BOKEELIA, Fla. -- Madfin Shark Tournament fans have grown accustomed to seeing big sharks in crystal clear water over the years as the event participants fished their way around Key West, on the southern tip of the Florida peninsula. This year, for the first time, the 2012 Madfin Shark Tournament has a new venue, the waters of Southwest Florida and nearby Boca Grande Pass.
The event is based out of The Tarpon Lodge on Bokeelia Island, a quiet community on the northern tip of Pine Island Sound and within close proximity of several passes, including Captiva Pass, Redfish Pass and the legendary big hammerhead and bull shark waters of Boca Grande Pass.
Every May and June, tarpon by the thousands migrate up the west coast of Florida and into the deep water inlet at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor. With the tarpon come hammerhead and bull shark of mammoth proportions, hell-bent on feeding from the tarpon’s ranks. Hammerheads of 14 feet of more and bull sharks of 12 feet and weighing more than 500 pounds are regularly seen in these waters.
Fishing this year’s event are four teams of anglers with vast local knowledge, some with prior Madfin Shark Tournament Experience and all looking forward to the challenge of catching the largest sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. The three-day tournament allows all four teams to fish the locations of their choice, with points accumulated for successfully catching blacktip (150), spinner (150), sandbar (150), lemon (300), bull (300), hammerhead (600), tiger (1000) and mako (1,000) sharks. A shark is considered a catch when one of the team members touches the leader.
Sharks must be at least 5 feet in length to qualify for a catch, so teams are encouraged to measure their sharks alongside the boat to confirm the length, and to shoot for the daily bonus points awarded for largest shark (500), first shark of the day (250), most sharks of the day(250) and sharks caught on artificials (300).
In addition, nurse sharks score a 200-point penalty, although the teams can negate the points by successfully retrieving the hook for a 200-point bonus. Successfully removing the hook from any caught shark scores bonus points equal to the score of catching the shark, so that a bull shark catch (300 points) and successful hook removal (300 points) scores 600 total points for that fish.
After two days of competition, the team with the lowest point total will be eliminated, with three teams left to fish the final day. Going into this year’s event, two teams have members with past Madfin Shark Tournament experience: Team Tenacity member Capt. Bo Johnson and Team Viscious Strikes member Capt. Rob Moore. Both are fishing guides from Southwest Florida who regularly fish these waters.
Fishing with Johnson on Team Tenacity is his girlfriend and charter fishing mate Deidra Bridger, while fishing with Moore on Team Vicious Strikes is Paul Michele, a rep for Navionics Marine and experienced tournament angler.
Two new teams stepping into the Madfin Shark Tournament arena are Team Hoke, a father and son team comprised of local charter fishing family members Capt. Dave Hoke and his father Bill Hoke. Team Redzone features local fishing guides Capt. Jay Withers and Capt. Mike Manis, two regulars in the local shark fishing tournament realm. Withers recently won a local shark tournament a couple of weeks prior to the 2012 Madfin Shark Tournament on a shark he caught in the last few minutes of the event, so he’s known for dramatic finishes.
Going into the event, participants are worried that many of the largest sharks will be focused on feeding from the tarpon population in Boca Grande Pass, and will not eat anything besides a tarpon. Tarpon and stingrays are not allowed to be used as bait in Madfin events.
On top of the feeding patterns will be an unseasonably windy weather pattern approaching the area that could kick up waves and dirty the water, forcing the teams to spend most of their time plying the inshore waters, as opposed to spending time on the nearby offshore reefs.
How much the weather will affect the event is yet to be seen, but with the largest boat in the field at 24 feet, there should be plenty of excitement as big sharks are handled boatside.