A late update to my last post.
We arrived in Miami and for a couple of days all I could think of was ditching everyone including my fiance and getting down to the Keys to look for some Tarpon. I had fished in Florida on 3 other trips and had caught snook, redfish, Jacks, spotted trout, and other junk fish, but the Tarpon proved to be very elusive. Perhaps the fourth trip would do the trick?
I was lucky to meet up with a forum member that took me and a friend of his out for an evening of casting for Tarpon. He assured me that I could cast as much as I wanted, but the action wouldn't usually start until "the sun hit those mangroves out west".
We started hearing the 'boil' of fish feeding nearby and the anticipation was mind numbing. All I could think of was not messing up, and a lifetime of possible pleasant memories to fall asleep to.
After a while I got my first tug, and missed the hook set.
Too quick on the set...
Perhaps a half hour later I got a real hookup but it felt like a little head shaking Jack Crevalle. As soon as I had dismissed it as a small fish and started pulling line, I experienced more weight at the end of my line than I had ever felt. My 11wt was doubled in half, creaking, drag was screaming, as I could barely make out the silhouette of a perhaps 4-5 foot Tarpon launching like a rocket in the distance.
Several long runs and getting the boat free from the anchor, and we were making progress. The 'silver king' was now running perpendicular instead of taking line and I started to relax into the fight about half an hour in. I committed to bringing the fish in with more force, and SNAP!!! leader broken... never got the fish closer than about 50 feet. Silly noob... I had used a leader with a 40lb. breakaway section to prevent losing a fly line. Not that smooth yet! My heart was racing, my forearms trembling, my mind repeating over and over "what could I have done better?!"
My kind and patient host implored me to "go with straight 80 mono"
I balked... "what If I get spooled, that line is expensive!"
He calmly enforced logic... "when is the next time you're gonna get to fight a fish like that? Gotta stack the odds in your favor and take the risk!!!"
A new 8 foot chunk of 80lb. mono, and the heaviest leader I had ever used was ready to go.
In the interim, our host's friend Al hooks and fights a decent (small they say) fish of maybe 70 lbs. and somewhat smoothly brings it boatside. It was my first time seeing one so close. Like a chiseled hunk of ice in the light. Such beautiful colors and intense eyes. I was instantly happy for Al, jealous that I had lost mine, and fearful that I had blown my chance! They assured me that there was plenty of tide left, and that I should still get a chance.
Al crumpled into a heap in the corner of the boat, beat from the fight. "Next one is all yours!" he said
Shortly after, I got another bite. This time I remember to pause a split second and let the fish come tight before whacking him really hard with a quick strip set. FISH ON!!!
All heck proceeded to break loose at that point. The fish ran toward the anchor line before we could cut loose. It took the line at a sharp angle past the rope. I was sure the line would abrade apart and the small giant would be gone. A little less tension, and some help from my friends, and miraculously the fly line came clear of the anchor rope as we cut loose.
This fish never ran very far, but instead played head games with me near the boat for about 45 minutes. I must have taken 12-15 laps around the center console as she kept diving under the boat in circles, threatening to break my seldom used 11wt by tapping it against the gunwales under intense load. We managed to keep her close (I say her because the bigguns are females... I could be wrong, it wasn't huge by tarpon standards, but it makes a fond memory).
We eventually backed the fish to the side of the boat. J donned gloves to handle the leader, Al grabbed the camera, I just froze! It was an official catch with the leader held. I attempted to put my hands around the tail to stabilize the fish while J pulled the fly, and SNAP! she was gone... a mesmerizing success. I can palm a basketball, but I couldn't get my fingers from both hands together around the tail.
We cautiously estimated at 4' plus, maybe 80lb.
J at the release
In the next few days we saw many Tarpon cruising during the daytime from 'Stand-up-Paddleboards' near where we were staying.
You could spend all afternoon trying to paddle to the boils and shadows, only to find them gone. Once I sat on the board to change flies and take in the view and looked over and saw a 3-4' Tarpon within arms reach. Head games they play! As soon as I stopped casting and relaxed, he'd come to check out the paddle board. I tried to lower a fly toward his face, but he was gone in a moment.
We also saw what looked like 'resident' tarpon in the canal/marina area we were staying next to. A group of 4-5 large juveniles, all greater than 3 feet but still slender. The largest maybe 4 feet. One afternoon I found one layed up still in 3-4 feet of water. I slowly paddled with 30-40 feet. grabbed the rod, and gently lay a minnow pattern a few feet in front of its face.
He slowly twitched toward the fly without moving.
He started slowly moving toward the fly (my heart pounding loud enough to hear it!)
strip strip strip
BAM!!! The fish ate and launched a few feet in the air, and was gone in an instant. I pulled back a very deformed and undersized hook. Should have used something larger.
I was very proud of getting a daytime eat from a first cast, a little bummed to miss the hookup with the small soft hook I had intended for snook or cudas.
Our friends pointed out
"what would you have done if you actually hook him?"
I would have found out, that's what! Back in the wider part of the canal area it was deep, he probably would have dragged me around on that board for an hour or more... Maybe someday invent a new sport, SUP tarpon fishing! Probably end up in Cuba, but oh well.
Long story short, we're moving to NC and I'm getting a boat so I can do this as much as possible!!!
Now If I can only fool a Permit...