I had done most of it but not all. Armed with a fly rod
and a handcrafted fly, I pursued all the finned creatures
with trout being my favorite quarry. I loved trout fishing,
pastoral and relaxing, the contemplative nature of it all
made my heart sing. No pressure build up, a pressure relief
valve this trout fishing is.
I've been blessed to be able to fish for trout from Alaska
to Argentina and I loved every little brown or brookie that
took my fly. The basses and the sunnies and the anadromous
fish were sure a lot of fun and I giggled when I've had my
rod bent by more than a few porcine carp but I have never
gone after Tarpon. One fishes for Trout; one goes after Tarpon.
I heard a presentation by Donald Larmouth, author of Tarpon
on Fly. Intelligent, thoughtful Donald is in his sixties,
cursed with Parkinson's and unsteady in his gait. A great story
teller, we sat captivated when Donald told of standing on the
deck of a Florida flats boat near dawn, Cockroach fly in hand
and waiting for the Tarpon to show themselves, drifting and waiting.
Donald leans towards us and whispers "at dawn, you can hear them
coming." We lean towards Donald so as not to miss a single
whispered bit of advice as Donald continued; "these are the big
migratory Tarpon, just back from Africa."
To the rest of us, the longest migration we knew about were
Steelhead coming up the Pere Marquette, but Africa!
White-haired and avuncular, Donald continued with his stories
and I'm sure I was not the only angler at the seminar who
thought if this old guy can double haul and sling a fly to a
Tarpon, whip it's ass and get him to the boat to be photographed
before the hammerheads eat him then we sure as hell could, too.
So, I studied. Read up on what I could, memorized Donald's book,
Lefty's book and drifted off to sleep watching every video out
there on the Megalops Atlanticus. I calloused each palm learning
to tie a respectable Bimini Twist, and I could finally snell 80#
mono with the best of 'em. Had A.K. Best's Cockroach pattern down,
I mean absolutely wired.
There are flies that you are convinced will work and this was
the fly, confidence was high. Booked a trip with a guide friend
in Florida. Got great rates on my airfare and cheap, clean
lodging, too. This was coming together way too smoothly.
After a long week fishing off of the Gulf coast of Florida,
this is what I learned:
Forget about reading up on and practicing saltwater knots,
take your knot books and throw them out the window. Go ahead,
I'll wait while you find them and throw them away. O.K., are
they gone now? Good, the guides will clip yours off and tie
their own, they tie all of those knots better than you ever
Forget about tying up a bunch of Tarpon flies in all of the
colors and sizes. The guides have what you need and theirs
work better than yours do anyway.
The above two paragraphs are the two least important facets
of going after Tarpon. Take all of the time and energy that
you would have wasted learning to tie Hufnaegle knots, Bimini
Twists and Tarpon flies and use that time to practice your
cast! Get better at making that shot, you'll need plenty
of steady nerves.
It's all about the cast; if you can't deliver the fly right
now to a moving target at 60+ feet, you will be as unsuccessful
as I was. Everything about casting in saltwater seems to diminish
your landlocked casting skills. If you think you can cast 70 feet
on dry land, it will become a 60 footer on the water. Fish you
think are 100 feet away are actually 300 feet away. The tendency
to fling a fly at something is too great and more often than not
you cast too early. Casting too late is just as bad and if you
look at which end of the fish he eats with, that's the end to
Listen for the guide, they know your casting skills (and limitations)
and will give you the nod when its time.
Spotting feeding trout with polarized optics is a dream compared
to scanning the horizon and trying to differentiate between wind
blown whitecaps and breaching Tarpon. You look like Babe Ruth
calling his shot every time you erroneously point out a whitecap
to the guide by shoving your rod out on the horizon and screaming,
"there's one!" The guides are so patient with Midwestern anglers;
they are a calming influence on the poling platform and ignore you
as you wave your rod meaninglessly as they scan the water for
glimpses of silver, true indicators that something is coming.
And come they do, not every day and certainly not all at once.
Trout fishing is to duck hunting as Tarpon fishing is to deer
hunting. This is deer hunting; you sit in your floating blind
and wait, one might come by and you can take your shot.
"We're not in Kansas anymore." This is the thought that leaps
to mind the first time you see a pod of Tarpon. Yep, you're out
of your element with these critters.
