The 12th annual “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament raised $125,000 for conservation and water quality research at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. The sold-out May 10 tourney, which traditionally marks the beginning of Southwest Florida’s prime two-month silver king season, attracted 60 teams and 245 anglers vying for yearly bragging rights and over $62,000 in cash prizes.

Salt Rock’s Jason Capra, Cody Chivas, Caleb Dumas, Peter Frederiksen and Brian Timmons landed six tarpons, winning first place and $28,080. Also catching six silver kings was SP Designs, claiming second place and $15,600. Additional cash winners included: (3) Sea Reaper Sportfishing, $9,360, (4) TowBoatU.S., $6,260 and (5) Tarpon Travelers, $3,120. Awards were also presented to amateur team Maastricht Engineering/Windows Plus, female angler Jasmine Constantine of TowBoatU.S. and senior angler Phil Pica of SP Designs.

The tournament is the first of its kind benefiting conservation and presenting 100% of all entry fee proceeds to winners. Founded by Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, the competition has raised nearly $1.3 million since its inception in 2012, supporting the 6,470-acre national refuge, part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the U.S. and world-famous for its migratory bird populations and bird-watching opportunities. Occupying one-third of Sanibel – the location of Doc Ford’s first restaurant – more than 40% of the refuge is congressionally designated wilderness. It’s also the site of the first tarpon caught by rod and reel.

“We thank this year’s anglers, our many event sponsors and donors who continue to make the annual tournament a successful fundraiser for the wildlife refuge,” said Joe Harrity, a partner with HM Restaurant Group, the parent company of Doc Ford’s and Dixie Fish Company. “Since the 1940s, this special place has symbolized local and national efforts to protect and enhance critical wildlife habitat while addressing present-day and future concerns for conservation, education and water and wildlife research. Money raised from the tournament has a meaningful impact in our community.”

Doc Ford’s restaurants fielded three teams, including Harrity’s 13th-place finishing Doc Ford’s team, plus Doc Ford’s Jungle Terrace from St. Petersburg, which landed the No. 20 spot, and Doc Ford’s Fischer Queens.

This year’s tournament also attracted 27 senior anglers, 30 women and 11 amateur teams, all angling for the silver king, a prized game fish revered for its powerful, often acrobatic fight. Twenty-three teams caught 47 tarpon.

Nearly $440,000 has been awarded to top finishers during the 12-year history of the competition, launched to support local professional fishing guides and make anglers part of conservation efforts through education.

The 13th annual “Ding” Darling & Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament is May 9, 2025. Sponsorship opportunities are available by emailing April Broehnen at [email protected].

A special thank you to 2024 champion sponsor Gretchen Banks, premier sponsor the Szymanczyk family and presenting sponsors Bill and Laurie Harkey, Captiva Divas and the law office of Christopher G. Hill. Platinum sponsors included Captain Shawn Kelly Fishing Charters, Cerveza Pacifico Clara, Custom Tees Now, David and Judy Baum, Diversified Yacht Services, Drift West Outdoor Adventures, Organized Chaos, Sanibel Captiva Community Bank and Whitney’s Bait & Tackle. Gold sponsors were Anisa Ocean Inspired Jewelry, Bay Marine, Calusa Waterkeeper, Capt. Matt Mitchell, Congress Jewelers, Fort Myers Marine, Hightower, Pfeifer Realty Group, Sanibel Marina, Stewart Island Construction, SP Designs, Trophy Case of Fort Myers and Walsh Landscaping. Silver sponsors included Captiva Spirits, the law office of Janet M. Strickland and Lyndon’s Bricks & Stones.

Committed to conservation, community and the environment, HM Restaurant Group supports a number of other Sanibel nonprofit organizations, including F.I.S.H. of SANCAP, Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and Sanibel CARES. The company also raises money for children’s hospitals in Fort Myers and St. Petersburg through sales of designated drinks at Doc Ford’s. It recently partnered with Captains For Clean Water to donate $1 from every Send It South cocktails sold at Doc Ford’s and Dixie Fish Company to the nonprofit organization.

HM Restaurant Group owns and operates Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille ( and Dixie Fish Company ( on Fort Myers Beach. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., the restaurants are renowned for delivering a legendary guest experience.

With four locations, including Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and two in St. Petersburg, award-winning Doc Ford’s offers food with a unique balance of flavors inspired by the Caribbean Rim. Beloved for its sauces, spices and signature Yucatan shrimp served daily, it’s highly regarded by locals and visitors alike as a spectacular seafood restaurant. Doc Ford’s is a perennial Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice winner. The St. Petersburg Pier restaurant was named the No. 1 restaurant for Best of the Best Restaurants for Everyday Eats in 2023.