As sure as the current in Boca Grande Pass, the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament tradition continues on May 19 and 20, 2016. This year the prize money is $80,000, based on a field of 20 boats. The Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce holds the tournament every year.
Fishing will be from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. both days, and the awards will be given at 8 p.m. in downtown Boca Grande.
The Boca Grande Invitational Art Festival will highlight the second day of fishing, where some of the most talented artists from Southwest Florida will be selling their works. There will also be food and music.
The first place team will win $30,000, and the second place team will receive $30,000. Each day a team will take home $7,500 for the first fish released and for the last fish hooked and released. The entry fee per team is $5,000 with a 40-boat maximum. First and second wins are based on the number of fish released.
Tarpon tournaments are nothing new to Boca Grande. In the 1920s and 1930s was the “Boca Grande Tarpon Club” operated by Joe Spadero, builder and proprietor of the Boca Grande Hotel, which was torn down in 1975.
Every year the club held a two-month tournament called the Boca Grande Tarpon Tournament, which ran from May 1 through July 1. Whoever caught the biggest tarpon during that period won the trophy. Thousands of fish were caught and killed each season in those days.
The Izaak Walton Club on Useppa Island was organized in 1902 to encourage the use of rod and reel in game fishing and good sportsmanship. Membership in the club was open to amateur fishermen only, fishing in the waters of Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound, according to the rules of the club.
In the early 1980s a new tarpon tournament came into being in Boca Grande. It was an invitational tournament sponsored and run by the Boca Grande Club. The club turned the tournament over to the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce in 1991, and it grew into what was once known as the single richest tarpon tournament in the world, with a field of 60 boats and a purse of $165,000.
From 2005 until 2012, the 30th anniversary of the tournament, the Boca Grande Fishing Guides Association held the tournament. Now, the Chamber of Commerce has become the host again.
Over time the tournament has become synonymous with “no-weigh, no-kill,” signifying the guides’ understanding that the Boca Grande Pass may not continue to yield the same numbers of magnificent tarpon if those methods aren’t employed.
In 2012, the Chamber decided to name the weekend after the World’s Richest tournament “Tarpon Festival Weekend,” and the downtown streets are packed with an art show, food and live music … all in celebration of the silver king.
The World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, a catch-and-release-only event, has become a symbol for conservation, education and sportsmanship. Working with local projects such as the Wildflower Conservancy STEM Program, which follows the progress of juvenile tarpon in Coral Creek, and the Gasparilla Island Kids Classic, everything about the World’s Richest highlights teaching future generations to protect and love nature, and making sure the tarpon that are released in the tournament are done so swiftly and with minimal stress and injury to the fish.
“Participating in the World’s Richest is something every angler should experience,” said Marcy Shortuse, president of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce and 2016 tournament director. “We set our dates and times through the Boca Grande Fishing Guides’ Association to optimize angler chances of hooking up a big silver king. Traditional drift fishing among a big field of boats is crazy, exciting and really gets your adrenaline going. It’s big fish, big money and big excitement.”
Call the Boca Grande Area Chamber of Commerce at (941) 964-0568 for more information, or call Tournament Director Marcy Shortuse at (941) 276-8646 for more information. You can also find out more on our Facebook page,