As I get older and time passes, I find that there are certain memories I hope I never forget. There are always parts of every trip that stand out, the ones when you day dream about particular instances that you instantly go to.
When I think back to my recent trip to Florida with my son Jax, this is what I see, I open the door of the air conditioned room. The warm air hits and I feel the light breeze blowing . I walk to my car with fly rods in hand and smile, thinking, this is a top down kind of morning. With the convertible top down and fly rods extended out the back, we drive down the street of a sleeping fishing town. The only people up are the girl working the 24 hour convenient store or a flats guide trying to get a jump on the day.
Thanks to a friend, we had some local intel on a place we might be able to catch our first tarpon from shore. He had emailed me places to try from a boat but it was his last email that caught my attention! It started with, ” One more thing: if you guys really want to get gnarly”. That got me.
As we approached the bridge in the dark all we could see were eyes. The area only lit by street lights and the lights from our phones. I slowly scanned under the bridge, not knowing what I would find, I accidentally kicked an empty Corona bottle and the sound echoed under the bridge. All of which made it a little spooky.
After seeing it was all clear, we were able to get our first look at the water. Wow! The tarpon were feeding and if you have never seen tarpon feeding on mullet it is quite the sight to see. It is like nothing I have seen before. When the tarpon try to eat the mullet, the mullet spray into the air trying to escape their fate. This was all happening only feet from us. Perfect timing! It was an outgoing tide, not at the top or bottom but right in the middle of the drop. SO the tarpon were within casting distance.
My buddy sent me some tarpon flies and told me to try the purple. I cast out and let the fly swing below me then strip it back in. It wasn’t long before I felt my line go tight and just like every film I had seen about tarpon fishing, the fish explodes out of the water, taking out line. It jumped several times but came right back towards me. My concern was there were some huge tarpon rolling and there was no way to chase them from shore. Despite that fact, I was able to get the tarpon to shore four different times. It was as long as my leg and i’m guessing around 50-60 lbs. I had hoped Jax could grab it but it wasn’t that easy. I tried one last attempt to grab it myself but the leader was half way into the guides and when the tarpon took off again the leader knot caught on a guide and broke. My shot at retrieve that infamous tarpon scale eluded
me yet again.
Jax was up next. His attempt for one didn’t take long. Within minutes he was hooked up and just like mine, it jumped and ran. Jax kept the pressure on, bringing it to shore with it’s head against the rocks and yelled, “Grab it!” I thought, man mine went crazier than his, he got lucky. I lifted the fish out of the water and was shocked at what I found. Only half a fish. A bull shark had, in one bite, eaten half the tarpon. Jax’s eyes got huge and I think was more excited with what had just happened than if he had landed the live, whole tarpon. We snapped a few pictures in the excitement and threw the head back into he water right by shore. The water exploded as the shark devoured the rest of the tarpon. I couldn’t have, in my wildest dreams, dreamt of a better, crazier adventure.
Here is the follow up email my friend sent, “If you have some water shoes you can wade out a few feet, on the bay side, under the bridge. May have to cast backhand in there. Hopefully you get an outgoing tide. Black or purple–if you have sink tip or intermediate throw that. If not, weighted fly. That one I sent you is good at night. There’s some big tarpon in there. Hang on.”
NO WAY were we ever going to get in the water after that!
We trie three more mornings but they never hit like they did that morning. A cold front rolled in and the fish were often just out of our reach. Next year I will be getting up early with some purple flies!
Tarpon, no doubt, are on everyone’s bucket list, as they are for us. This was a great experience and one we will keep with us for a long time. They will stay on our list but for now we will head out for our next adventure and bucket list fish, Peacock Bass.