World’s oldest tarpon tournament held last week in local waters

June 7, 2019
By Marcy Shortuse

While the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament and the biggest kids’ tarpon tournament are in the news right now, a smaller but very prestigious tarpon tournament was also held last week in local waters. It is the oldest tarpon tournament in the country, to be precise, and it is called the Izaak Walton Tarpon Tournament.
Held by the Useppa Island Club, this year’s two-day tournament wrapped up on Saturday, June 1. There were 15 boats in the competition, with a captain and two anglers on each boat.
Capt. Ozzie Lessinger and anglers Jason Duke and Ben Levene took first place this year with six releases, while Capt. Mike Slattery and anglers Dan Stickley and Justin Dewitt came in second with five tarpon. The father- and-son team of Richard and Bruce Wendorf with Capt. Ryan Klase finished third with four.
There were 24 tarpon released on May 31 and six on June 1, for a total of 30 releases.
Lessinger and his anglers will be immortalized on the Izaak Walton perpetual trophy, along with other names that go back more than 100 years.
The Izaak Walton Club, named for the 17th-century author of “The Compleat Angler,” was founded on Useppa around 1908. It was one of the most prestigious fishing clubs in America and one of the first conservation groups in the United States.
Long ago the club initiated the practice of releasing all tarpon except those to be weighed in for the award of the highly-coveted button. A silver button was given for the first tarpon caught, a gold button for a 100-pound tarpon, and a gold-and-diamond button for a 150-pound tarpon. Now, of course, virtually all tarpon are required to be released statewide unless in pursuit of an international game fish record.