Fresh From The Salt

Feature Story Archives

Feature Stories 2011

Volume 1, Issue 12, June 2011: Boca Grande – The Tarpon Season Test

Welcome to the June, 2011 issue of FRESH FROM THE SALT. This month's story is also featured as a print article in the Angler XTRAS section of the June 2011 Saltwater Angler Magazine, pg. 20. This fishing trip was for me very special and a unique opportunity to finally, after years of having only caught small juvenile tarpon in back country bayous and estuaries, hit the fast and deep waters of Boca Grande, FL.  Boca Grande is known as the tarpon fishing capitol of the world, to many, with a summer long season that provides a migration of thousands of fish - some small, some big, and some that are simply enormous.

As well as being a known hot spot to local live bait anglers who use pass crabs and threadfins to get in on the action, during the last decade Boca Grande has become home to the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series (PTTS).  The competition is held throughout the month of May, then aired on TV the next month.  Rather than use live bait, these tournament anglers are using a relatively new method of jigging for their fish, straight down in the deepest part of the Boca Grande pass where the fish are mostly concentrated.  It can make for a rather chaotic scene and sometimes, unfortunately, a mess of boats and their respective captains screaming at one another over position, boat control and general etiquette.  To some, the practice of jig fishing is an easier and quicker hook-up, and an all out thrill while maneuvering around dozens or more hooked up boats.  To an even larger group, however, this practice of jig fishing, especially when the jigs were rigged to break away from the hook (giving the angler an advantage), came as unwelcomed and quickly developed turf wars between the live baiters and jiggers.  One thing’s for sure, until the practice of having your jig break away was outlawed, it was becoming evident that the sea floor of the pass was becoming littered with unwanted lead, leaving the bottom of the pass a mess of artificial lures.  The pass is now regularly cleaned by divers and break away jigs are less common.

Whichever technique you prefer, hooking up to a large tarpon and fighting it until either you or the fish gives up, is a battle of mind, body and spirit that you won’t soon forget. I encourage anyone who wants to test their strength, character and will power, to hire a tarpon fishing charter in Boca Grande and see if you have what it takes to beat that monster fish… that same fish, I promise you, who wants to beat you!

Joshua W. Broer (pondfisher)

Boca Grande – The Tarpon Season Test

By Joshua W. Broer

Tarpon season is in full swing up and down the West Central Gulf coast and nowhere is this more evident than in the famous hunting grounds of Boca Grande, FL.  This spectacular seasonal fishery is once again heated up and finds this otherwise sleepy little coastal town full of hardcore tarpon addicts and beginners alike.  Nothing seems to compare, I’ve recently discovered, to battling a fish that has roamed our oceans for millions of years and throughout that time has become big, smart, strong and mean.  Strap yourselves in, ladies and gentlemen, for the ultimate in fish fighting.  It’s a battle you not soon forget.

Prior to my three day trip to Boca Grande recently, I had only caught a few small tarpon here and there around my home waters of Tarpon Springs.  These were juvenile fish that were brought to the boat rather quickly and easily on medium spin tackle.  This go-around, however, I would test my mind, body and spirit, taking myself to the breaking point again, again and again.  For exactly one hour and twenty minutes I waged a war with a mighty fish that cramped my legs, hand and arms, and put an ache in my back that nearly made me call it quits.  Prior to getting this particular fish to slurp down my tiny little pass crab on the shallower water of “The Hill” as the locals call it, I managed to hook into two other fish that both broke my line and showed me who was boss in very short order.  This third fish would be different.

Truly, no matter how big of a tarpon you’ve hooked into, most fish between 100 and 200 lbs are able to rip off a few hundred feet of line once they realize they’re hooked and there’s really nothing you can do to stop them.  This is especially true of a tarpon that relocates with its school and uses the momentum of that school of fish to hold you down, deep towards the bottom, for what seems like an eternity.  With some good old fashioned use of upper body strength and your mind committed to conquering this unseen force, you might eventually raise this fish from the depths to which it has sounded.  I was able to do this, in fact, a good ten times or so, brining the fish to the surface and giving my body some much needed rest and my mind a fresh sense of hope.  And then, like all the times before, that behemoth of a sea creature would grab a gulp of air, rejuvenating himself much like me, and make a 100-yard dash back to the depths.  “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” the reel drag would scream, leaving me hanging over the side of the boat, exhausted and demoralized, wondering when the line would stop.

I couldn’t help but think of Santiago in Ernest Hemingway’s classic tale The Old Man and The Sea, when the old man begins to tire to the point of delirium, taking on a new and unexpected perspective on this battle between man and beast.  Is this fish as tired as I am, I wondered?  Is it thinking at all, or just feeling its way through the battle on pure instinct?  Is his will to survive stronger than my will to bring him boat-side for that dreamed of photograph?  For the first half hour of the fight, I knew I was in this tarpon’s world, as he would rise to the surface and make great leaps, completely launching his immense body skyward.  On occasion, three times in a row he would rocket from the water and leave me pointing my rod towards him, “bowing to the fish” as you must in order to keep his sandpaper-like lips from cutting through the leader.

The boat captain, looking down from his tower, and first mate, always near to me and helping with sips of water and words of encouragement, were by now themselves growing wearing of this prolonged fight I imagined.  I asked them.  Good friends, all of them, they teased me, trying to lift my spirits.  At the one hour mark, “five more minutes” said Captain Trever Meyer.  “We’ll give you ten,” said Captain Dave Skidmore, who slowly and methodically worked his fish-fighting machine in whichever direction I was pulled.  Both captains and two other anglers thought this extremely entertaining.  I was not so much in the joking mood.  But then it happened.  I brought the fish boat-side for what would be the last time, and the mate tightly gripped his jaw with gloved hands.  Photos were snapped at a rapid pace.  I alone was holding the fish now, alongside the boat, gazing into its giant and magnificent eye while the captain moved the boat to rush water and oxygen through its gills.  Releasing my grip the fish swam easily away.

Collapsing on the deck, almost unable to move, I knew, finally, the pain and the joy of fighting and landing one of Boca Grande’s large and mighty silver kings.  180-200 lbs the captain guessed - my own weight.  Well then, an even battle I would tell myself and the crew.  But I knew better…