‘Ding’ Tarpon Tournament Surpasses $1M In 10th Year

provided to The Santiva Chronicle

The 10th annual “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament on May 13 pushed historical earnings for the decade to more than $1 million. The 10th anniversary tourney netted $260,000 from tournament sponsorships and donations to support conservation at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

The “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS) organizes the annual tournament with Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille of Sanibel Island, Fort Myers Beach, Captiva Island, and St. Petersburg as the title sponsor. The captain’s meeting and Silver King Awards ceremony took place at the Fort Myers Beach location.

First place winners Team Blackwater scored a check for $27,000. Pictured: Refuge Biological Science Technician Avery Renshaw, DDWS Development Officer April Boehnen, Doc Ford’s co-owner Marty Harrity, Team Blackwater captain Henry Frazer and teammates Matt Hereld and Scott Hughes, and DDWS Executive Director Birgie Miller.

The 2022 tournament paid out a total of $60,000 in prizes to five winning teams out of 58 registered teams. Anglers photo-recorded 54 tarpon catches this year, the second highest number of catches since the tournament’s inception in 2012. The first-place prize of $27,000 went to Team Blackwater, including captain Henry Frazer and team members Matt Hereld and Scott Hughes. The team caught and released a total of six fish.

“Congratulations to Henry! He now wears the coveted pink tarpon jacket,” said Marty Harrity, co-owner of Doc Ford’s, who introduced the jacket in 2017 as an added incentive for taking first place in the tournament. “It’s kind of like the green Masters tournament jacket in golf. The winning captain gets the honor of wearing the pink tarpon jacket each year.”

Second-place Team Spartan Stix, led by captain Cory McGuire, caught five fish and won $15,000. In third place, captain Cliff Utt’s Team Sun Country caught four and took home $9,000. Fourth-place winners Team Two Lane Lager, with captain Patrick McCafferty, won $6,000 with three fish (the first caught at 7:47); fifth-place winners Team Fischer Kings, with captain Ozzie Fischer, took home $3,000 also for three fish (the first caught slightly later at 7:52).

The tournament also handed out awards for female angler to Stephanie Miller from Team Tarpon Time, senior angler to Mary Laser with Team Chasin’ Poon, and amateur team to Team Kollman, with captain Will Kollman, Kevin Kollman, Tim Byal, and Patrick RicVert.

“Because all boat registration fees go into the awards purse, sponsorship partners are extremely important to this tournament,” said Birgie Miller, executive director of DDWS. “They make it possible to raise vital financial support for the conservation mission of DDWS and the refuge.”

To date, the tarpon tournament has raised $1,015,000 for refuge water research, wildlife research, and education. It has awarded $321,125 to tournament winning teams during its 10-year history. The first-of-its-kind tournament to benefit conservation and award 100 percent of its fees to winners, the competition began to support local professional fishing guides and connect with anglers to educate and make them part of conservation efforts.

“We can’t thank Doc Ford’s enough for their incredible show of support these past ten years,” said DDWS Development Officer April Boehnen, who organized and led the 2022 tournament. “They’ve already committed for the 2023 tourney, which will take place in May 2023, the date to be announced soon.”

Team captains met the night before the tournament on May 12 to receive rules and socialize. They were surprised by a short video from country singer and songwriter Luke Bryan, whose Two Lane Lager beer was a tournament sponsor. He wished the anglers good luck and recognized the tournament’s important mission.

“We are so grateful for this fundraiser, because not only does it add much-needed dollars to the ever-shrinking refuge budget, it also supports our conservation mission,” said “Ding” Darling Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland. “Plus, it is an opportunity to remind anglers, both professional and amateur, about the importance of ethical and responsible fishing.”

For more information on the tournament and this year’s winners, visit dingdarlingtarpontourney.org.

Tournament sponsors for 2022 include: Title Sponsor: Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille; Silver King Anniversary Sponsors: Bill & Laurie Harkey, Raiser’s Edge, The Szymanczyk Family; Premiere Sponsor: Cast About Charters; Presenting Sponsors: David & Judy Baum, Captiva Divas, Two Lane Lager; Platinum Sponsors: Diversified Yacht Services, Captain Shawn Kelly Fishing Charters, CustomTeesNow, Law Office of Christopher Hill, Organized Chaos, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank, Whitney’s Bait & Tackle, Yeti; Gold Sponsors: Anisa Stewart Jewelry, Bay Marine, Dave & Denise Bunning, Congress Jewelers, Fort Myers Brewing Co., Fort Myers Marine, Jeff & Toni Kordell, Mabry Brothers, Milestone Auctions, Capt. Matt Mitchell Fishing Charters, On Island, RS Walsh Landscaping, Trophy Case of Fort Myers; Silver Sponsors: Bailey’s General Store, Captiva Cruises, Costa Del Mar, Florida Weekly, Grandstand, Jensen’s Marina & Cottages, Taylor & Betsy Hay, Island Sun, Law Office of Janet Strickland, Over Easy Café, Peter & Barb Rogers.

As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, DDWS works to support J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge’s mission of conservation, wildlife and habitat protection, research, and public education through charitable donations and Refuge Nature Shop proceeds. To support DDWS and the refuge with a tax-deductible gift, visit dingdarlingsociety.org or contact Birgie Miller at 239-472-1100 ext. 232 or director@dingdarlingsociety.org.

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