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Tarpon Fishing In The Florida Keys

You’re entranced by the crystal clear bluish green water and you find your mind drifting. You notice how the color is reflected in the small clouds above you. It’s been fifteen minutes since the last string of tarpon has passed the skiff. The skiff rocks gently as the guide shifts his weight. Suddenly, you’re back at ground zero.

After the last attempt at the fish, you’re looking for a rock to crawl under. Your casting stroke looks as though you’re directing a fusion jazz band. You think of another use for that rock. Perhaps throwing it at the fish. In an attempt to help relieve the buck fever ailment, your guide calmly calls out the next school. “‘Here comes another good school. Eleven thirty, two hundred feet, seventy fish or more.” “Relax, you’ve plenty of time.“ You try and remain calm, but you feel as if you’re fifteen again and asking the prettiest girl in school to the prom. You’re sweating, and you fear the guide might see your legs and arms quivering. “Get ready!” “Aim for the tail of the lead fish.” “Go!” You start your backcast. In your grip, the twelve weight rod feels heavy and cumbersome.

You wish you had taken the guide’s advice after last years trip and put a few minutes practice in each week. You make the presentation and thank God it’s in the strike zone. “Strip, Ssstttrriippp!” “Here he comes!” “Wait for him to turn!”. You watch as the seventy five pound fish rushes forward and inhales your fly. As the offering disappears into the cavernous mouth, you cautiously wait for him to turn back to the school before the hook is set. Here it is, the moment of truth. Will you set the hook properly and be prepared for the series of violent head shakes and successive leaps from the water?

The moment passes and the leader holds. He’s already two hundred feet out. Once again the silvery giant detaches himself from the water. It happens so slowly, the moment is etched. Just as you remember your first love, you’ll recall that jump for life. The mind drifts briefly and you’re suddenly reminded of watching Walker’s Cay television on Saturday morning. Only in this segment, you’re the star. Forty five minutes have passed, you feel this fish will never succumb. Your arms are aching, your shirt is soaked with perspiration. With words of encouragement and a few hints on fighting a fish from old salty on the stern, the fish is soon alongside the boat. The fish is leadered and the fly removed. Back to the dock for that celebratory rum drink.

Starting in late April and ending in early July, these large migratory fish take residence in the Florida Keys. Megalops Atlanticus (even the Latin name sounds huge) average thirty pounds for a small fish, while a large one averages 120 and may exceed 180 pounds. Fly tackle needs are ten to twelve weight rods for the larger fish although a nine weight will land a 40 pound or smaller fish. Weight forward floating lines are most commonly used, however there are times a clear intermediate sinking line is necessary. Casting ability is everything. The ability to shoot line with a minimum of false casting, quickly and accurately at some distance will have a major impact on your success or lack thereof. At forty feet, the fish sense the boat or perhaps it’s that strange convulsing object on the bow.

Having an eighty foot cast will allow the tarpon to track a fly longer or give an angler the ability to re-cast to another fish in the school before detection by the fish. Of course there’s always the ever-present wind. That might make that eighty foot cast a forty foot one. Pity the fly caster who can barely make thirty feet. The temperature in the Florida Keys can best be described as hot and soupy during the summer months. Cool, light colored cotton clothing, a large brim hat and plenty of sunscreen are your best defense against the intense sun. There are a wide range of accommodations available. From five star hotels to a “mom and pop” with lots of charm, you’ll find one to suit your budget and needs. Restaurants are many. Lots of locally caught seafood dishes such as Stone Crab, Florida Lobster, Mahi-Mahi and Yellowtail Snapper are caught daily. Bentleys of Islamorada, the Islamorada Fish Company and Uncles are three terrific restaurants to try. Getting here is fairly simple, Two hours south from Miami International or north from Key West International airport. One road, friendly natives and a great place to relax. It’s a very casual place. No jacket or tie required. Book your trip early, the best guides are booked up to a year in advance.  For more information call 305-852-6918

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