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93-pound tarpon tops tournament

Mark Futch catches the winner early, hoping it will stand for the two-day event. Another team loses its gamble.

By BOB PUTNAM

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 14, 2000


BOCA GRANDE -- Mark Futch caught a 93-pound tarpon Wednesday to lead after the first day of the World's Richest Tarpon Tournament in Boca Grande.

But Futch was worried.

Although his team was in the lead, the captain of the Sitarah knew the fish was small. Last year's winner was 61 pounds heavier, and one day was left in the tournament.

In the end, he had nothing to worry about.

The 93-pounder remained the leader Thursday, and Futch and his team won the two-day tournament, collecting $100,000 for first place.

Their winning fish was the smallest in the tournament's 10 years.

"Yeah, the fish was small, but shoot, we'll take it," Futch said.

It was the second time Futch won the tournament and the third time his mate, Jeff Totten, was a member of the winning team. Other memberswere anglers Richard Sweatt, James Brown, Cecil Martin and leader Brad Kelley.

Futch and his team did a lot of work to catch a small fish. After scouting a spot in the hole in Boca Bay on Wednesday, Futch and the other members camped for three hours. They had one bite and struck out. Then around 1 p.m., they worked on boating what would be the winning fish.

"It didn't take long to reel him in," Futch said. "It was only about 10 minutes. But we worked finding a spot and getting him in there. We wanted him in that boat."

After weigh-ins Wednesday, Futch's team was in the lead. But it had no time to relax.

"Heck, we were sweating big time," he said. "That's too small of a fish to feel comfortable."

The team started to panic Thursday, especially during the last half-hour. That's when the tide started to roll out, a prime time to catch fish.

But the fish reeled in by others were consideably smaller.

There wasn't a fish to challenge Futch's until the final hour. The members of the Had 'Em got a bite shortly before 2 and reeled in a sizeable tarpon. But by the looks of it, team angler Ray Steinher said, it was roughly 40-50 pounds and he thought they could do better.

They released the fish because it was guaranteed third place. If they had weighed it in, they wouldn't have been able to challenge for first.

The move didn't pay off the way the team hoped. If they had weighed in the fish, they would have finished second. The Had 'Em team had to settle for third, which is awarded to the team with the most releases. They had one.

There was no second-place finisher, so the $40,000 pot rolls over for next year.

Other members of the Had 'Em team were leader Mark Nagle and captain Buster Herzog. They won $25,000.

"We played the odds, and we ended up winning some money," Steinher said. "So it wasn't bad. Across the board the fish were small, but that's just the way a tournament is sometimes. Heck, in 1993 I lost by 9 ounces and the winner had a 150-pound fish. Every year it's different. So the fish were small, big deal. Big fish, little fish, it's the fun of competition that matters."

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