Mother’s Day – Joyce’s annual tarpon fishing trip (of course weather permitting). Last year it didn’t this year it did. As we got to Knapps Point I said to Joyce, “I don’t ever remember seeing so many tarpon free jumping.” But, I’m getting ahead of the story – let me back up. Well…we got on the water at the crack of 9am…maybe just a little later start than normal??? I had heard of some tarpon active off the beaches of Sanibel Island. In particular, between the Sundial Resort and Knapps Point in about 20-22 feet of water. Surprisingly it was a light wind day. We did see quite a few tarpon scattered out, rolling quite a bit. I made comment to Joyce “I don’t ever remember seeing as many fish free jumping.” We had some crabs but no other kind of live bait. Of course we had an assortment of flies to use offshore. Normally I’ll use larger flies (4″-5″) and a full-sink fly line (S/A Tarpon Taper Intermediate Sink). In that deeper water, when you cast it’s good to vary your sink rate counting down to let the fly line sink. However, after casting numerous times with big black/purple flies, all white flies, green/yellow – we had no strikes. Floating out and free-lining crabs, anchored up, no strikes. However, we did observe 3 other boats using threadfin herring having tarpon on. Anyway, it was such a beautiful day, Joyce and I decided to take a little ride and enjoy it. We got back home fairly early in the afternoon.
The next day, fishing fly rodder Marc Adam we went out to the same area off Sanibel but a much earlier start – arriving on scene around 6:30am. Immediately we saw tarpon activity. I spotted a number of tarpon tails breaking the surface which appeared to be a large daisy-chain. Within the minute it took us to get a fly rod out, line stretched, my electric motors down, to our disbelief they disappeared. Then, it looked like there were acres and acres of them. It was quite a sight. Every once in a while we would see some tarpon crashing through them. One time, about a half dozen tarpon together, kind of balled up, breaking the surface of the water, half jumping. Immediately, I put a white fly on. Marc made a few casts into where the tarpon were striking. No eats. I noticed some live bait boats throwing some threadfins with no eats. So, it became apparent the tarpon were selectively feeding. I’ve seen that before but not in this area. Down west of Key West in the summertime when I guided down there. Especially around Boca Grande Key and off the south side of the Marquesas. Then as we were slowly moving around on the electrics, we hardly saw another tarpon. It was like they hunkered down. Nothing.
So we left and ran the rest of the coastline of Sanibel heading north along Captiva, ducking through Redfish Pass into Pine Island Sound where we really struggled to find any fish to cast to. Heading toward Boca Grande Pass and turned south and traveled the whole shoreline of Cayo Costa without seeing a fish. Finally, early afternoon I was off the Foster’s Point area of Upper Captiva working an edge where we could perhaps find some cruising fish on the surface and where I’ve also found laid-up fish during the season. No cruisers but we did get casts to 4 separate laid-up fish. Some nice presentations by Marc. No eats. The fish just weren’t interested. That’s how our day ended.
For the next 2 days I had trips with non-fly fishermen. Phil and his son-in-law from Ohio, first time customers, were anxious to tangle with some tarpon after spending a lifetime of catching walleye. I went offshore Sanibel in the same area hoping the tarpon were going to show like they did Sunday. However, after about an hour of exploring we saw only one tarpon sky rocket out there and that was about half a mile away from us. Enough of that. So we took off intending to run up to the Foster’s Point area of Upper Captiva which is about a 16-17 mile run. My tarpon boat is a 20′ Action Craft with a 225hp Yamaha. We ran at 3800rpm’s at 35mph – didn’t take us long to get up there. Immediately we saw a number of tarpon scattered out, rolling on the surface. Water conditions calm. Absolutely beautiful. All in all, it didn’t take long before we had our first tarpon on.The son-in-law had the first fish on. I unhooked my release anchor and went after the fish using my high-powered electric motors.
Note: since it was his first tarpon trip, I had prepped him about what is referred to as bowing when the tarpon jumps. It’s so important to do. It’s been stated that 80% of tarpon lost are lost on the first jump because the angler didn’t bow. Even though I don’t like using the term bow it’s more clearly described as thrusting out with the rod pointing toward the tarpon like you’re trying to run them through with a sword. The term I use is “stabbing out” to the tarpon with the rod. As much as I try and prep a lot of people to do that, if they’re not used to it, they normally don’t. I understand that. A person’s first tarpon - most of the time they’re absolutely awe struck watching that 80-100 pound fish come flying out of the water. Not one time did that young man thrust his rod out. Even with a little coaching it didn’t happen. I told him the fish was going to hang him out to dry if he didn’t do that. (However, I do use circle hooks and it seems as if they are a little bit more forgiving than “J” hooks when a tarpon jumps.) After 5 or 6 jumps, even without stabbing out, I thought to myself we might land this fish. And, it looked like we would. We had the fish – probably 15 feet off the bow, slowing down. The young man was stopping and backing up the fish. All of a sudden the fish blew out of the water right in front of us and it was gone. He ended up hooking 1 tarpon and fighting Phil had 2 tarpon one - losing one on its 1st jump and losing the second fish after 5 or 6 jumps lost boatside. All in all, we really should have landed 2 out of 3.
