Fishing the Pass: Are you up for it?

Elsie Bracken

Elsie Bracken

In every sport there seems to be a playing field that defines the essence of that sport.

A place where the mere mention of the name can bring back special memories among fans.

Golf has the Augusta National course, where Jack Nicklaus once made a comeback rally at the Masters that is still recognized as the sport’s greatest moment.

Baseball has Yankee Stadium, where among many other great moments, in 1956 Don Larson pitched the only perfect game in World Series history.

Then there’s Green Bay’s Lambeau field. Can’t you see the breath of the players as the Cowboys battled the Packers in the Ice Bowl when you hear that name?

Well, in the sport of tarpon fishing, there is only one place like that, and that is Boca Grande Pass.

Unfortunately, tarpon fishing is usually not a spectator sport. Most great moments in the Pass were seen only by those few who happened to be on board at the time. Maybe it was the young girl taking on her first 100-pound tarpon, or the father and son doing battle with a double header.

However, there are a couple of snapshots in time that many still remember.

One of the most memorable moments in Pass history occurred in 1987 when Capt. Bo Smith put on a clinic with his team of women which became known as “Bo’s Bunny’s.”

They went on to post 13 releases and dominate the best tarpon fishermen in the world over the two days of the old Boca Grande Club Invitational Tarpon Tournament.

Bo was a master of finesse. Mainly using a technique of fly-lining mutton minnows, a bait presentation that requires tremendous boat control and a sensitive understanding of the effects of the tide and wind, he and his team simply outfished everyone in the event. Many local captains will tell you it was a tournament performance that is unmatched to this day.

In 1991, there was another memorable tournament performance set when a young Capt. Jay Joiner won “The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament” back to back as captain of Buzz Watkin’s Sabalo.

Those who were there can still recall a strong afternoon outgoing tide taking the Sabalo over the offshore ledge just as the winning fish threatened to cut his line on that ledge by diving back into the hole.

Knowing his angles and making the split second decision necessary to save that catch, Capt. Jay spun the Sabalo 180 degrees in a puff of diesel smoke and raced back up tide, through a crowd of other boats, and expertly brought the tarpon back under control to seal the win.

Many old timers marveled at a 20-something kid, in control of a very expensive boat, confidently taking charge of such a difficult and pressure packed situation.

Like other great fields of play in sports, Boca Grande Pass has proven to be a very special place. Day in and day out individuals meet their own challenges in competition between man and tarpon.

Are you up for it? There are other great moments in Pass fishing out there just waiting to happen.

Capt. Sandy Melvin

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