He turned the radio off. With fierce competitor Capt. Wayne Joiner and the Hey, Moma! team breathing down their necks, it was all they could do to sit in slience and hope for the best.
After a six-year break, the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament returned to Boca Grande Pass with a splash last Thursday and Friday, and it found Mills and anglers Bruce Aikens, Scott Adams and Ken Fry releasing five tarpon over the two-day event.
On day two country singer Colton James, in town to sing at the Tarpon Festival, joined the boat. Whether he was the good luck charm that took the team to first remains to be seen, but in his presence the Tracy Lynn took first place and the $26,400 prize.
While the cash prize was appreciated, there was something that mattered more to Mills – the Jay Joiner belt buckle.
“It was all about the buckle and we did it,” said Mills. “We had great anglers on the boat. The first day we caught three late, then the second day we caught two early. We knew that if we could get one more fish that we would have it wrapped up, but it never happened. It was a real nail-biter.”
Towards the end of the tournament, it got especially tense on the Tracy Lynn.
“For the last 25 minutes, we just turned the radio off,” laughed Mills. “We were on pins and needles, with Wayne right behind us. We shut it off and just fished.”
Capt. Wayne Joiner and Team Hey, Moma! came in second, winning $15,840 with five fish of their own. Alex Shouppe, Preston Hearn, Chris Sanders and Trey Starling released two tarpon the first day and three the second.
Team CCM Graphic and Capt. Matt Coleman took third and $10,560, with the last fish released. Don Cayo, Chuck LeClerq and Bobby Cayo on the Faithful II had a good time in the tournament.
“The fishing was great and we had fun the whole time,” said Coleman. “I will definitely be back next year.”
Thirty-three boats competed in the live-bait, all-release tournament this year and if the level of interest is any indication the field will only grow in years to come.
Of those 33 teams, 21 released fish. Native, Blaze, Jill Marie, Miss Sarah, Wounderful, Lil Spook, Hey, Moma!, Spellbound, Reel Reel Reel, El Fin, Tracy Lynn, Casuarina, Spook, Sitarah, Magic, Short Drift Charters, CCM Graphic Solutions, Budweiser, Lucky Strike, Conched Out and Haywire all had confirmed releases.
At the end of the first day of competition 24 fish had been released, and Team Reel Reel Reel was ahead with three tarpon released, followed by Tracy Lynn, also with three, and four other teams with two fish each. On day two, 25 tarpon were released, with Hey, Moma! and Haywire each releasing three and Native, Wounderful and Tracy Lynn releasing two each.
Lew Hastings, executive director of the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce is thrilled with the results. The chamber sponsored the tournament in the past and worked hard to bring it back this year.
“The mission statement for the tourney came through loud and clear,” Lew said. “We can make a difference in the conservation of our fishery through a combination of science, responsible sport fishing and education. Our message has spread to 47 states, 612 cities and 10 different countries ... and it is growing. There has been an avalanche of support from around the world.”
The tournament was the opening to Tarpon Festival Weekend, with artists, educators and area merchants taking over downtown and creating a celebratory atmosphere. From the Mote Marine Laboratory touch tank to the Lemon Bay Conservancy, the environment and conservation were on display as much as the artists of the Carroll Swayze Boca Grande Invitational Art Festival. Guy Harvey was a prominent new face at the event, and designed the artwork for the tournament.
The Boca Bande, RPM and Jim Morris provided music during the day, Colton James took the stage Saturday night. His song “Save it for the Kids” has become an unofficial anthem for the tournament and the effort to protect the Charlotte Harbor fishery.
“Everything came together as planned and the tournaments all unfolded with tarpon being caught and safely released all weekend,” Hastings said. “It was a perfect showcase to demonstrate how we can educate the world on conservation of the tarpon fishery and still enjoy the resource. This has been a spectacular success. I am honored to play a part in this historic tournament.”
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