Getting a Mug Shot of a Tarpon E-mail
Friday, 16 October 2009 18:18

The first time I ran into tarpon was when Joey and I went to Puerto Rico.  Joey was about 50 yards away when I saw a tarpon explode out of the water.  I yelled to see if he saw it and he said it was on the end of his line.  He was amazed how much line the fish peeled from his reel in an instant.  Unfortunately the tarpon didn’t cooperate the rest of the trip.

Tarpon self shot

The next shot I had at a tarpon was on a quickie trip to the Keys.  Again Joey was my coconspirator and we were wade fishing near Marathon catching barracuda.  A 5’ tarpon swam up near where I was standing but I couldn’t entice it.

The next shot I had was fishing the Barron River in Everglades City in December one late night or very early morning, whatever one wants to call it.  I decided to make a couple casts from shore to see how the no-see-ums were and on my second cast I hooked a tarpon that summarily threw the hook.  I launched and within 10 minutes I hooked another one and had it at the side of the kayak.  I wanted to get a pic and while I fumbled with the lip gripper attempting to get it on the fish it jumped in my lap.  The hook came loose and the tarpon jumped again and landed in the water.

There’s a spot on the Gordon River in Naples that has tarpon in it year round.  It’s a side lake about 7’ deep.  So I launched at a public ramp down river and worked my way up to it.  Tarpon were rolling periodically and occasionally smashed into the mullet schools.  They ignored my lures so I decided to head back into the main river, as there were thick schools of mullet there, and procure one.  It took a while but I finally snagged a 14” mullet.  It was bigger then I wanted but I put it on a bait runner outfit and returned to the lake.  Still the tarpon ignored it.  Then I got a runoff that headed towards the mangroves.  Not typical tarpon behavior.  There’s also big snook in the area and I figured it was one.  The fish didn’t act like it had swallowed the mullet but it was my only bait and I didn’t want the fish to get into the tangled mangrove roots where I’d surely loose both the mullet and my hook.  So I slowly reeled in and the fish came with it.  When I got a look at the fish I was surprised to see a very big redfish.  It was over 3’ long.  As I suspected it hadn’t swallowed the mullet and when it saw me it took off.  I spent another half hour attempting to catch one of the tarpon in the lake.  They still were having nothing to do with me so I decided to start working my way back to the launch, which was 2 miles away.   I trolled the mullet on a short line and cast as I pedaled along.  As I hit the main bay there was a series of docks that sectioned off a cove.  Pete, who worked at the local tackle store had just walked out with a fly rod and made a cast.  There was quite a blowup and he yelled to me asking if I heard it.  I sure did.  Pete said it was 4 very large snook.  We talked a bit and then he got a horrendous tangle in his fly line so while he worked on getting it out I went around the docks into the cove with my kayak.  I was still towing the mullet.  As I cruised in a tarpon passed me.  I threw some casts to it but it disappeared.  I worked the mangroves with my lure hoping to entice a snook but they weren’t happening so I decided to leave the cove and be on my way.  As I neared the outlet of the cove there was a crash behind me near my mullet.  10 seconds later line started to peel from the reel.  I hit the handle to turn off the bait runner feature and a 40” tarpon leaped into the air 20’ away.  3 more jumps and 10 minutes later the fish was alongside the kayak.  It was a perplexing fight.  The fish was rarely out of site and the tackle I was using wasn’t very heavy.  I kept saying to Pete at some point the fish was going to go nuts.  There was over 100’ of dock it could have found freedom at.  My Hobie Revolution did allow me a lot of control and whenever the fish headed for the dock I maneuvered to put the kayak between the dock and the fish.  Still it was a big enough fish to have been able to easily show more.  The fish let me put the lip gripper on it and then Pete grabbed my camera.  As I lifted the fish from the water it used that reserve, I knew it had, and went nuts.  It gained its freedom and I missed yet another opportunity to get a photo.

I took a trip to the Dry Tortugas and hooked a few very large tarpon.  I didn’t get any to the kayak.  The longest I had one on for was about 20 minutes.  It gained its freedom when the snell of the hook came undone.


I met a couple guys out on one of the oyster bars in Chokoloskee Pass and they mentioned they had seen a bunch of tarpon by the Goodland Bridge.  So I hit the bridge a couple days later as it offered easy access to a spot where tarpon frequent.  In Chokoloskee I usually have to go out to the Gulf or at least the passes and that’s a minimum of a couple miles.  While at Goodland we’re talking a couple hundred yards.  So I launched and drifted some defrosted finger mullet.  I like using bait for tarpon, as they’re hard to hook and keep on.  I’ve found a large circle hook in the corner of the mouth is about as sure a connection as there is.  I kept getting run offs on the mullet and figured it was small fish.  I finally hooked one and the culprits turned out to be sailcat.  A type of catfish with long spiked fins.  The membrane between the spikes look like sails so hence the name.    It was about 15”, larger then I wanted for bait but it would do.  I trimmed the spikes off and put a 10/0 circle through the nostril.  I put the bait out on my heavy rod and drifted the channel.  It wasn’t even 10 minutes when I got a runoff.  When the fish paused I hit the lever on my Avet SX and a huge tarpon flew out of the water.  It was less then 50’ away and approximately 2’ from back to belly and easily over 6’ - probably in the neighborhood of 150 pounds.  Unfortunately the hook didn’t catch it as I watched the sailcat fly out of its mouth.  I fished the cat another couple hours without a hit.

I returned a couple days later and fished a few hours live lining a catfish and nada.  So I headed back but wasn’t ready to call it a day.  I went by one area but it was too windy.  Then I remembered a canal where I’d seen tarpon and someone had told me they frequent the area.  So I launched and went up with the incoming tide.  There were tarpon rolling everywhere but I was getting frustrated casting lures.  I decided to drag a 10” dead mullet but nothing touched it.  I must have seen a hundred tarpon roll.  All the fish were between 2-4’, the most sought after size.  Not to big and not to small.  As I was returning to the launch I got a run off.  I hit the lever on the Avet and the tarpon pictured here was on the other end.  Finally I got a picture of me with a tarpon, several years in the making.

 

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