PTTS announces no tournaments in 2016, Izaak Walton Club to be resurrected

March 18, 2016
By Marcy Shortuse

■ BY MARCY SHORTUSEUseppa web – This week the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series and Silver King Entertainment announced they would not be holding tournaments in 2016, leaving many happy local live bait captains in its wake.
The announcement comes at the same time The Useppa Island Club released the information that the Izaak Walton Club, the oldest fishing conservation organization in the country, was being resurrected.
On their web site, pttstv.com, a statement was issued that read, in part, “… we will not be holding PTTS events in 2016. We apologize for the delayed notification. Over the past 12 years our organization, anglers, and sponsors, have done many great things including promoting the sport of Tarpon fishing, the importance of conservation, and Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass as world class fishing destinations.
“While we will not be working to host events in 2016, we are working towards plans for the future, and will be making additional announcements later this summer …”
Gary Ingman, owner of Gasparilla Marina and of the PTTS, was not available for comment.
Tom McLaughlin and Mark Futch of Save The Tarpon, a local organization that has fought the PTTS in the public eye and in court regarding their fishing methods and lack of sportsmanship, were however available for comment.
“We are all very happy about this,” Futch said.
Futch also said he has heard that several Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioners are also very happy with the PTTS decision to not hold tournaments in Boca Grande Pass this year, and that even Tweed Roosevelt had passed on his congratulations regarding the announcement.
“Watching the PTTS for 12 years made me ashamed to be a member of the human race,” Futch said. “It was just disrespectful to the animal kingdom.”
Tom McLaughlin, founder of Save The Tarpon, said while he is overjoyed at the PTTS announcement, they are still trying to recoup some of their legal costs and fees from the PTTS parent company, Silver King Entertainment LLC.
“Save The Tarpon and its 28,000 members, supporters and followers welcome the decision of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series to indefinitely suspend all events beginning with the upcoming 2016 tarpon season,” he said. “The action being taken by the PTTS is fully consistent with the tournament’s stated commitment to ‘the sport of Tarpon fishing, the importance of conservation, and Charlotte Harbor and Boca Grande Pass as world class fishing destinations.’
“Save The Tarpon intends to continue its aggressive pursuit of legal costs and fees from Silver King Entertainment LLC, its counsel and associated entities, both individually and collectively, in the wake of Silver King’s 11th hour dismissal of its lawsuit against the group and its directors.”
In November, after seeing its case gutted and its lawyer publicly called out by a Charlotte County judge, the owners of the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series capitulated and walked away from its nearly three-year-old lawsuit aimed at silencing Save The Tarpon and the group’s supporters. The sudden PTTS surrender came less than 24 hours before the case was set to go before a jury the following morning.
Silver King Entertainment LLC, headed by Ingman and Joe Mercurio, had sued Save The Tarpon and its officers for $500,000 in losses it attempted to claim were pegged to the group’s boycott and other efforts aimed at preserving and protecting the Boca Grande Pass tarpon fishery.
Following a brief hearing November 16, 2015 in Charlotte County court, Silver King’s Tampa attorney Dennis Creed – who had unsuccessfully sought to withdraw from the case following a string of preliminary losses the previous week – filed a terse two paragraph motion dismissing the lawsuit, ending a protracted and costly legal battle that had drawn the attention of free speech and First Amendment advocates nationwide.
The local community and the group’s supporters worldwide were quick to rally to Save The Tarpon’s defense. In one instance, the group raised $25,000 in less than two weeks in an online funding campaign as the case crawled through two courthouses and three judges.
Rogan White and Donald Beckstead of The Useppa Island Club were happy to make the announcement that the Izaak Walton Club has returned, and will hold their first tournament in June of this year.
Barron Collier, who owned Useppa Island at the time, in 1908, founded the original club. Sport fishing for big game fish was in its infancy, so it could be considered the first conservation organization of its kind.
The current Izaak Walton Club is private, following its historic roots of being open to members of The Useppa Island Club.
“We expect to be up and running soon and have our first tournament in June,” said White. “Our goal is to be up and operational by then to use the tournament as a kickoff for the club. We want to show our support for traditional live bait fishing and show everyone that it’s a new day in tarpon tournament fishing in Boca Grande Pass … now that the PTTS is out of there. Let the waters return to the traditionalists, and the ethical fishermen. Let’s bring it back to what it was before the whole PTTS thing got started.”
White said he’s also excited to create another tie between Useppa Island members and their neighbors to the northwest on Gasparilla Island.
Futch is also on the board of the Izaak Walton Club, and said everyone is very optimistic about the future of tarpon fishing, and getting it back to the days of old.