On Wednesday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will
consider a final rule to protect tarpon that, if approved, will be the first step in addressing among the most brazen cons in our state’s fishing history.
It is story dark with irony, but brighter days are ahead — if the commission takes
this bold step and designates tarpon as a catch-and-release-only species, and also
bans snag-prone tackle.
I’m talking about the so-called “Boca Grande jig.” Jigs are among the most effective and benign lures in the world, so what’s the problem? To help you understand, I’ve decided to throw some sunlight on Florida’s dirty little fishing secret in the hope that our commissioners will make the right decisions.
The con I am talking about is “floss-fishing,” — a technique that dates back to the
days when European peasants fished for survival, not sport. It’s a deliberate method
of snagging trout and salmon in fast-flowing rivers. In the 1990s, a Boca Grande
captain and his friend used the same concept when they designed a “lure” that
would catch tarpon even on days tarpon were not feeding. They wired a heavy
weight to the bottom of a circle hook — not at the eyelet, like a true jig, but at the
hooks bend, or “belly.” The hook had already been canted with pliers. To disguise
the rig’s true intent, a colorful rubber adornment was added to make it look like a
legitimate fishing lure. A true masterstroke was to name what, in fact was a snagging
device, “a break-away jig.”
As the two innovators proved, “floss-fishing” worked equally well on tarpon that
school in the fast tidal rips of Florida’s west coast. They won a lot of money.
Imagine you are in a boat, and drop this rig into a school of tarpon stacked 40 feet
high — thousands of silver kings. These tarpon aren’t feeding (in this scenario), nor
are they unaware. Even so, the jaw structure of a tarpon is such that the side-flaps
of its mouth (the maxilla or ‘clipper plates’) and its gills are exposed targets. These
flaps are hinged and sometimes flare slightly outward, not unlike the backside of
a human ear. When your fluorocarbon line makes contact with this bony flap, the
line is sometimes funneled — flossed — toward the inside hinge of the mouth or its
gills. The hinge, as it narrows, becomes an effective guide. Soon, as the boat moves,
or the fish moves, the flow of line is halted by an abrupt collision: The hook, given
additional mass by the heavy sinker, either loops and buries itself outside the
tarpon’s mouth, or it bounces free. If the hook does stick, the startled tarpon panics,
naturally, which causes other tarpon to panic, sometimes through a haze of hooks
and lines, which can create the illusion of a momentary feeding frenzy. Shrewd, huh?
Key elements to this technique:
• A heavy (3-6 oz.) sinker must be attached directly to the belly of a hook,.
• Tarpon must be stacked in a contained area, which is why this technique is so
effective in Boca Grande, but useless offshore, or in our back bays.
• The hook must be extremely sharp and is more effective if it is a circle hook
canted slightly using pliers.
• Low-visibility fishing line — fluorocarbon — and a gray sinker are best because
deception is imperative.
• A high-speed reel, to rocket the hook upward through schooling tarpon, and a
good boat handler all add to the likelihood of success.
The most devious thing about this technique is that, if you are being paid to produce fish, your clients, if inexperienced, will never question why the tarpon they landed is hooked outside the mouth after “bumping” or “nibbling” at the hook.
The seven-member FWC can make monumental changes by
designating tarpon a catch-and-release-only species and by passing a draft rule
prohibiting gear rigged with a weight attached to the bottom of the hook, in order to
reduce snagging of tarpon in Boca Grande Pass.
These are both critically needed protection for tarpon in the state. Concerned residents can contact an FWC commissioner at www.myfwc.com.
Randy Wayne White, Fort Myers
The writer is a former fishing guide and columnist for Outside magazine. He is
the author of a series of adventure novels featuring marine biologist Doc