That much bio-mass swimming with an amazing percentage of their
bodies out of the water makes a pre-dawn racket that is un-nerving.
Even moving Chinooks don't create the bulge in the water like
Tarpon do and Donald was right, you can hear them coming. There
is an onrushing feeling that something will show themselves and
this feeling can best be described as an awareness, sudden and
powerful. You have an awareness that something is about to happen
and it does. Tarpon and lots of them.
And big. Damn big moving targets, always moving.
We saw plenty of Tarpon in the 120#-150# class, great start.
We saw Tarpon on the move as well as those that were Daisy
Chaining. Chaining Tarpon are Happy Tarpon and are more
willing to eat. We got close enough to them to present and l
ead them with a fly (remember, nothing in a Tarpon's life ever
swims at them, always away).
Wind, rolling seas, sweaty palms, a wet deck on a 19 foot boat
and adrenalin rushing through your bloodstream all combine to
make a 60 foot cast right now to a moving target kind of tough
for someone who has never done this kind of casting before.
Trout swim still, easy targets. If you put them down with an
errant cast, they'll be back, finning and waiting for you to
compose yourself; these are the lovely little fish that I'm
The old guy back at the fly shop was shaky with Parkinson's
and he could do this, calm down!
Then you remember the advice of an old friend, "you can't shoot
the whole covey." Not being a hunter has its amusing disadvantages
and you were once the butt of an old joke but not this time, you
pick one and go after it.
The guide is helping, the boat is in position, " Steady,...steady, waaaait"
You take your shot, right direction, right distance and watch your fly
fall near where it should.
You are going after Tarpon.
Once you get a follow, more adrenalin kicks in. The guide's yelling
"She coming, keep stripping" 50 feet, then 42 feet then 30 feet
(did I mention the adrenalin?)
"She's coming, get ready!"
Then you see the maw of a 120 pound Tarpon open over your fly and
you put a hook set on this beast that would work beautifully on
a Brook trout taking your size 18 dry fly on a 6X tippet but
these flies are tied (by the guide, they always tie their own
knots) to an 80# shock tippet and you have to drive the hook point
into solid bone with multiple strip strikes "BANG, BANG, hit her again!"
Then,......quiet. A few bubbles and a swirl; but maddening, roaring,
............deafening, ...............heart crushing...............
You have to remind yourself to breathe, to re-inflate the hollow
space in your chest that once was filled with life-giving air but
now is rapidly filling with suffocating dispair. Turning around
to face the guide and his wrath is the last thing you want to do
right now, but he's gasping for air as well.
No one to blame, the guide found the fish, a fish of a lifetime
to be exact. A fish almost as big as you and perhaps twice as
old as you. A 120# Tarpon is estimated to be at least 75 years
old and she had seen plenty of flies in her annual migration but
she chose to eat yours. A fish that migrated thousands of miles
back from Africa to the sunny Gulf and she was swimming at you,
for God's sakes! You could see her eyes clearly, each as large
as an orange. Each was scale gleaming as shiny as and as large
as the CD-ROM in your computer.
This is not a game of inches, it's smaller in scale than that.
Football is a game of inches played on a 100 yard field. You
needed to play with just one lousy Tarpon in the entire Gulf
of Mexico, put your fly in front of her and then move the hook
point about one half of one inch into her jaw. I probably moved
it a quarter of an inch.
Right place, right time, right fly, lousy hook set.
You contemplate breaking the 12 weight down and running the butt
section through one of your own eye sockets to feel,...well, to
feel anything but the heavy disappointment in the implosion of
your own angling ability. The expression "to rub salt in a wound"
takes on another connotation, what irony.
You look North over the bow of the flats skiff and the school
of Tarpon that you just shamed yourself in front of is now 150
yards away, breaching every once in a while and silver, so very
shiny silver. The color silver that is burned into your brain,
you will never, ever forget that silver. Blessedly beautiful
silver, slack-jawed with awe kind of silver, cursed silver,...
waking up in a sweat silver.
I'm back at my desk, here in the stormy suburbs of Chicago
and chomping at the bit, waiting out the lightening so I
can go practice my 12 weight cast. I have to get better;
after all, it's just 362 days until I get back to Florida
to put another fly in front of that Tarpon. ~ Joseph Meyer,
One More Cast Fly Shop