…the word alone sends chills down most people’s spine and makes the hair on their neck stand at attention. For me, a wide range of emotions flood me like an Autumn tide at just the thought of tarpon all the way from excitement to anxiety.
This is one fish that can make people weak in the knees, jump for joy and cringe in fear all in the same day. Knowing the odds are not in your favor when fly fishing for these beasts is textbook and is certainly the wide range of emotions you experience that keeps one coming back for more and more.
Most humans strive daily to find a sense of accomplishment, but the mighty tarpon always feels accomplished. Standard units of measure seem not apply to this fish, as it is constantly exceeding expectations and absolutely fascinating its audience simply upon appearance.
Lady luck doesn’t discriminate either, and oftentimes her attraction is not always towards the experienced but she is certainly attracted to skill. And this is where last week’s client, Adrian, enters the scene stage left on a referral from a trusted fly fishing contact in Dallas. Adrian and I talk extensively for months leading up to the trip and I tell Adrian how to prepare himself physically and mentally and he booked without hesitation a multi-day trip tarpon trip with me hoping to scratch this species off his bucket-list.
One day just isn’t enough when fishing for tarpon and even with Lady Luck in your shirt pocket you might only need one day, but come on, this is Monsieur Tarpon we are talking about here! Multiple days is not only what it takes, but it is what you need even if you succeed to land your first tarpon the first day, there is no doubt you are going to twitch uncontrollably until you get another. And, Adrian did just that. Coming from the West Coast and being used to casting heavily forward weighted shooting heads Adrian was comfortable with my 11wt Beulah Fly Rod in hand and I instantly knew after his first cast that he had good chances of hooking his first tarpon with acceptable odds of landing it.
We spent the morning warming up the brain and getting into position we stop in a few likely spots, nail some fun lady fish and by the afternoon we were strapped into our Korker’s CastTrax. Sure-footed we ventured out on the rocks really warmed up and ready to put a hurtin’ on some fish. At one point standing on the highest rock I can find to get a good view far out into the water I notice a large sandy brown spot the size of a pickup truck and it appears to be moving left to right.
I holler down to Adrian who is lower to the water that there is a big school of redfish out there and have him cast straight out as far as he can. His fly lands 5-feet short and just behind the leading fish when suddenly one peels off from the school and snatches his fly. “SET SET SET” I shout and instinctively Adrian does, coming tight to a nice 29-30 inch redfish.
Having knocked this one off his list we move farther out into the macro-chasm of granite and begin scouting intently straining our eyes to see rolling tarpon that might not even be there.
Then it happened. That magic witching hour fell upon us and tarpon began to appear in a place where the moderately stiff wind direction was not exactly in our favor but the tide had just turned and the presence of bait was right. So, this is where skill came into play, and Adrian adapted to the wind angles nicely, adjusting his stance and casting stroke to make it safe to cast a 3/0 tarpon fly. Before long he had his first strike, just below the water’s surface but shallow enough to see 3 feet of flashy silver flanks. “Oooohhh! What was that?” Adrian asks… “Tarpon!!!” I exclaim. Another cast goes out, and in just a few strips of the fly Adrian grunts and instantly a 10 pound tarpon leaps into the air cartwheeling and back flipping multiple times.
He hoots and holler’s aloud and I have Adrian move into a good landing position so I can avoid the 2ft surf washing against the rocks so the fish doesnt get injured so much and where I can leader and unhook the fish returning its freedom without hesitation.
Night falls quickly when you’re having fun jumping tarpon and we continue to fish. Tensions build as our eyes adjust to the last of sunlight and then Adrian hooks another fish. This time it is a 4 foot tarpon close to 60-pounds and only 20 feet from the rod tip. Instantly it leaps directly away from us with lightning fast reflexes on the hook-set. Unfortunately this fish comes unbuttoned and back to casting we go still hootin’ and hollerin and throwing out high-fives with glee. A little while later and as the tide peaks we move around to the other side and Adrian sets the hook on another tarpon, a respectable 3 footer which we land and take a quick photo.
Then as the tides change again the bite dies off, we decide to retire for the night and hit it again in the morning hoping the tide will turn’em on again but this time the tide wasn’t exactly the same. So we spent the 2nd morning casting blind in all the likely spots but the tarpon were just not there and probably had moved farther out with the falling tide. This is “fishing” of course, so we turn our sights to other species and continue fishing hoping to tie into a redfish or another species.
