In May 2010, using 12-pound tippet, Tom Evans set a world record for landing a tarpon weighing 194.8 pounds. His notable achievement was highlighted in the July/August Fly Fishing in Salt Waters’ Salt Spray of the same year. It came as no surprise to me that the accolades from highly respected veteran anglers that accompanied his triumph were also met with a number of vitriolic emails to the editor and similar harsh commentary on social network websites for his “killing” a tarpon.
I’ve pondered this divisive phenomenon over the years and thought this might be a good time to re-examine the controversy of trophy killing versus catch-and-release. I use the qualifying term trophy because there is not one among us who kills tarpon just for the sake of killing for show. Conservation has become a touchstone for our sport. Anglers and guides no longer haul any tarpon landed to the docks to hang on a hook for a photo op. This also applies to trophy hunters like Evans.
I recently chatted with Evans on this subject. “I’ve been chasing tarpon records with a fly rod since 1969,” he said. “I’ve landed thousands of fish over the years at Homosassa [Florida], and in all that time I’ve killed only 10 fish for world record submissions.” The problem is not taking a rare fish for record, he said, but rather a combination of the sport’s widespread popularity and tournament fishing at Boca Grande, Florida, which indirectly kills scores of big fish each year due to hammerhead and bull sharks that take tired-out fish after release.
Richard Hirsch, an angler who averages about 120 days each year tarpon fishing, put it more bluntly: “The Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS) needs to be stopped. Far more tarpon have been killed by dragging a beaten fish to a weigh boat on the beach only for it to be hoisted in a net prior to release than [by] fly guys releasing fish in the backcountry or on shoals, far from the main pass.” Hirsch, after the tarpon season is over, volunteers the balance of his year working with the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust satellite-tagging tarpon to find ways to help sustain the very fish he loves.
“I’m not a trophy hunter,” Hirsch says, “but if I caught a world record and my guide wanted to kill it, I would, if only for notoriety for my guide.”
“Look, people are kidding themselves,” Evans told me. “Tarpon fishing is a blood sport. Like it or not, the second you stick a poon in the face, the fish is fighting for its life.”
Controversial Catch: On May 10, 2010, Capt. Al Dopirak (left) guided client Tom Evans (right) to a 194.8-pound tarpon. Evans opted to kill the fish (left) for a world record that still stands.