Tarpon fishing and foolish are often close companions. Or perhaps stubbornness. Or perhaps profligacy. Whatever the word, it's not one you would be well served in calling your boss, your wife, or whichever god you pray to -- if you pray to a god other than the silver king.
We've been going to Boca Grande, Florida ever since our uncle bought a house down there. As the so-called "Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World," this was both excellent and vexing news: I was long on places to crash, and short on excuses.
While my first trip started off with a bang -- an 80-90 lber on my first day -- I was reminded of the long karmic cycles that one endures with fish like tarpon or Atlantic salmon. You catch one, and you often wait for such a duration for your next hookup that you may well be able measure it on a geological timeframe. I'm not sure, because I've been too fixated on catching another tarpon.
In the intervening years, a few things have happened: We had a terrible lightning storm one year, which seemed to push the tarpon off-shore; we had hook-ups and just as many pop-offs; we had family issues with prevented trips; and we had follows which were followed by refusals. In the end, that brought the score to 1 -- face-saving, sure, but not inspiring.
In advance of this year's trip, it felt like things slowly fell into place. We tried a new guide --- Zeke Sieglaff, who turned out be a great match. The weather forecast looked good: solid hot temps, with no rain or lightning forecast. And the tarpon were in -- and in in solid numbers.
Our first morning, we rode out across the pass before first light. With the sun first touching the water, we found rising, breathing, daisy-chaining happy tarpon -- just like it was scripted. After half a dozen casts, I had one eat, but it was swimming right at the boat, and it was a short take. That was according to Zeke. I was too busy replacing my shorts to notice.
And that, folks, was my best look for the entire day.
This seemed to be a pattern: they would bite and. be happy early and then, when the flotilla of boats came out, they went down. So we bided our time.
On the second day, my step-dad caught one on a soft-plastic white Hogy. It was his first, and well earned after he wore the tape down on every tarpon YouTube video out there.
On the third day, we found tarpon scattered on some flats. After three days of casting, one came 20 feet from the boy, facing away from us. I cast into the bubbles, let it fall, and, with the force of a rocket taking off, I was on.
This was great: I saw the eat at close range. And it was terrifying: I had all of my line on the deck and in the stripping basket, which was flying out at lighting speed. The line cleared, and I was tight to my Abel SDS.
Many jumps, many rolls, and too many breaths on the part of the tarpon and too few on my part, and the fish was next to the boat -- massive scales, glistening tank of a side, laundry hamper mouth, a dinosaur of a fish. And then, it popped off.
A caught fish? You debate it. But all I know is: I'm going back.
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