If I EVER had any doubts about how absolutely maddening tarpon can be at times, those doubts unquestionably were dispelled last week.
To set the stage, you must understand that Steve Sendek and his 23-year-old son, Stosh, drove back to Florida with me after I got Kate, Heart and Tug more-or-less settled into the backwoods life that is Deward. I have to take them north since neither wife nor setters are very excited about sharing my Tarpon Time schedule of “Up At 4, Sleep at 7” routine.
Steve grew up fishing, hunting and trapping in the far northwestern reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In fact, I wrote about that in my book Ghost! Field Journal of A Bird Dog—which, I’m very happy to report, reached number one on Amazon’s list of Hot New Releases in Nature Writing, and remains in the Top 10.
But, back to the subject. Steve is a fisheries biologist for Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources, and is an excellent angler with both fly and conventional tackle. Skills which he passed on to Stosh (short for Steven Stanislaus) and his other sons, Alex and Nick.
So, it was exceptionally frustrating for everyone that myriad tarpon cruising the barrier islands totally ignored their offerings of fly, fish and crab for six consecutive days. I mean to tell you, those fish either were scarce or fasting.
Oh, Stosh did have a bump early on the first morning, but being new to this game he was expecting a strike similar to a Buick smacking a brick wall. The “bump-bump” didn’t register until it was far, far too late. The guys also caught some shark, yellowtail, and a bunch of snook under the lights, but tarpon remained the ultimate—yet elusive--challenge.
Mike Hande’s initial experience with tarpon was pretty identical. He had a day booked with me while Steve and Stosh were here, so they fished with a friend of mine, Capt. Shane Smetak, while Mike spent Tuesday morning with me.
And what a boring morning it was! For everyone. Finally a couple of small pods showed up around lunchtime—except they were just browsing the menu, so to speak, and weren’t actually interested in eating. Since we were the only ones hungry, everybody called it a day.
Mike NEEDED a Tarpon Fix, however. So, on Friday morning, a day after Steve and Stosh flew home, Mike again met me at the Higel Park boat ramp on the Island of Venice for another crack at the Silver King.
Well, we stopped the Yammie at 5:50 and forty minutes later I heard Mike say “Tarpon!” and simultaneously the swisssssh of fly line filled the air.
“OOOOOMPH!” I heard from Mike as the hook drove home. “CRASSSSSH!” I heard from the tarpon as the hook drove home. A geyser exploded thirty feet from the boat and a broad chrome body erupted from the aqua-green water. A few drops landed on my face, and I started forward to slip the anchor line in anticipation of a lengthy struggle between man and fish.
The tarpon—which I judged to be about 130 pounds—was exceptionally unhappy about the fact his breakfast had just given him a significant pain in the jaw. It reacted predictably, vaulting high-and-away like an errant fastball.
Mike, attached to the other end of the line, decided that perhaps he should “just make sure the tarpon was really hooked well” (at least, that was his rationalization later). So, he grasped the fleeing fly line like a drowning man seeking salvation. Alas, the fly line—and only part of the leader—survived.
Fish, fly, and a portion of twenty-pound class tippet were gone.
Later, over dinner, Mike tried vainly to salvage his pride by mentioning that he had “jarred my back pulling on the bow line this morning when we launched the boat. The muscle spasm when that happens shifts a couple of discs out of alignment. It makes me walk sideways, and I was worried about whether I’d even be able to cast.”
I wasn’t buying it. Neither was Mike’s wife, Lorrie. Sure, she clucked sympathetically, and made some “ooooooohing” noises, but her eyes were dancing and Mike knew he wasn’t going to float that weak stuff past either of us.
“Oh, well,” Mike said, “at least now I know what it’s like to hook a tarpon on fly tackle. When I come back—and I WILL—it’ll be a different story. But I have a whole year to re-live this morning in my mind. Over and over and over.”
Lorrie and I simply smiled.
Tight Loops Flyfishing
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