As Adrian is working a productive hole, he gets a massive strike from a fish we cannot see, and it pulls down the 11wt rod with a considerable bend but there is no jumping from the fish. As Adrian fights to keep the fish out of the rocks, the creature surfaces and we see right away that it is a snook! Now that’s a nice and rare fish and another species stricken from his bucket list. We spend the afternoon changing locations and resting up and refueling our bodies, we talk about the final day’s plans.
On the morning of the 3rd day, I call Adrian an hour early and tell him that our plans to fish for redfish on the flats have changed and that we need to scramble to get in on another tarpon bite going off. Having literally 200+ tarpon flies in the box, there only seemed to be one or two tarpon fly patterns that the silver king wanted to eat that week and after two days of hardcore fly fishing I had run out of copies losing them to the unforgiving rocks and tearing them up to hungry fish.
Luckily I tie all my own flies and I had tied a few more copies of the pattern at 5am earlier that morning to make sure we had what we needed to get the job done on the final day. Again, and without hesitation, Adrian said “Hell yeah! Let’s go!” and we geared up with red bull and donuts heading to the next tarpon spot with our tackle and enough food and water to get us through a potential 12-hour day. As we arrive on the scene, our eyes turn to the water, scanning to-and-fro looking for the tell-tale sign of Poon-anny.
Not seeing much at first, I explain to Adrian that tarpon do not have to “roll or gulp air” and that they certainly do this in areas with low oxygen levels but that they may also roll just for fun, or to look for humans to torture above the water’s surface. Additionally, some of their rolls are aggressive and obviously intended to kill their food. I continue to give hope and explain that even though we may not see any tarpon, there is good chance that they are there and it is only a matter of time before we get bitten. As the sun finishes freeing itself of the cloudy horizon we begin to see some tarpon roll. Occasionally we see a tarpon make an aggressive roll and this jump-starts the twitch in us again and we make a short move down and to the side where I can see another pod of fish rolling. Adrian begins casting and retrieving with faith the special fly that had worked so well over the previous two days.
By the time Adrian had made his 5th cast in this other spot, Adrian yells “FISH ON!!!” and BOOOM!!! the line goes tight while an absolute beast emerges from the water shaking his head back and forth so violently that water is spraying 30 feet out to the sides.
The creature’s massive mouth was agape and big enough to fit a 5-gallon bucket. I could see the freshly tied fly firmly planted in the top right lip near the corner. In the same nano-second the fish ejects its entire body from the water and flies through the air in the direction of the horizon, Adrian holds on tight and does a phenomenal job of clearing the fly line to get the fish on the Hatch 9+ reel and then clearing his hands from the blazing fast 50-lb backing as it peels off the reel faster than a super sonic jet! The lassoed GIANT Tarpon leaps 3 more times as it covers one hundred yards in the blink of an eye with our line in tow and on the 3rd jump she lands on the leader and shreds the 30-lb bimini twisted tippet separating our connection. Having just witnessed this and getting several good looks at it, I conservatively estimated this fish at 6+ feet and over 150-lbs and actually closer to 7-feet and weighing nearly 200-lbs.
Reeling in the slack line we exchanged several high-fives, handshakes and even a hug or two with enormous memories flooding our mind’s eye as the adrenaline continued to course through our veins. Under my breath I think to myself… “Well!!! That is it! Certainly this fish cannot be topped today!. Yet, with shaking hands and knees, we continue to fish non-stop for another 4 hours in an attempt to connect with another tarpon but in fact, this gigantic fish had taken the very last copy of that magic fly which had worked so well. The Airflo Tropical Tarpon Lines performed flawlessly and gave solid hooksets on every fish!
Retiring for the late afternoon, Adrian and I visit a local watering hole to have a really ice cold beer and reminisce about the last 3-days of fishing. I congratulate Adrian on a job well done and that he is a seriously lucky fisherman for having hooked such as massive tarpon on his 3rd and final day of fishing with me.
Immensely proud of Adrian, it is a true privilege to be able to work as a professional fly fishing guide who not only gets to take people fishing but that I am able to witness so many “firsts” for my clients such as their first redfish, first tarpon, first snook, and first GIANT Tarpon. To experience the rarest of rare moments with them is pure ecstasy and sharing in their enthusiasm, joy and excitement gives me the sense of accomplishment that I spent so long to find.
Thank You Adrian for being such a great fisherman and fantastic guest and a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to you for all of your exceptional catches while fishing with me! I cannot wait to see you again next year for the next Fall Migration of our Gulf of Mexico Tarpon!!!
P.S. Everyone… The first week of November is available for another multi-day tarpon trip. Call me ASAP to get in on this action before the run is over!!!Keeping the hooks sharp,
Captain Ken Jones
Port Aransas, TX
Certified Tourism Ambassador
Certified Wildlife Guide