BOCA GRANDE, Fla. Day one of the Jim Beam Tarpon Cup Championship illustrated perfectly how gut-wrenching the sport can be. Team Humana started things off with a bang with the day's heaviest fish, a thick shouldered 186-pounder landed at 8:48 a.m. As it turned out, a mere 66-pounder would have been enough to put them into Monday's top five.
But that fish would never come. The team lost two other fish before the final horn sounded, including a stout fish that might have given them as much as a 50-pound lead going into Monday's three-hour, one-fish derby.
Their first fish following the big one survived at least six tangled lines as it weaved its way through the Boca Grande Pass pandemonium. It was ultimately lost near the boat with one hour, 10 minutes left in the fishing day. The team later broke off another with less than an hour left.
Perennial PTTS contender Ozzie Fischer, captain of the Florida Fishing Weekly boat, couldn't shake the decision to weigh a 100-to-115-pound fish late in the day. They had already weighed a stout 149-pounder, but they thought they would need more than the 100 more pounds to make the cut. They realeased the fish an ended up having to settle for a 94-pounder with 10 minutes left, giving them a respectable 243 points.
The team was knocked out of Monday's action by Team Reel Adventures by eight pounds.
Boca Grande Pass is known almost as much for its seasonal population of sharks as it is for tarpon. The area's traditionally clean water allows the beasts to mostly pick their targets, which often include hooked fish.
Clear water also gives up the shark's location, a good thing for spectators and PTTS support personnel at the beach, where awards are presented and fish are weighed. The sharks, especially mean-spirited bull sharks, patrolled the beach heavily on Sunday, prompting a concerned Mike Combs, head of the PTTS television production crew, to remind his wife over the radio during a break in the action to not let their little ones play in the water as they had the previous day.
"They'll take them as soon as anything," Combs said.
The doting Mrs. Combs assured him they were safely playing in the sand.
Three teams had a chance to jump into the top five with minutes to spare. Team Wraphics, Team Gasparilla Marina and Team Screwin' Around both hooked fish with less than 10 minutes to go. PTTS rules state that any fish hooked before time is up can be landed and count in competition.
All teams had tough hills to climb Team Gasparilla Marina needed a 166, Wraphics needed a 150 and Screwin' Around required a 146-pounder to qualify for Monday's final day. None ultimately made it.