The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society–Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) and Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille have teamed up again for a second year to host a tarpon competition termed a “catch, release, and care” tournament on May 4, 2013.

“Saltwater fishing has a nearly $5.5 billion economic impact in the state of Florida, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission,” said DDWS President John McCabe. “That’s huge, and we feel it is part of our mission to step up to educate the fishing population about responsible sportsmanship.  We are working together with Doc Ford’s and other partners to promote the sport of tarpon fishing in Southwest Florida and the importance of understanding and appreciating the amazing tarpon, so that future generations will have the opportunity to ‘bow’ to the Silver King decades from now.”

Again this year, New York Times’ bestselling Doc Ford murder-mystery series novelist Randy Wayne White will be participating in the “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament.

“The inaugural tournament brought a day of great action and getting together with a lot of local fishermen I haven’t seen in a while,” said White, a former area fishing guide. “I’m really looking forward to doing it again this year.”

The “Ding” Darling tournament demonstrates mindful fishing in many ways. First of all, it forgoes harmful weigh-in practices that require bringing the fish back to the starting point. It works within an honor system by declaring winners from photos taken on-board. Furthermore, the rules do not allow a controversial fishing practice called jig fishing, and the tournament committee assigns extra points for anglers who perform a DNA scrub on their catches.

As part of the FWC’s Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study, the scrub sampling helps scientists track tarpon and educate the public. Professional, field-based data collection is costly, making it difficult to obtain the large number of DNA scrubs needed to study tarpon effectively. Anglers in this tournament are encouraged to become citizen scientists and obtain scrubs, which are key to getting the number of samples needed to better understand tarpon and learn how to protect them.

The final component in the catch, release, and care equation: Proceeds from the tournament directly benefit wildlife conservation efforts at “Ding” Darling Refuge, a 6,400-acre complex of protected wetland and marine habitat on Sanibel Island.

“Sport fishing is here to stay, and it’s important that anglers are educated to be better stewards of our waters and its marine life,” said DDWS Executive Director Birgie Vertesch. “Responsible, sustainable fishing has always been a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s mission, and we continue that tradition with this conservation-minded tournament.”

Tournament entry fee is $500 per boat; only 20 slots remain in a field of 50 boats. One hundred percent of the entry fees is awarded in prize monies to the teams that catch the most tarpon, with event sponsorships and donations going to support the refuge.

Doc Ford’s, with locations on both Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach, believes strongly in supporting the refuge and sport fishing, said co-owner Marty Harrity.

“Anglers from all over the country participate in this tournament, which sold out last year,” he added. “It’s a real testament to good, honest fishing with a twist of science and conservation.”

This year, the public is invited to the Silver King for “Ding” After-Party. Limited tickets are available at $50 for each non-fisherman and includes dinner and a silent auction.

For tournament reservations or After-Party tickets, visit or contact Birgie Vertesch at 239-292-0566 or

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