Capt. Mark Bennett tagged and released more adult tarpon than anyone in the world over a three-year period starting in 2009 when he tagged 147 tarpon in one season. In 2010, he tagged 148 and in 2011, he tagged a whopping 165.
Since then a rift with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute caused Bennett to cease his volunteer efforts. The FWRI had endorsed a tournament series that Bennett calls, "undeniably the No. 1 greatest threat to the health of the Florida tarpon fishery."
"I honestly thought the research they were doing was meant to help tarpon, not kill them," Bennett said.
Capt. Mark Bennett
Every weekend in May and June on Boca Grande, the PTTS series with jig fishing gear kills just about every tarpon weighed, he said.
"They drag the tarpon all the way to the beach to be weighed and photographed," Bennett said. "The FWRI and FWC are there DNA sampling the fish that come in to the scale. They also stand around while the tournament officials slit the bellies and pop the eyes of the tarpon that are already dead or are too exhausted to make it. This is done so there are less dead fish floating on the surface the next day."
Most fish weighed are the largest females the FWRI estimates can be 40 to 50 years old.
Mark Bennett at a glance
Birthdate: April 4, 1969
Occupation: full-time fishing guide since 1992, light-tackle specialist. Books 4-, 6-, and 8-hour backcountry fishing charters September through April and tarpon fishing charters April through October for up to four passengers aboard his 24-foot custom center console or 16-foot Silver King flats skiff. All licenses and top-notch tackle provided.
Contact: (941) 474-8900
Hometown: Tarpon Springs
Residence: Port Charlotte
Family: married 19 years
Education: Newport Richey High School
Discovered Boca Grande: When I was a kid, seeing it on TV. The first thing I remember about Boca Grande was Bill Dance did his fishing show here on Boca Grande tarpon with Charlie Reynolds. From that point I wanted to fish on Boca Grande.
"The damage to the tarpon fishery can not be undone in many lifetimes," he said. "This affects tarpon populations all over the state, not just Boca Grande."
Read on to learn more about Capt. Bennett.
QUESTION: How has business been this season?
ANSWER: Awesome. Just been busy, like usual. We fished every single day up to about (mid-August). I've been in business since 1992 and spring tarpon season-wise it's been busy for a lot of years.
Q: What must be done to protect the tarpon?
A: To be honest I don't know what must be done with that. Obviously the big thing going around is the way the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series handles the tarpon. I don't know if (the Florida Wildlife Commission) can stop that. People need to have more respect for the fish and the fishermen in Boca Grande Pass. If they can do something about dragging those fish and weighing them and killing them I think that would make a big difference.
Q: How did you get into being a fishing guide?
A: That was kind of funny. I played guitar in a rock-and-roll band growing up. I was in between bands and had a part-time job at a boat and fishing tackle place. People used to come in there all the time asking who to go fishing with.
Twenty years ago there weren't that many guides compared to now. I came to think I could buy a new boat if I had a captain's license. One day on the very last day in May when snook season opened, a guy came in the store and asked us to go fishing with him at night. Once on the water, I could tell right away this guy didn't know what he was doing. All this stuff he was doing was real odd. That night I told my wife I had an idea. And that was how it started. Three years later I quit playing in the rock-and-roll band because it was a headache. I was taking a lot of people out and ended going full-time as a guide. I really didn't plan on being a fishing guide.
Q: How has fishing been this year?
A: Tarpon fishing is different and this year we had a lot of challenging weather. The fish move differently than they used to. It's always going to be different year to year but patterns have drastically changed the last five to six years.
Q: Where do you tend to fish?
A: Everywhere. I fish from Captiva Island north to Venice Pier is generally my region and up in the harbor all the way up to the rivers.
Q: Who are the guides you respect the most and why?
A: Capt. Bobby Buswell used to run the Little Tiger at Uncle Henry's Marina on Boca Grande. He chartered for more than 53 years. When it comes to beach fishing he was the best without a doubt. Capt. Scott Moore, I've always had a ton of respect for, too.
Q: What makes for a good guide?
A: Somebody with a lot of patience who really, really loves to fish and entertain and teach people. That's what makes a good guide.
Q: What is the biggest bugaboo for a guide from guests?
A: I do eliminate the drinking too much from the start. People can have a beer or two but if they show up with a 12-pack in each hand I make them put it back in the car. If they are looking for a booze cruise, I tell them to look elsewhere. It's not a party boat. We're out big-game fishing.
A lot of people don't respect the boat or equipment because they don't know how much it costs. It's just part of the business. It's nothing to complain about.
Q: Ever watch fishing shows?
A: Not really too much. I watch more hunting.
Q: What's the biggest fish you've ever landed?
A: Personally, my biggest ever was a 300-poud bull shark in Charlotte Harbor when tarpon fishing. He hit a crab of all things. I thought it was a tarpon that wouldn't jump. Biggest tarpon we caught that we measured was 200 pounds (video on U-Tube).