Tarpon tourney breaks records with $125K raised, 88 fish caught
The eighth annual “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament on May 3 topped previous years’ fundraising efforts by netting $125,000 from tournament sponsorships, donations and silent auction proceeds to benefit the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel.
The tournament also broke the record for fish caught, set in 2018. Anglers photo-recorded 88 tarpon catches this year, compared to as few as two and as many as 49 in the previous seven years.
“That’s a really impressive number of fish caught,” Marty Harrity, co-owner of Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, said. “We see that as a positive sign for the recovering health of our fishery.”
The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge organizes the annual tourney with Doc Ford’s of Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and Captiva as the title sponsor. Tournament social events took place at the Fort Myers Beach location.
The 2019 tournament paid out $29,800 in prizes to five winning teams out of the 55 registered teams. Unlike the majority of fishing tournaments around the country, this tourney has, from its inception, returned 100 percent of registration fees to the participants in prize winnings.
The first place prize of $13,400 went to Team Dorado Boatworks – including Capt. Eric Davis, with team members Seth Hayes and Randall Marsh – for catching seven fish total.
Second place Team YAM, led by Capt. Dave Holzhauer, won $7,450. In third place, Capt. Ozzie Lessinger’s Team RS Walsh Landscaping took home $4,470. Third-place winners Team Mabry Electric with Capt. Nick Fischer won $2,980; fourth-place winners Team Windows Plus/Maastricht Engineering with Capt. Pete Maastricht took $1,490.
The tournament also gave out awards for female angler to Sage Indendi from Team Doc Ford’s, senior angler to John McCabe from Team Castabout Charters, and amateur team to Team Windows Plus/Maastricht Engineering.
“Because all registration fees go to the awards purse, sponsorship partners are very important to this tournament,” DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller said. “They pay the costs for putting on the tourney and contribute to the charity proceeds.”
To date, the tarpon tournament has raised nearly $575,000 for refuge water research, wildlife research and conservation education.
“We can’t thank Doc Ford’s enough for their incredible show of support these past eight years,” Miller said. “They’ve already committed for the 2020 tourney, which will take place next May, the date to be determined by choice of the winning team.”
“We are so grateful for this fundraiser, because not only does it add much-needed dollars to the refuge budget, it also supports our conservation mission,” Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland said. “Plus, it is an opportunity to remind anglers, both professional and amateur, about the importance of ethical and responsible fishing.”
For more information and this year’s winners, visit www.dingdarlingtarpontourney.org.