Tarpon on the fly
Rusty Chinnis | submitted
Captain Rick Grassett comes eye to eye with a tarpon
off the Sarasota beaches.
The first sign of our quarry appeared far in the distance, as two dark shapes highlighted against the brilliant white sand slid into slightly deeper water and began following an edge that led to the back of Captain Rick Grassett’s anchored flats boat. Standing on the polling platform, I was the first to spot the two tarpon. When I was sure that’s what I was seeing, I called out the direction and distance to Grassett, who swung his rod to allow me to point them out.
Poised on the bow with his 12-weight Orvis outfit, Grassett waited patiently until the tarpon were within range. Just as he was preparing to cast he looked down and saw his fly line was knotted at his feet. He started to untangle the line, but realizing the fish would be gone if he didn’t act fast, he took his chances and made a cast.
Paying attention to the sweep of the tide and the time it would take to get the fly in front of the fish, Grassett tried to ignore the mess that was still at his feet. His timing was perfect and he began to strip the fly just before the approaching fish were within range. When they spotted the fly, it was at their level and moving away, the deer hair undulating seductively in the tide.
As we watched, one of the fish tracked the fly for a moment and then engulfed it right in sight of the boat. With a quick strip strike Grassett set the hook and the fish exploded from the shallow water, gills flared and scales rattling in the early morning sun.
After jabbing the fly several times, the fish bolted, taking the line and knot through the guides, going far into the backing. When the tarpon headed for deeper water, I started the motor and followed, allowing Grassett to regain the backing and the fly line that had disappeared so quickly from the reel.
The best way to land a tarpon with a minimum of damage to the fish and the angler is to get as close to the fish as possible, allowing the angler to assert maximum pressure with the rod. The only problem we had was a knot that had made it out of the guides, but was refusing to go back through.
We finally decided to let Grassett try and pick the knot out of the line while I motored forward keeping the surging fish from breaking off. He was able to reduce the size of the knot and get the line back on the reel but after several more runs the line parted at the knot.
After returning to shallow water, it was my turn on the bow, and it wasn’t long before another trio of fish came down the edge followed by two more groups, none of whom seemed attracted to my fly or presentation. That changed on my next attempt when two fish came from behind the boat towards the push pole that was dangling in the water.
I made a cast, let it sink about two feet and began my retrieve. On the third strip, one of the fish bolted forward and inhaled the fly. Coming tight with a hard strip strike, the tarpon rocketed out of the water, scales rattling and body contorted. I enjoyed two more runs and several jumps before the line parted and we headed back to shallow water to try again.
The balance of the day resulted in two more jumped fish, two long battles and lost fish. On one failed attempt, the hook pulled and in the other the rod broke when the fish surged under the boat. But as every fisherman knows, that’s tarpon fishing, a sport often described as hours of intense boredom interspersed by brief moments of pandemonium.
On many days that’s certainly the case, but not always. Put in your time, have a little patience, and some days can actually be described as hours of sheer exhilaration interspersed by only brief periods of boredom. This was the case on this day. In about six hours of fishing we didn’t have more than 30 minutes when we weren’t throwing flies as tarpon. All day they came as singles and in small groups of two to four fish.
In the end, we didn’t land a fish, but we jumped four and had numerous shots, a great day of tarpon fishing in our book!