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I was never really taken by tarpon fishing. I've done it a few times and caught a few tarpon, but never felt the thrill that I see people get from fishing for these fish.
I was never really taken by tarpon fishing. I've done it a few times and caught a few tarpon, but never felt the thrill that I see people get from fishing for these fish. Even watching videos I find the whole style and atmosphere a bit too hectic almost frantic. The heavy gear, violent strikes, long fights and often hard-handed handling of the fish when it's landed is way too much for my taste.
The fishing for tarpon seems to me to be 70% boredom, 20% disappointment and frustration and 10% crazy excitement and eclectic happiness.
I have been poled around enough in in the Caribbean looking for rolling tarpon or dark shadows over bright bottom to know that endless and futile hours can be spent like that. Once the fish are spotted the mood changes to overdrive. The boat has to be placed, the fly has to be placed, and the fish has to take. It's exciting, but can also be frustrating.
Nine out of ten times the fish won't take, but when it takes, all hell breaks loose.
You have to set the fly, and it's violent to say the least.
The fish jumps manically and starts running.
It's a tug of war.
The risk of loosing it is high.
Maybe you land it, maybe you don't.
And then it's back to scouting again as the sun rises and blisters on hands and feet do the same.
The tarpon I remember was caught after such a day of scouting.
I was fishing with my friend Kim, and we had started in the morning as you do, before sunup, which is pretty exactly at 6 am in the Caribbean close to equator.
On a tarpon boat there will typically only be one active angler at the time. So with two guys on the boat, one would have the rod and be ready standing in the front of the boat, while the other would be waiting for his turn. Turns would change when a fish was hooked. Lost or landed, the hooking was the trigger.
After several hours of sailing and scouting we had seen nothing. Kim had been standing in the bow waiting for a fish to show, but none had been seen. So you can imagine that I was somewhat bored. Since we had seen no fish, there had been no fish to cast to and as a result not much had happened. Kim had been the most active and I had basically been passive all morning.
I never understood this way of doing things. Why not set the clock? Change after 30 minutes or a hooked fish.
So when the guide suggested that we should go into the mangrove and look for babies, I was all over it. Babies or baby tarpon are smaller fish, which will probably seem pretty large to most.
We sailed into the mangroves, and in a wide channel the water was leaving, a steady tidal current pulling out silt and mud, giving the water that hazy, brownish color that meant that fish weren't as weary as they usually are in the clear, tropical water.
And there was fish. Tarpon in the 5-10 lbs range were swimming with and against the current in pairs and schools of maybe 5-10 fish.
Kim was still first on the rod since he hadn't hooked anything all morning. I remember that he armed himself with a Burkheimer rod. A 9 or 10 weight probably.
He laid out one cast to a fish approaching the boat. Kim is both a good caster and an experienced tarpon angler, so the fly landed perfectly and the fish took it right away.
I imagine that Kim had built quite a lot of frustration bordering on rage during the fishless morning, because as the fish inhaled the fly, he struck. He stripped the line hard, and lifted the rod and pulled extremely hard a couple of times as you are supposed to do when a tarpon takes.
The rod broke in three pieces with a surprisingly loud crack. Kim almost fell off the boat, and the Burkheimer rod was useless.
Bad for Kim, but good for me, because broken rod or not, Kim had had a hookup, and it was now my turn to fish. So I armed myself with a 9 weight rod and a small epoxied, green and white fly.
The rod broke in three pieces with a surprisingly loud crack.
The fish were approaching in dozens and I could cast almost anywhere and it would land in front of a fish.
Well, I'm neither a great caster nor an experienced tarpon angler, so my first few casts missed completely, doing no good, but no harm either. No fish moved at all.
Well, cast closer then, and so I did.
Now the fish moved, but in panic, spooked by my clumsy casts right over their heads and flies landing literally on them.
So I had now tried probably eight or ten times, cast to fish perfectly within casting range and approaching the boat in perfect angles... and failed miserably.
Practice makes perfect, and on the next cast a fish moved for the fly. I struck, and nothing. OK, another cast and another fish attracted and me missing the strike again. I think I managed to try to present my fly at least 14 or 15 times before I finally hooked a tarpon, so unlike Kim who hadn't laid out a cast all morning and when he finally did, broke a rod, I got tonnes of action with many casts, several takes and a good hookup followed by a great fight. A tarpon in the 10 lbs class on a 9 weight is more fun than staring at a guy staring at the water from the stern of a boat.
Jumps and runs ensued and after a few minutes I could land my tarpon, have a few nice pictures taken and release it again.
We took turns from there and each landed several babies before going back in the afternoon. I'll take an hour or two hunting baby tarpon in a mangrove channel over a full day of scouting for the big guys in the open ocean any day.