On a warm day near Boca Grande in December…
It was early December, it had been in the low to mid 80’s and not a breath of wind for over a week. The day before I had a fly fisherman on tailing reds all morning. We had quarter moon tides and there were a lot of fish with their tails in the air the entire outgoing that lasted till almost noon. As many tails as I have ever seen in one day. There were several times we couldn’t decide which one to cast to. I would say 2 o’clock. My angler would cast to a fish that was a different one than I was looking at. For redfish on fly…it was as good as it gets.
So the next day I thought, “What’s a fisherman to do with a mid-week day off?”
Of course, Jenni and I decided to go out and try to provoke a few reds with some feathers and fur. Armed with just my 7 weight rod and Jenni her Nikon we searched the flats all morning. The fish that were everywhere you looked the day before today were non-existent.
There was zero wind, not a boat in sight. Just absolute perfect conditions and not a fish for miles. We were taking our time easing off the flat. Just relaxing, running the trolling motor and eating a sandwich, when suddenly Jenni spots a tarpon. I really thought she was seeing things. Then she saw another. My attention was immediately drawn away from the peanut butter for a moment. Jenni might have been mistaken the first time, but her eyes will not get fooled twice. The girl knows her tarpon. Right then, I saw one too. As we eased across the 3 to 4′ flat I was amazed. There were 20 to 30 tarpon laid up finning all over this flat.
These weren’t little tarpon one often associates with winter. These fish were full size, 100+ pounds. I frantically dove into my storage hatch on my Silver King hoping to find some tarpon gear that I was too lazy to remove at the end of the season.
Ok, I had my fly stretcher with a dozen tarpon flies or so, leaders, good…
It hit me…the real problem arose, the only rod in the boat was a 7 weight fly rod.
I remember thinking, “How am I going to get a 5/0 hook to penetrate a tarpon’s rock hard jaw with a 7 weight?” I decided to use a favorite snook fly with a 1/0 hook. I figured I would have a much better chance getting the small hook to stick. I just wasn’t sure that they would bite it. I rigged a short piece of 40# for a bite tippet to a regular 10# tapered leader.
As I was approaching the first one, I looked at my “tarpon rig” that I put together and laughed. Thinking…if one does bite this I will definitely have my hands full. The first three fish I cast to never even flinched. I threw the little fly closer with each cast. Not even a looker. They seemed totally uninterested with my humble offering. They were here to rest, not feed… I relaxed and continued to cast. I figured if they weren’t going to eat I was still going to have some fun trying. I approached the fourth fish and made a cast. It was just past him and would come across the strike zone right in front of his nose.
This one reacted immediately. Made one kick of his tail and tracked my fly right to the boat. He ate it just as my leader reached the tip of my rod. I came tight on the line and he cleared the water 10 feet from the boat and threw my little 1/0 fly. I remember my hands were shaking like a crackhead at a 12 step meeting while I was trying to file a point back on the tiny 1/0 hook.
Now I thought…they will hit my little fly now what? The very next one I threw at kicked off and engulfed the fly. I hooked up again. After the third jump I knew I had him stuck.
Herein lies the second problem…this reel only has 125 yards of backing!
The battle was on. This fish was wild, after a few more jumps and lots of frantic winding he was close to the boat. I thought…I really might land this fish. The tippet was holding, the hook was firmly locked in his top jaw. The rod was limited out. Pulling back (bending the rod) did nothing. The fish would not budge. I had to straight pull (point the rod at the fish) just to move him closer. The fish and I went round and round the boat.
He came around the side and seemed ready to land. I needed to time it perfect. I had to get the fish on his side grab hold of the 12″ leader and set my rod down to grab him by his jaw. In a last ditch effort the fish lunged under the boat. I pulled back and out. The fish came out backwards. Just when I thought I had the upper hand, it happened. The rod snapped right above the cork handle. It sounded like a gunshot.
This rod I have fished with since I was 14 years old finally met it’s match.
I was determined to catch this fish no matter what. So I grabbed the broken piece and held it to the cork. I was still in this game. I brought the fish alongside grabbed the leader and released my fish. It was about 100 pounds. Not my largest I have ever caught, but definitely one of my favorites. Looking at the broken rod and twisted reel on the deck all we could do is watch these fish until sunset. Right as the sun started to set they their activity became more aggressive. Rolling and splashing as they floated toward the deeper water of the harbor.
Needless to say, the next day I was back with a 12 weight in hand, but the fish were gone…
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