Cast & Blast

It’s hard to break a tarpon fishing addiction

A tarpon goes “tail walking” across the water’s surface.
A tarpon goes “tail walking” across the water’s surface. Collins Doughtie

Did you know we have broken the all-time record for consecutive days over 90 degrees? As of today, that number stands at 57! But being an avid weather freak, on Wednesday I noticed the first faint hint of fall. The air was clear, the cloud formations were different and even though it was still hot, I decided to get on the water and chase one of my all-time favorite fish: the mighty tarpon.

Before you get all excited, thinking I am going to tell you some fabulous story about the one I caught, sadly I didn’t. But I sure saw a bunch.

Having spent a couple of years away from chasing tarpon, just seeing them has me trying to weasel my way out of work so I can give it another go. Simply put, tarpon fishing is addictive.

I started tarpon fishing when my daughter, Camden, was around 8 years old. Now in her early 30s, Camden would accompany me back then in my little 14-foot aluminum jon boat as I hit some tarpon hot spots in Mackey’s Creek. Back then, there were only a couple of people who fished for tarpon, with the most notable being Capt. Fuzzy Davis.

I 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 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 no doubt when a tarpon takes your bait. You can feel its weight as it moves off, and when the line comes taut, you set the hook as hard as you can. That is the moment when this huge, bright silver fish — often over 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 6 feet in the air doing a somersault, and you can 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 a boat going full speed. One tarpon I hooked in that little jon boat took my daughter and I on a Nantucket sleigh ride for a good 2 miles before I was able to subdue it.

As an air breather, this huge fish will rise to the surface right in front of the boat and take a huge gulp of air, and that one breath adds another 20 minutes of fighting. It’s unbelievable.

As the years passed, I got pretty darn good 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 wanted to fight another one.

Tarpon will wear you out. They start the fight by jumping all over the ocean and then they dive deep where they seem to sit down there and sulk. It is during that sulking period that they can really put the hurt on you. Once my nephew, Byron Sewell, was fighting a big fish that was doing the sulking bit and then went straight down running along the length of the boat and literally lifted Byron’s feet right off the deck. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to where he had the rod butt situated. Ouch.

Tarpon can also be unpredictable. Once while standing at the stern chumming, I looked up and this 100-pound-plus tarpon was flying through the air right 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 several layers of fiberglass on the engine cover.

Another one I had just hooked greyhounded across the water, made a 360-degree turn and landed right in the boat. The good Lord must have been watching out for me because it flopped back out of the boat. They are a handful and, unless you know what you are doing, they can put a hurt on you.

I have over 200 tarpon under my belt, yet having several roll on the surface not 10 feet from the boat the other day has me thinking of little else.

Who knows, maybe I’ll have a tarpon tale to tell next week. Or if I do sneak off and go, maybe I’ll have a tale about my pending divorce. I reckon life really is all about the choices we make.