Tarpon Time

The 88th Sarasota Tarpon Tournament Begins This Month

A near-century-old tradition brings participants to the action against the silver kings.

By Jordan Noyes May 7, 2018

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Image: Shutterstock

Tarpon season is upon us—and to kick it off, the 88th Sarasota Tarpon Tournament begins May 12 and runs through June 17. The five-week tournament encourages anglers to search the waters for the biggest catch. Participants will go toe-to-toe with the silver king tarpon—a species native to the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico—and compete in multiple categories including weekly winners and an overall winner.

“It's tough to beat the thrill of hooking and landing a fish that can weigh more than you do,” says Captain Jeffri Durrance, a Bowling Green, Florida, resident and Tarpon Tournament participant since 1980. Durrance, who got a taste for fishing at an early age thanks to neighboring creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes, describes contact with the tarpon as, full of “spectacular action with powerful runs and lots of acrobatics when they take to the air.”

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To catch one, an angler must first find a school of fish, then position his or her boat within range of them. Then the fisherman casts his bait for that moment when the fish surfaces to swallow air. The tarpon’s initial bite is subtle, Durrance explains, “but when the [it] realizes there’s something up, the fish makes powerful runs with sky-high jumps.” This means “fights have been known to last hours,” despite proper fishing equipment onboard. An angler averages one catch per 10 fished because the tarpon is so prone to throw the bait.

But Durrance believes it's an exciting challenge. And with our warm local waters, he’s betting on many hungry tarpon this season.

In an attempt to bolster the local economy, the tournament was started in 1929 by the Sarasota Angler Club. Powel Crosley Jr., a radio magnate at the time, drew attention to the competition when he caught a 102-pound silver king. (He compared the encounter to "hooking onto an express train.”) The following year, Crosley aired the tournament via radio live from his boat. The broadcast was a nationwide hit, and put the subsequent years’ tournaments on the calendars of anglers far and wide.

Entry fee for this year's tournament is $125. Funds will benefit the Coastal Conversation Association of Florida (CCA) and Suncoast Charities for Children. For more info, click here.

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