The history of tarpon fishing, "Ding" Darling refuge and Southwest Florida are intricately intertwined. The first tarpon caught on rod and reel was in Sanibel's Tarpon Bay by a Chicago architect named William H. Wood using bait and thumb stall reel with linen line in 1885. The historical event made international news and changed the fabric of sports fishing.
Wood's amazing feat has been chronicled in local award-winning author Randy Wayne White's book "The Ultimate Tarpon Book: The Birth of Big Game Fishing," a collaboration with Carlene Brennen. While White is primarily known for his fictional Doc Ford murder-mystery series, he is a former fishing guide and will take part in an inaugural "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament.
"Our catch-and-release tournament honors the region's rich big-game fishing history, and also the history of the national refuge system, originally designed to protect natural resources for fishermen and hunters," said Birgie Vertesch, executive director of "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS), title sponsors along with Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille.
Photo by CAROL ORR HARTMAN
The inaugural “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament on May 5 will celebrate the tarpon fishing tradition that began in the refuge's Tarpon Bay in 1885. A few of the sponsors and anglers, above, include Tower Down team members Les Boyle and Kevin Vertesch, representing sponsor Dan Hahn Custom Builders; Capt. Paul Primeaux, Sunglasses International; Craig Albert, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank; Ryan Levi, Diversified Yacht Services; and Marty Harrity, Doc Fords; along with Joyce Palmer, assistant refuge manager and Birgie Vertesch, executive director of “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge.
"To further the refuge system's tradition of wildlife protection, we have taken measures to minimally intrude upon the environment," Vertesch continued. "For example, we won't be doing a shotgun start, which could stress the manatee population, and we will be engaging participants in citizen science by awarding extra points to those who participate in the state's genetic testing on their tarpon catches."
Also listed among the 30 teams signed up (to date) for the tournament are TV fishing personalities captains Ozzie Fischer and Ozzie Lessinger along with Mina Hemingway former Sanibel resident, avid fisher and granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway.
"It seems entirely fitting that the Hemingway name gets added to the deep history of fishing tradition that our tournament is celebrating," said Vertesch.
Deadline to register for the Tarpon Tournament is April 30.
Interested teams can register at www.dingdarlingtarpontourney.com
or by picking up registration forms at Doc Ford's on Sanibel or Fort Myers Beach
or at the J.N. "Ding" Darling Refuge
Hemingway will fly in from Bozeman, Mont., to fish with Sanibel Island Fishing Club members Rol Campbell, Tom Butcher and Charlie Sobczak aboard Sobzcak's boat Nine Lives.
The fishing tournament takes place from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 5 at Doc Ford's on Fort Myers Beach. A Captain's Dinner will kick off the tournament May 4 at the restaurant. As part of the awards ceremonies, White be the judge of a "Kangaroo Court," in which fellow fishing participants are "accused" of heinous acts of embarrassment or tomfoolery.
"I will be the judge, the jury and the executioner," White said with a chuckle. "Anyone can accuse anyone of just about anything, and the fine will be sentenced accordingly. It all goes to benefit 'Ding' Darling, so it's a great cause."
The cost of the meal and the awards ceremony dinner are included in the entry fee of $400 per boat of up to four. Cash awards will amount to 100 percent of registration fees. To register or become a sponsor, call 239-292-0566 or visit www.dingdarlingtarpontourney.com for more information.
"Time is running out to be a part of fishing history-in-the-making," said Vertesch.
Doc Ford's, with locations on both Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach, sponsors the tournament to support the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge through DDWS.