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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Tarpon Tourney Raises Money for Florida Refuge

   tarponTarpon. Photo by Al Hoffacker

The tarpon is not considered an edible fish, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most popular game fish in Florida.

Charter boat Captain Matt Johnson told the News-Press of Fort Myers, Florida, that tarpon is his favorite fish.

"The fight is like no other," he told the newspaper. "It's such a tough fish." 

   tarpon caught
An angler with a tarpon.

It’s no surprise then that tournaments have sprung up across Florida to catch tarpon, sometimes called “silver kings” because of scales as big as silver dollars on a full-grown adult.

One popular tournament will be held in a little over a week at J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on the barrier island of Sanibel in the Gulf of Mexico.

The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge hosts the sixth annual “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tourney on May 19. One thing that makes this tournament special is that it raises money for the refuge.

Donations and a silent auction have helped the “catch, care and release” tournament raise a quarter of a million dollars for the refuge in its first five years, says Birgie Miller, Executive Director of the Friends group.

That money goes to various projects and environmental education at the refuge, Miller says. Ding’s Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland praises the tournament for “raising needed funds to support our refuge.”

   tarpon sign

In 1885, the first documented tarpon caught on a rod-and-reel took place in the refuge’s Tarpon Bay in 1885, and the tournament celebrates that history.

"This tournament not only mirrors ethical angling and teaches the importance of connecting people with nature,” Westland says,  “it also raises awareness of our refuge and the National Wildlife Refuge System to experienced anglers in not only Southwest Florida but around the world."

Fishing is big at Ding Darling Refuge, and at refuges and national fish hatcheries nationwide.

"Saltwater angling opportunities at Ding refuge are the best in the system," Westland says.

Quality fishing opportunities, representing virtually every type of sport fishing on the continent, are available on more than 270 national wildlife refuges. Hatcheries, too, keep anglers busy, both with fish production and fishing opportunities.

With fishing, anglers help local economies, conservation and have a whole lot of fun. Even if you can’t make the Tarpon Tourney (registration is filled anyway), why not give fishing a try? Yes, I’ll say it, you’ll be hooked!

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