The next day I had a long, long time customer out, Charlie Henry and his daughter, Laurie. I’ve fished Charlie and his son before and between them we’ve caught a number of tarpon over the years together. His daughter is a retired 30-year school teacher from Michigan. She obviously had never caught a tarpon. I went straight back to Foster’s Point as we had another beautiful light wind day. We spotted several tarpon rolling – the best thing to do in that situation was to anchor out, casting live pinfish under floats and live crabs under floats. Laurie hooked the 1st tarpon and she was mesmerized by the fish as it went into a series of jumps, not bowing on any of the jumps, which is understandable with her first tarpon. The hook pulled and the fish was off. The three of us agreed that it was just as well because the fish had the appearance of being well over 100 pounds. It probably would have been a long fight. Shortly afterward, Charlie hooked into one. Again, after chasing the fish down, several jumps, the hook pulled on that one too. Also, just as well, another fish well over 100 pounds. Charlie hooked another one on a live crab, after a couple of jumps, it also got off. Then to end up the day, Laurie hooked a 4th and final fish. We had to chase it down, at that time she was getting the bows down, and she fought the fish extremely well. After about a 30 minute battle we had an 80-85 pound fish alongside the boat. By that time, all were happy with smiles and we took off heading for home.
Next day I had 3 fellows on the boat, John Lincoln from Wisconsin and his two fishing buddies Mike and Butch. John, being an enthusiastic fly fisherman and really wanting to learn hadnever fished tarpon on fly before. We found some fish early in the morning by the Captiva Rocks. While John was casting the fly off the bow, the other two fellows had spinning outfits loaded with live crabs casting from the stern. No strikes on fly. Mike hooked up and landed a 90# class tarpon. I felt we were very lucky in achieving that because looking around seeing live-bait boats moving into the area saw only one other boat hook up. Very fortunate with that one. We spent the rest of the day hunting for tarpon and saw very few.
Friday, another tough fishing (catching) day with Marc Adam. We looked in all the obvious places and only saw a few fish. Nothing to write about.
Saturday, I fished Robert Armstrong from Minnesota, a guest of a long-time customer, Art Kaemmer. He was a non-fly fisherman. I headed to Foster’s Point first. Saw a couple of fish. Then I got a call from a good guide buddy of mine who told me to come on up to the trench (an area inside the south end of Cayo Costa). He said “lots” of tarpon. And, there were. We knew there was a weather front coming down on us moving fairly fast. The wind kept steadily picking up from the southwest eventually blowing a steady 20-25mph and gusting close to 30mph. It looked like the tarpon were clearing Pine Island Sound in anticipation of the front bearing down on us. There were lots of strings of fish heading straight for Captiva Pass and the Gulf of Mexico. Even with the weather/wind conditions, we were very lucky. He ended up going 2 for 2 sight casting crabs in front of rolling fish.
I had 3 days fishing Milt Ignatius from Connecticut, an experienced saltwater fly fisherman and a very nice caster. Unfortunately, no tarpon to cast to. We got into a very weird weather pattern for this time of year. We had 3 cold fronts pass in 5 days. Steady high winds from the WNW each day. I did not use my 20′ tarpon boat on any of the 3 days. I used the 16′ shallow water skiff that I could push pole around the shallow waters mainly staying close to mangrove shorelines (out of the wind). All in all, it wasn’t super productive. It was kind of unusual.I saw snook striking at thewhite flies we were using but they were short striking. We caught some ladyfish near the bushes, caught a redfish, a beautiful big mangrove snapper. Actually I had thoughts of taking that fish home, had it in my livewell for a while, but looking at it I decided to release it alive well and unharmed.
I’ll be heading out today fishing Jeff Minderlein and his buddy Jason. Jeff is from Maryland and won the Subscription Contest for Ten & Two Magazine. My wife, Joyce, is the Public Relations Director for the magazine. I donated two days tarpon fishing for the cause. Walter Hodges, co-owner, publisher and professional photographer came in from Seattle to photograph the experience here on Sanibel Island. It’s going to be an interesting 2 days.
I have high hopes that the tarpon will start moving back in. Thank God the wind direction has changed and is back to our prevailing ESE. Yahoo!
Can’t wait to tell you all about it – stay tuned!