Friday, May 3, 2013

5 Ways Tarpon Avoid the Camera

I almost forgot that I went to Florida a few weeks ago! Okay, I'm kidding--I didn't forget, of course. But I've been so G.D. busy or tired from being busy that I'm just now posting about this adventure.  To jog your memory, I went down to Miami on a work-related trip for a weekend.  But with my birthday being the following Tuesday, I finagled my way into staying down in South FL through Wednesday to squeeze in some celebratory fishing. My wife Tiffany had joined me down there, unable to deny herself some summer-like heat and sunshine she wasn't getting up here in Chi-town.

First things first, I landed in Fort Lauderdale, and drove straight over to the beach to look at some water. The winds were high oceanside, so I wet a line in a mangrove-lined channel out back and got a micro version of a jack crevalle on the ole' chart/white clouser:

Then it was time to work, which only left me and Tiffany about an hour around dusk to search the canals for peacock bass. I had two decent fish swipe my fly in these dark hours, but nothing stuck.

Finally, on Sunday, I was able to fish in the midday sun.  I hooked up with DJ Dan Decibel of Skinny Water Culture to increase my odds of catching a peacock.  Dan found us some clearer water and some aggressive peacocks.

Big props to Dan for being a stand-up dude and putting us on some of these cool fish. 

Being fortunate enough to have another generous friend with a boat living in the Keys who is learning to become a tarpon guide, we drove down to hang out the last few days and to search for early season poons.

I will summarize this experience by explaining the big lesson I learned about tarpon on this trip: they hate being in front of the camera. Here's their top 5 ways of evading digital capture:

1. Not eating
-Especially when the wind is high--like the 15-20 knots on this trip--the big tarpon don't ride high and play nice. They're hunkered down with their noses on the sand. They just didn't want to eat. So we did a lot of this:

2. Hiding under heavy cover
-Sometimes they're there, they're happy, they're rolling and eating, but you can't get a cast in there. Baby tarpon love the mangroves.

3. Eating at night
-One of the best time to poke a tarpon seems to be at night where tides funnel water under the many bridges of the Keys. They're happy, they're within casting range, they're aggressively smashing stuff on the surface all around you. But it's nighttime, which is a horrible time to try to take pictures. Your photographer can't find where the fish is until it's airborne, which only lasts a second and involves blurry acrobatics (see #4 below). You go home with a crappy picture of yourself fighting a fish that made it 2' from the boat before saying goodbye.

4. Shaking the hook loose
-Tarpon love to jump violently. This means only pro sports photographers or lucky amateurs can sharply capture their acrobatics. These jumps quickly result in a freed fish and an airborne fly headed for the boat. If you get a pic of the fish, it's usually partial, like this:

5. Intimidating anglers so they do stupid things they know better than to do in this exact situation
Let me just put down the sitch--final fish in a string of three ~75lbs behind the boat suddenly turns to eat and keeps swimming at me with it's mouth open until it's 2-5' from the rod tip. The young guide yells, "SET! SET!"
[There's just no photographing this...]

There's also the far less common "guide gets so excited by fish in front of boat he accidentally slaps your wife in the face with the push pole ruining any chance at the fish and busting wife's sunglasses but more importantly needs to get the first aid kit out." Maybe this is subsumed under strategy "5" above...

So, sometimes, you fish for more photogenic stuff.

We came home to a parking ticket covered in bird crap and a flooded apartment. Karma.

PS. Our tarpon guide was Jordan Carter, also of Skinny Water Culture. He has been published in 'a Tight Loop' and can be seen in the summer issue of The Drake magazine.

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