All That Glitters
Putting this issue together, we pondered: Is it too much tarpon? But we already knew the answer. There’s no such thing, once you get the bug. If you don’t already have it, we’re trying to give it to you this month.
There are two kinds of fishermen: those who are crazy about tarpon and those who aren’t — yet. Once you’ve been part of the unimaginable drama and excitement, felt the power at the end of the line, and watched a fish nearly as big as you take to the air, rattling its gill plates, you realize one tarpon is not enough. If you haven’t been there yet, we’re betting you’d like to be.
It’s often said that dolphin are the perfect game fish, but about all they have over tarpon is they’re good to eat. Tarpon aren’t, which has been their salvation over the years.
As well, you’re not going to catch dolphin without traveling to blue water. But you don’t need to go far to find tarpon.
Hunting them is as simple and affordable, or as challenging and expensive, as you desire. It matters little if your means of conveyance is a big sport-fisher, a sleek flats skiff, a bicycle, or a pair of tennis shoes.
Anyone so disposed can pursue tarpon, whether from a canoe, on foot, from a bridge or pier, or in the surf. With enough time, money and honed skills, you can hunt giants on the flats with a fly rod, a team sport where the person on the poling platform and the angler focus their combined skills. Or you can soak a mullet or drift a crab in a channel on modest spinning tackle.
The results are largely the same.
Tarpon, a welldesigned feeding machine, are suckers for a range of baits and lures. Whether they’ve sucked in a perfectly presented streamer fly, chased down a soft-plastic bait, or picked up a mullet head off the bottom, they always do their part. They go ballistic when you hook them, providing one of the most visual and spectacular fights in salt water.
Then there’s the nerve thing: staying calm and keeping your knees from shaking while a line of huge fish tracks through clear water, moving into casting range. Or trying to maintain a steady retrieve as a big underslung jaw rises from the depths with your lure in its sights.
I’ve been fortunate — or driven — to have fished tarpon in a lot settings: the mangrove islands of Ascension Bay in Mexico, in 60 feet of water off the river mouths of Caribbean Costa Rica, on the lonesome flats off the coast of Cuba, the endless Great Bahama Bank where they tailed like bonefish over white sand, off Miami Beach, in the Gulf Coast passes, in the residential canals of South Florida with live bait, the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys and the Florida Bay backcountry.
Whether tarpon come at you in triple-digit sizes or the sporty miniatures, they share the same fighting spirit, the propensity to put on a show and put anglers to the test. No matter where you find them, or how large or small on the end of the line, they all have the same heart.
Even the tarpon you don’t land stay with you: the sudden and always startling image of a spectacular silver fish hung against the sky, or the memory of the backcountry at daybreak, the only sound parting the stillness the huff of tarpon rolling on the surface, 100 or 200 yards away. Or just off your bow.
Whether you’re an old hand at the game or a newcomer to the pursuit of this special quarry, it’s spring. Time to get your tarpon on.
It matters little if your conveyance is a big sport-fisher, a sleek flats skiff, a bicycle, or a pair of tennis shoes.