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Registration approaching for tarpon tournament
November 26, 2019

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Registration will open next week for the 9th Annual "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament, with only a limited number of teams getting to take part in the "catch, care and release" competition.

Hosted by the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge and title sponsor Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grill, the tourney celebrates the history of the first documented tarpon caught on a rod-and-reel in the refuge's Tarpon Bay in 1885. The registration will open on Dec. 2 at 8 a.m. to 55 teams.

"The whole U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is about responsible outdoor enjoyment. In fact, 'Ding' Darling was a responsible hunter himself," DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said.

She added that the tournament aims to promote responsible fishing.

"It is catch and release, and it has to be released alive," Miller said, noting that there are specific rules in place for the competition, like using circle hooks. "They don't measure it, they don't weigh it."

"It's a photo of the leader touch and time it was caught," she added.

As for the limited number of spots, they fill up quickly.

"One year it filled up in an hour and a half," Miller said, adding that it took a couple of hours last year. "A lot of them are local people who are guides, who have people fly in to fish in the tournament."

She noted that locals also participate.

"It's a really competitive tournament," Miller said. "There are some really good tarpon anglers that enter the competition."

The 9th Annual "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament will take place on May 22 from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. The captain's meeting and an auction is scheduled for the teams the day before on May 21 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grill, at 708 Fishermans Wharf, Fort Myers Beach.

Registration is $500 for a team of four, with an additional fee for up to two extra anglers.

"One hundred percent of the entry fees goes back to the prizes for the top five winning teams," she said. "We were the first tournament in Southwest Florida to start doing that, to give back that money."

The cash prize breakdown is as follows: 45 percent for the grand champion, 25 percent for second place, 15 percent for third place, 10 percent for fourth place, and 5 percent for fifth place.

In addition, prizes and special recognitions will be given to the non-professional female angler, non-professional senior angler age 60 or older and amateur team with the most catches in the tourney.

Miller explained that the funds raised through event sponsors and donations will go to the refuge.

"That's the only way we raise money," she said. "That's why we love our sponsors."

Last year, the event netted $125,000 to benefit water research, wildlife research and conservation education at the refuge. To date, the tournament has raised a total of nearly $575,000 for the mission.

"A huge thank you goes to Doc Ford's for being the title sponsor again," Miller said.

Additional partners for the 2020 tourney are Raiser's Edge, starting position sponsor; Cast About Charters, champion sponsor; and Captiva Diva, Custom Tees Now and Organized Chaos, presenting sponsors; along with the platinum, gold and silver level sponsors. Sponsorships are still available.

This year's logo was designed by 75th anniversary artist "in residence" Ed Anderson.

"He just puts a modern-day twist on telling stories through art," she said. "He is passionate, he's an angler himself and supports healthy waters. It's all about catch-and-release for him, as well."

To register, visit www.dingdarlingsociety.org/articles/tarpon-tournament-1.

For more information about the tarpon tournament or for details on becoming a sponsor, contact Dot Voorhees at 239-472-1100 ext. 239 or dot@dingdarlingsociety.org, or Miller at 239-292-0566.

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel.

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