Tarpon season ended for me a little early, two days to be exact.
The flies were tied, the room arranged and the truck full of rods
for a departure the next morning when our trusty guide, Steve,
called and cancelled for lack of clear water or fish. He went
home and ended the season that had one of his customers
catching the largest ever tarpon on a fly; 202 pounds. Tarpon
are doing their thing along the west Florida coast from March
to August only and we had tried to squeeze in one last effort.
With all that prep we could not just sit and cry and instead loaded
up my little Hobie Skiff and went out for a look in the big ocean
for some fun. Fish are here in droves this fifth year of the net
ban enacted to restore the fishery. Bluefish, Little tuna, dolphin,
tuna, bonita, spanish mackeral, ladyfish, king mackeral and even
sailfish are passing by or feeding in our waters when the water
is above 80 degrees. It is 85 right now and it is a crowded ocean.
It is estimated that 400,000 tarpon go by too, but we have no flats
to spot them over so fly-fishing is tough. The rest of the fish can
be found by seeing them busting up the surface chasing food.
This day the sky was overcast and it was actually in the low 70s
temperature wise. The later is rare in our summers. Also, there
was zero wind and no waves. The water was oily looking, as
the sun did not light up the depths.
The first stop was just off the jetties outside the pass. Nothing
was biting there except some small jacks with very sharp fins
called 'leatherbacks.' A tiny prick with the top or bottom fin is
very quickly a big pain. Unc, my partner of great skill, brought
on a couple while I handled the boat in the tidal flow. He had
his hand stinging with the second one and because I was smirking,
he bounced the next one into my leg for a full fin of pricks so I
could experience the fun too.
We did not find the two-foot-long ladyfish I had a ball with last
week so we started looking for other fish by paralleling the coast
about a half-mile out. When we are looking we use a fly-fishing
technique we call "seldom cast and very slow retrieve." It looks
just like trolling with a fly rod but we would never admit to doing
that. It did not take long for the rod in my hand to be almost
jerked out of my lap. I was still the designated driver since it
was my boat. I got the boat stopped but the fish was still
stripping line at a most rapid rate. The reel I was using today
has the drag on the same side as the handle and if not careful
you can get a broken finger trying to get in to tighten it up.
When I got it cranked down the fish was about two hundred
yards out and still pulling hard. Reeling it in was a task itself
but with Unc complaining of wasted fishing time it became a chore.
It ended up being a "false albacore" so famous on the East Coast.
They are little tuna that have little food value but give a tremendous
fight. They will run long at first and then go again when they see
how ugly we are in the boat. Finally, they often go to the bottom
and it was 60 feet deep where we were. They fight all the way
up and for only about six or seven pounds, put on a fine show.
This one got a kiss and was sent back.
Unc had one on before we even got going again. We still had
not seen any on the top of the water to throw at. His came in
easier as he had the drag tight and the fish did not get as close
to the Panama Canal as mine had. We started again and both
got hits at the same time. The fight gets real confusing with both
fish up close going in opposite direction circles around the boat.
The boat is only 15 feet long and we both cast a wide shadow.
The trick was to not end up on the same side of the boat at the
Finally, the day got brighter and the fish started busting up the
surface. Turtles were passing by, as were sharks in great numbers.
The fish kept hitting and we were starting to discuss if someone
could get tired of this.
About that time my reel "blew up." The handle almost came off
and the rod screamed when heavy pressure was put on. I had to
bring in the fish with the old trout technique of stripping line in.
This does not work with heavy fast fish and the "razor cut" lines
I use. These are hard slick lines with laser etching to make it
more slippery through the guides. It can cut like a band saw.
We caught between 30 and 40 various kinds of these tuna and
also got several Spanish mackerel. They are smaller and don't
fight as hard, but they are real pretty to look at and have teeth
like a barracuda. Unc was trying for Kings and had a wire leader
most of the day. I lost some fish by using only mono leaders.
When noon came along we were being chased by a little rain
and ran in ahead of it. We did stop once when we saw fish
in the bay busting the surface and Unc hooked a nice little
bluefish to end the day.
Hard to believe we can do this at a drop of a hat but that is
what summer is like down here in North Florida. Often the
wind and waves will preclude the use of the little boat and
we have to dig up a friend with more boat. Most of the guys
here work harder than I do with regular hours so we end up
doing this less than I want to. I can't wait for the net ban to
really take hold and everybody to retire. Look out fish!
~ Scud Yates