The sun has barely begun its ascent into a clear sky. A faint thump…you feel your line begin to tighten …suddenly an angry Tarpon erupts from the water thirty yards away. Line is peeling off your reel at an unsettling pace as the six foot Silver King continues its charge, leaping and tumbling in a frantic bid to dislodge the hook now planted firmly in its jaw. You quickly shake the effects of your early morning rise, well before first light.
“Bow to her when she jumps.” You repeat your mantra over and over quietly under your breath, tightly squeezing the rod awaiting the next surge. The adrenaline is flowing, your heart is pounding, and your arms and hands are starting to ache after only a few minutes. You begin to wonder how anyone can single-handedly subdue a creature like this, let alone several times in one day!
“Relax your grip on the rod a little bit, calm down, and don’t try to muscle her in,” you hear come from just over your shoulder, calmly spoken as if he just asked you to pass the sugar for his morning coffee. “Just work with her a little bit and she will come to the boat. Think of this as a dance, not a bar fight.”
You turn around and see a silly grin coming from beneath a fluffy blonde beard that only a fisherman can get away with. “This is supposed to be fun, enjoy yourself! This is one of the greatest joys in life!” He says with a chuckle as he pats you on the back and scampers back up to his perch in the tower.
“Pump….reel…pump….reel.” After twenty minutes you subdue the hundred and fifty pound Silver King. The hook, stuck perfectly in the upper jaw, is quickly removed. A minute or two later, after a brief revival, the fish disappears from view with one mighty kick of its tail.
You have read the accounts of others, heard countless stories of viscous battles with the Tarpon of Boca Grande and watched the bumper boats and childish antics of the Tarpon tournaments on TV. You have played out this scenario in your mind every night for the last year and something just doesn’t seem right. Something doesn’t fit the picture you had in your head, you just can’t seem to place exactly what it is.
“OK, last shot and then it’s time to hit the dock for some lunch.” Is it that time already? you think to yourself. It’s funny how fast time to seems to go by when you measure, not by hours and minutes, but in terms of jumps and hookups. It feels like just a few minutes ago that you released your third Tarpon while watching the sun, now squarely overhead, creep out from behind the white sand beach. The dull, heavy, limpness of your arms, legs, and back, tells you a different story however.
You sit down and stare at the line as it lays out before you, leading a faint trail on the water leading to a point directly in the path of a pod of rolling tarpon. You await one last little thump that will signal yet another battle with one of fishing’s most formidable opponents. The gentle rocking of the boat sends you into an almost trance-like state.
Then it hits you. You have been on a wide open Tarpon bite for almost five hours. You left the docks of Boca Grande, the famed ‘Tarpon Capital of the World’ during one one busiest months of the year’. But you haven’t seen another boat within a thousand yards since you started fishing. Come to think of it, where are all the sharks? The throngs of shouting fishermen packed like sardines in a can waiting to take their turn at taming Megalops Atlanticus? What just transpired was surely not what you had in mind when you came to fish for Tarpon at Boca Grande. No, this was decidedly different than what you thought it was going to be. This was much, much better!
On the way back to the dock you round the famed Boca Grande Lighthouse and see the ‘circus’ taking place in the pass proper. There are arms waving, boats bumping into each other, lines are tangled and there is more yelling than the the President’s last town hall meeting on health care. Dozens and dozens of boats furiously circling in a confused frenzy fueled by caffeine and beer, the logos of which adorn the sides of the boats giving the whole place a feel of some kind of grotesque Nascar side show. This is what you had seen on TV, this is what you heard so many complaints about, and THIS is what made you wait so long to come to Boca.
You think back to February, sitting at your kitchen table dreaming about fishing and trying to waste time in an attempt to avoid shoveling snow from the drive. You picked up the phone and dialed the number glaring back at you on the screen of your laptop. After typical pleasantries you tell the man on the other end of the line that you want to catch the mighty Tarpon. You voice your concerns with what you have heard from friends, read on the internet, and seen endlessly on TV.
You decided to give Boca Grande a shot and found a kinder, gentler, more relaxed, yet equally exhilarating Tarpon fishing experience. You remember hearing “you can’t believe everything you see on TV,” with a chuckle. “Give it a try and if you don’t like it, scratch it off your list you don’t ever have to come back.”
Five years later here you are stepping off the boat onto the Boca Grande docks, tired from a successful morning of fishing you hear a now familiar voice shout “See you next year!”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world!” you reply.