Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

Tarpon time, or "being taught a lesson by the fish"

I have seen, been around, hooked, lost and been torn to pieces by enough tarpon now to think that I might be mentally ready for it once again, but nothing can prepare you for these awesome fish. Off the scale ain't even close. We left the dock at 3am this morning, and Rodney had us at anchor and drifting crabs back to Seven Mile bridge in no time at all. Very simple instructions from Rodney - "You see that float go under, wind like hell, make contact, and smack the hook home." Simple it all might sound, but you can not get away from the momentary blind panic that ensues when a fish like the tarpon hits.......

Paul is the first to see his float suddenly shoot under. He winds down tight, smacks seven bells out of it, and then Rodney throws the anchor overboard, guns the engines and then begins to follow a rampaging, jumping, angry tarpon. But the leader goes pretty quickly. Paul's shaking like a leaf. Turn around, pick the anchor back up and settle back down for some more crab drifting. If settle down can be used for tarpon fishing around the bridge.

Cian then loses his float, winds down tight, but does not make contact. New crab goes on, floats head ominously back towards the bridge on the current. Concentration levels are high. The tarpon are on the feed. My float suddenly shoots under and I go into autopilot and whack the hook home. "My" tarpon jumps out of the water, my knees turn to jelly, then it screams right through the bridge, into the clear water the other side, and now with a silly amount of luck on my side the fish then swims clean under the next bridge and into clear water on the Atlantic side. Nothing remotely to do with me or any attempt at skill, indeed it's complete luck which way the tarpon decides to run. But the only way you stand a chance of staying connected to like this if is your skipper/guide knows how to go after it and help you gain line and stay as far away from structure as possible. Rodney I am sure you can guess knows big time what to do when the mayhem of a hooked tarpon begins.

I guess I was into my tarpon for nearly an hour, and I like to think that I gave it a bit of grief - but to be completely honest, the fish is in control most of the time. Tarpon are one of the world's greatest sporting fish, and nothing can prepare you for tangling with creatures like this. Awesome, majestic, mighty, call them what you will, but tarpon pull serious string. Rodney touched my leader I think three times, but on that last time the leader broke on the underneath of the boat and the fish was gone. We don't know what it weighed, but it was well over the 100lb mark - maybe nearer the 150lb, and as much as I wanted to photograph the fish, I don't mind a bit that it came off. I made the call to Rodney that I thought the tarpon was ready to come in, but these things do not do giving up. Insane.

Rodney then anchors the other side of the bridge to account for the change in tide direction - bear on mind I was on my fish for nearly an hour, but it's still nearly pitch black. Nick is next into a fish, and it goes equally loopy. Another big tarpon that we saw jump clear as day. I don't know how far the fish took us, but it went in and out of the bridge multiple times, as well as out into the Atlantic, back through the bridge and multiple stanchions, and then it roared out into the bay. How Nick stayed connected I still can't work out, but again it took a combination of angler communicating with his skipper to follow the tarpon.

And just when we thought it was getting close to grabbing the leader, Nick's tarpon was taken by a shark. There are lots and lots of sharks in the Keys. What a shame, but it's going to happen sometimes, and I guess it had to have been a rather large shark to have so easily taken another 100lb plus tarpon. You won't see it in this photograph, but out from Nick is a splash that is the shark taking its breakfast. Gutted ain't the word. Head back to the house for some breakfast of our own and then we are out later on for some more fishing. The Keys are as outstanding as ever, and tarpon fishing is as impressive as I remember it being the last time around.