Cast & Blast

More tarpon tales — with a pig in the mix

Collins Doughtie
Collins Doughtie

My column last week where I talked about my love for tarpon fishing brought in a flood of emails — mostly where and how to catch them, but one particular email asking for more tarpon stories had me laughing so hard I came close to soiling myself.

As any of you in my age bracket can testify, memory is one of the first things to go. I don’t think I am in the dementia category quite yet, or at least I hope I’m not. But I believe the longer you live, the more things you have to remember and your brain simply gets full.

It’s like when you go to fill up a water pitcher with a filter. You put the pitcher in the sink, turn the water on at a trickle and walk away until the pitcher fills up. The problem with this approach is you forget you did it and three hours later you discover the water has been running the whole time and not only is the pitcher overflowing, the sink’s drain was closed and water is now 3 inches deep on the kitchen floor.

I won’t say I have done this, but I won’t say I haven’t.

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah, a tarpon-related email.

When I wrote that last column, there was one tarpon story I can’t believe I forgot. It happened many moons ago, when there were but a handful of us that even knew tarpon migrated to our waters during the summer months.

Bitten by the tarpon bug, I invited two friends to accompany me early one morning to see for themselves the thrill and power of these magnificent fish. They were inventor John Bloomfield, whom I had fished with regularly aboard his 46-foot sportfishing boat The Full Bloom, and Rodger Keyes, then owner of Alexander’s Restaurant in Palmetto Dunes Resort.

Up bright and early, Rodger and I went by boat to pick up John, who had spent the night along with his pet Vietnamese potbelly pig Rufus aboard his boat docked at the Outdoor Resorts Marina on Hilton Head. But he had slept through his alarm, so Rodger and I took off without him. We were gone at most an hour and a half, and in that time Rodger caught his first tarpon, just a hair under 130 pounds.

Now remember, this was a long time ago and catch-and-release wasn’t in vogue. Plus, Rodger wanted to mount his fish, so into the boat it went. To rub salt in the wound, we decided to take the fish to John’s boat, wake him and his pig up, and show him what he had missed.

Arriving at John’s boat, we told him to come take a look-see at what we had. So he and Rufus go to step off the boat onto the dock and at the exact moment Rufus is about to step onto the dock, a wave or something opens a larger gap, and whoosh, Rufus falls in the water!

With maybe only a foot or two between the boat and the dock, we look down and the pig is gone. He sank like a stone. John immediately lies down on the dock, head between the boat and dock, and no pig. Then as Rodger and I get closer, we see a pig’s snout appear at the water’s surface snorting for air.

In an instant, John reaches down, grabs the pig’s front feet and yells for us to help him. The problem with Rufus was he wasn’t a cute little 50-pound potbelly pig. He was more like 150 pounds because John had been feeding him high-protein “sow chow” or something like that.

John is screaming, the pig is squealing loud enough to wake the dead and Rodger and I are laughing so hard we couldn’t have helped if we wanted to. I’m not sure how long it took us to stop laughing enough to finally haul Rufus out, but it was a few minutes at least.

With tears streaming down John’s face, he picks the pig up, gently wraps it in blankets and sets in the corner of the boat’s cockpit. Like a mother that almost lost a child, John sits gently stroking the pig while uttering words of love and Rufus, totally traumatized and eyes closed, is making long, pitiful groaning noises like a kid in the last stages of crying when their whole body shudders every few seconds or so.

Rodger and I had to leave because we had laughed to the point it was almost impossible to breathe.

Speaking of tarpon, my friend Mac Dunnaway and I went chasing tarpon Thursday morning and put four up in the air. For whatever reason, we didn’t boat one, but what a show they gave flying high out the water before throwing the hook. But then again, that’s tarpon fishing unless, of course, you throw a pig in the mix.