*Catching up on a bunch of late posts after a busy summer (and before a busy winter). Enjoy!
The main reason I booked a week at Turneffe in late May was for tarpon. I’m obsessed. I’ve only landed a few, but hooked, fought, and leadered a 60lb fish in the Everglades that was life altering.
Conditions had been poor for tarpon the first few days, but as the temperatures rose, and the winds died down over the course of the week, the tarpon began to pop up.
Our first real go at the fish happened near the lodge. I was up, and our guide, Chris, poled me across a tannin-stained flat around 3-5 feet deep. The flat was stained from sargassum, rotting in the still shore waters, which lay scatted for a quarter mile across the surface of the water. It smelled like death.
With their sargassum camouflage, the fish appeared next to the boat several times. My eyes were trained 40-60 feet out, but the fish appeared within 20 feet, Chris barking out orders and trying to direct my gaze. When I would make a cast, the fish would usually scatter, enormous glistening silver things shooting from under my line. Chris was visibly frustrated, a contagion that I caught as well.
After 30 minutes poling across the flat, we anchored at a river mouth, with Chris explaining that tarpon will enter and exit the river at the current tide. The water was murky, and this seemed the height of futility – blind casting a small black fly to the edge of the river mouth and sweeping it back into the current.
I made my first cast, the small rabbit strip fly sailing 80 feet out to the edge of the drop off. The clear intermediate line settled into the flow of the river, and I took a few breaths before retrieving the fly. Long, steady strips. Stripppp. Stripppp.
The fly stopped. Adrenaline spiked. I jammed the butt of the rod into my belly, tip down, and gave the line three hard jabs.
The fish exploded out of the water 30 feet from the bow, a backflip of rattling gills and writhing muscle. Crash.
I reeled hard, and the line went slack. I cursed, thinking I had lost the fish. Behind me, 20 feet from the stern, the fish again went airborne, the line snaking under the boat. Crash. I looked to the anchor, expecting to the see the fish wrapped around heavy rope, but Chris had already cut us free. Quick thinking.
Reeling hard, rod deep into the water, the fish jumped a third time on the other side of the boat. Cartwheel. Crash. Rod still deep in the water, I reeled.
I had gathered up all the line I could when the fish rocketed towards the river mouth. One long run, and my line, and half my backing melted from the reel. All I could do was watch it happen.
We floated, pulled by fish and current into the river. I pumped and reeled down on the fish, trying to turn it. The tarpon surged toward the mangrove banks, doing its best to wrap me in the tangled roots. 150 feet away, I saw the tarpon’s head emerge from the water, gulp air, and disappear.
I continued to fight the fish, rod angled down and to the side. We gained line, the boat now into the river. In the midday sun, mosquitoes descended from the mangroves as our boat drifted by, pulled by the fish. They bit at our faces, hands, and necks, thick and swarming.
10 minutes into the fight, the fish came to the surface, 60 pounds of living, faintly iridescent chrome. Chris laid belly-down on the deck, and reached for the leader. The fish surged away, a short half-hearted burst of energy. Again, I pulled the fish, fly, and leader to Chris.
Chris grabbed the leader, the frightened fish again surging away.
The leader parted. The tarpon now drifted in front of the boat, almost an arm’s reach from Chris, tired and weak. The fly still hung from the corner of its concrete mouth.
The fish sank down into the murk, free from the three mosquito-bitten humans who stared at it from above. In seconds, it was gone.
We fished for bonefish the rest of the day, the tarpon etched forever into my mind.