I know many of you think that all I do is fish -- but, sadly, that is simply not the case.
My real occupation is advertising and graphic design, something I have done for nearly 35 years. Sure, I do get to fish more than the average person, but if my back were in better shape I would gladly trade in my mouse and computer for a captain's license in a heartbeat. On occasion, I do guide people on their boats, showing them the tricks of the trade, but even then, my back prevents me from doing this on any sort of regular basis.
Quite frankly, it really stinks.
So why am I sounding like some whiny, old cripple? It's because my all-time favorite fish, the mighty tarpon, have finally showed up, and I am sitting here landlocked. Before my car accident, I was a tarpon freak. If they were here, I was out there trying to catch them. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could distract me from chasing these magnificent fish.
I started tarpon-fishing when my daughter Camden was around 8-years-old. Now 28, Camden used to accompany me in my little 14-foot aluminum jonboat as I hit some tarpon hot spots in Mackays Creek. Back then there were only a couple of people who fished for tarpon, with the most notable being Capt. Fuzzy Davis. I can still remember sitting in the sweltering heat in that metal boat watching my rod tip waiting on that telltale "thump" of a tarpon inhaling the bait. Carefully taking the rod out the rod holder so that the fish didn't feel any resistance, I would hold the rod tip high in the air and let the fish pull it down.
There is absolutely no doubt when a tarpon takes your bait. You can feel its weight as it moves off and, when the line becomes taut, you set the hook as hard as you can. That is the moment when this fish, this huge bright silver fish more than 6-feet long comes exploding out the water. It is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the angling world.
Every tarpon has a different personality. Some jump six feet in the air, doing a somersault ,and you can actually hear their silver dollar size scales rattle. Others go skittering across the surface of the water using that massive tail, which leaves a wake similar to that of a boat going full speed. One tarpon I hooked in that little jonboat took my daughter and I on a Nantucket Sleigh Ride for a good two miles before I was able to subdue it.
Air breathers, this huge fish would rise to the surface right in front of the boat, take a huge gulp of air and I just knew I'd be in for another 20 minutes of fighting the fish. It is simply unbelievable.
As the years passed, I got pretty darn good at catching tarpon. I got to know their habits, when and where they would be and on what tide, and I chased them relentlessly. My best day was with my late friend Warren Matthews. We were in Port Royal Sound and in a two-hour period we landed 13 tarpon. Actually, we stopped fishing for them because no one on board wanted to fight another one.
Tarpon will wear you out big time. They start the fight, jumping all over the ocean and then they dive deep where they seem to sit and sulk. It is during that sulking period that they can really break your back. My nephew, Byron Sewell, was fighting a big fish one day and during the sulking bit, it went straight down the length of the boat. The fish actually lifted Byron's feet right off the deck. I'll leave it up to your imagination as to where he had the rod butt situated. Ouch.
Tarpon also can be very unpredictable. As I was standing at the stern chumming, I looked up one time and this 100-pound-plus tarpon was flying through the air straight at me. I thought I was history, but luckily it ran head first into the back of the outboard. It hit it so hard it broke right through the engine cover. Another time, one tarpon I had just hooked gray-hounded across the water right into the boat. Once again, the good lord must have been watching out for me because it flopped back out of the boat quickly.
Tarpon are a handful and unless you know what you are doing they can hurt you bad.
I don't know if writing this column has helped me or made my desire to give it one more college try almost unbearable. I have more than 200 tarpon under my belt, yet I know I can't fight one ever again. But I sure would like to put my knowledge of catching them to work and let someone else do the fighting.
Who knows, maybe next week I'll have a tarpon tale to tell. Maybe.