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It's tarpon time

Experienced anglers and good bait often combine for tournament victories.

By RICK FRAZIER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 18, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- When a big tarpon strikes, things happen fast. Teamwork is the key to success.

"Big Jim" Parkhill found that out firsthand during a recent tarpon-fishing expedition in Tampa Bay.

"Do you think it's a ray, Jim?" said Larry Mastry, a St. Petersburg tarpon expert.

"I don't know, but it's sure acting like one," said Parkhill, a retired St. Petersburg contractor. "He's got me way out there."

"Better get the other rods in!" Mastry said.

As it turns out, it was a tarpon, and after three acrobatic leaps, it was ready to surrender.

"What d'ya think, Larry?" Parkhill asked. "Is he big enough?"

"Let's get a tape on 'em and see," Mastry said. "No, he's only 34 (inches), and we need something a little bigger than that to be in the show."

Mastry, who has 40 years' worth of tournament-fishing experience, was referring to the girth of the tarpon and how it might place in a recent one-day kickoff tarpon tournament.

Mastry began in 1961 when he was 7 years old. "I remember Jim Parkhill and I were fishing off Indian Rocks Beach casting pinfish to pods of rolling tarpon," Mastry said. "When the fish hit it was all I could handle. Took me 45 minutes to land it and it weighed out at 68 pounds."

Mastry, who co-owns and operates Mastry's Bait and Tackle in south St. Petersburg, spends as much time as he can on the water scouting for tarpon and looking for his all-important bait -- shad. Once he has the right type of shad, he takes great care of each piece.

"Layering the shad is the key," Mastry said. "You have to place the shad in the ice cooler and ice each layer of fish so they stay cold on both sides."

Mastry likes to fish for tarpon on the bottom. In 1998, he caught one that weighed 181 pounds and was 73 inches long with a 43-inch girth. That fish earned him second place in the Suncoast Tarpon Roundup, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious tarpon tournaments in the Tampa Bay area. (A series of tournaments begins Saturday and runs through July.)

Mastry uses several 9-foot custom rods equipped with 4/0 size reels stuffed full of 50-pound mono.

"You can't catch fish without a line in the water," Mastry said.

- Capt. Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 448-3817 or by e-mail at captrick@luckydawg.com.

Tarpon tournaments

WHAT: Tampa Tarpon Tournament.

WHEN: Saturday.

WHERE: Tampa Bayside Marina. Call (813) 831-5757.

PRIZES: Thousands of dollars worth of prizes and merchandise.

* * *

WHAT: Boca Grande's "World's Richest" Tarpon Tournament.

WHEN: July 11-12.

WHERE: Boca Grande Pass and surrounding areas. Call (941) 964-0568.

PRIZES: $250,000 worth of prizes and merchandise.

* * *

WHAT: 67th annual Suncoast Tarpon Roundup.

WHEN: Saturday-July 28.

WHERE: From New Pass in Sarasota to Anclote River and all adjacent inland waters. Call (727) 344-6400.

PRIZES: $100,000 in cash and awards. In addition, a $35,000 Sabalo Classic fishing boat will awarded on the final day.

* * *

WHAT: Millers Marina's Mega Money Tarpon Tournament.

WHEN: July 8-9.

WHERE: Millers Marina, Boca Grande. Call (941) 964-8080.

PRIZES: $1-million in cash prizes is planned.

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