refuge was renamed in 1967 in honor of pioneer conservationist Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist, who was instrumental in the effort to block the sale of a parcel of environmentally valuable land to developers on Sanibel Island and who urged Truman to create the refuge in 1945.
Ding Darling Refuge consists of over 6,400 acres of mangrove forest, submerged seagrass beds, cordgrass marshes, and West Indian hardwood hammocks. Approximately 2,800 acres of the refuge are designated as a Wilderness Area. Visitors may access the refuge via the 8-mile Wildlife Drive, which begins at the refuge's visitor/education center located on Sanibel Captiva Road two miles west of Tarpon Bay Road.
In addition, there are three trails that can be accessed from Wildlife Drive – all of which are open to bicyclists and hikers: The 4 mile, round-trip Indigo Trail leaves from the Education Center parking lot. Along the trail, visitors often spot wildlife such as alligators, night herons, and white ibis. The Wulfert Keys Trailoff the Drive is a 1/4 mile trail leading to a view of Pine Island Sound. The Shell Mound Trailis a 1/4 mile, accessible, interpretive boardwalk.
Other recreational opportunities include fishing, boating, kayak/canoeing, bicycling, nature photography, and bird watching. Wildlife Drive will be closing on May 13th so that repairs can be made, but daily tours will still be available. For more information, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org.
Since 'Ding' Darling's marshes and mangroves serve as havens for baby tarpon, it is only fitting that a tarpon tournament benefit the refuge.
"Saltwater fishing has a nearly $5.5 billion economic impact in the state of Florida,” said Ding Darling Wildlife Society (DDWS) President John McCabe. "That’s huge, and we feel it is part of our mission to step up to educate the fishing population about responsible sportsmanship. We are working together with Doc Ford’s and other partners to promote the sport of tarpon fishing in Southwest Florida and the importance of understanding and appreciating the amazing tarpon, so that future generations will have the opportunity to ‘bow’ to the Silver King decades from now.”
Keri Hendry Weeg