PASS-A-GRILLE - Every year come May, Adele Nagel prays for the strength to make it through another tarpon season.
"I always wonder if I will be able to do it," said Nagel, 87. "But as soon as that first fish hits, I stop thinking about it and just do it."
The question of whether the Grande Dame of the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup still has what it takes was answered last week when Nagel, and longtime fishing guide Joe Dvoracsek, landed a 149-pound silver king, tops in the senior and women's divisions.
Nagel hooked the fish on a dead shad and fought it for nearly an hour under a hot summer sun.
"I don't know how she does it," said Dvoracsek, who at 73 is probably Tampa Bay's longest working fishing guide. "We keep asking her what she eats for breakfast."
Meanwhile Nagel, who fishes with her sister, Laurel Chadwick, said she has no secret to success.
"I just rely on intestinal fortitude," she said. "When the going gets tough, you just have to dig in."
Dvoracsek has been fishing area waters for tarpon since 1954. "Back then, there probably weren't more than 25 fishing guides in all of Tampa Bay," he said. "Today, it seems like everybody has a captain's license."
Nagel and her sister have been fishing the 10-week Tarpon Roundup since the early 1970s. Her recent catch was as heavy as the tournament leader, a 149-pounder caught earlier in the competition. But in the case of a tie the first fish caught holds first place.
Nagel's fish held second until Friday when Jim Phillips aboard the Jitterbug jumped a 184-pound fish in front of the Don CeSar to take first.
"Earlier this week Jim had a fish jump into his boat that turned out to be the junior (angler) tournament leader," tournament director Clark Nash said. "A few days later he jumps the tournament leader. What are the odds of that happening?"
Pretty good, considering the spectacular tarpon season in area waters. Pinellas and Manatee county beaches have been loaded with tarpon and multiple hookups are the norm.
One pass near a major waterway (not to give too much away for fear of ruining the fishing for those die-hards who call this place home) has enjoyed tides after the new moon that rivaled the legendary "hill tides" of Boca Grande.
"I can't remember when the fishing has been this good," said Keith Dudley, a St. Petersburg stockbroker who recently landed several fish on a fly-rod one morning before work. "It has been nothing short of phenomenal."
Tarpon anglers wishing to qualify for the tournament's Finale Day and a chance to win a $40,000 Trevco boat still can sign up. The Roundup runs through Aug. 2. There is a one-time entry fee of $135. Call 727 360-8045. Anglers can qualify for Finale Day by catching and releasing five fish instead of killing and weighing one. Tarpon caught and properly tagged (the state requires a $50 tarpon tag to kill a fish, strictly enforced by tournament officials) are collected by researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg. For information on the state's tarpon study, go to www.floridamarine.org or call (727) 896-8626.