Tarpon Tournament


 "Ding" Darling & Doc Ford's Tarpon Tournament

‘Ding’ tarpon tournament surpasses $1M
in 10th year

Stay tuned for news of our 11th annual tournament on Friday, May 19, 2023

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 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 Silver King Awards ceremony took place at the Fort Myers Beach location. 

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 Herald 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 awards, 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.” 

Keep the tarpon tournament fundraising going and DOUBLE your donation. 

Thanks to Refuge volunteers and donors Bill & Laurie Harkey for matching dollar-for-dollar all new gifts in support of the 10th anniversary of the “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tournament. For every dollar you contribute now through July 1, 2022, they will match it 1:1 in support of water quality and wildlife research, conservation efforts and education. DOUBLE your impact! Call 239-472-1100 ext. 4 to support or visit the DONATE page  and indicate TOURNEY in the notes to have your contribution doubled. 

Click HERE for images of the 2022 tournament.

For questions regarding the tournament or interest in becoming a sponsor, please contact April Boehnen at 239-472-1100 ext.256