A First Time Tarpon Fly Fisherman
To the date of my writing this entry, I have never jumped a Tarpon. I have seen one tarpon, ever. I have spent countless hours preparing for the opportunity to catch a tarpon. I have been on tarpon trips. I have starred down a lot of water, in hopes of finding a tarpon. I have also traveled many miles to try to find my first tarpon. So, why the hype on this fish versus the rest? Why is there an anticipation level higher than any other fish? What is it that drives me insane waiting and trying to get my opportunity?
My first thought is the sheer size of this animal might be the cause of so much noise. Always among hunters and fisherman there is the running theme of man vs beast. What better example is there of this than a chase for an animal that weighs as much as a man, and is often much older than the fisherman trying to catch it. The magnitude of a tarpon reminds me much of hunting elk. Walking up on an elk kill is honestly like walking up on a dead horse. I have rarely harvested an elk and not had a few moments of wonder just appreciating the size of the animal. Much like the thought of hooking a seven foot fish with a mouth that my head could fit inside. The thought of doing battle with a fish of this magnitude is simply put, intimidating.
Second, on my list, is the mythology that seems to surround the creature. The tarpon seem to rise almost to Moby Dick status when a few fisherman get together on the subject. Stories of particular fish or epic battles on the rod are told like tall tales in oceanside bars, or back home to fellow fisherman. The tall tales regarding Tarpon even extend back to the 1500’s when Michelangelo depicted a tarpon in the Sistine Chapel. This causes one of the best tarpon myth’s; that Jonah was not swallowed by a whale but rather a giant Tarpon. It is even quite the mystery how a 16th century artist found a tarpon to model his fresco after.
Another reason we obsess over tarpon has to be the evolutionary and biological wonder that this fish has. Any species that has not changed a biological feature in 110 Million years demands respect and excitement for anyone lucky enough to see one. As far as its biology goes, the fish that can breathe both air and water is a wonder all itself. Tarpon create an air of excitement about themselves by rolling up to the surface to show us their adaptability when they come up to gasp a breath of air.
Apart from all of the facts and fiction about Tarpon, I think the preparation involved in trying to have a successful tarpon trip add to the anticipation. There are of course the normal preparations with any fly fishing trip that we undertake; such as, fly tying, casting practice, travel plans, etc. However, tarpon add elements like intensive leader preparation, different fighting and handling techniques, considerations of backing length and test, larger equipment, and even working out to get in shape to win the fight against one on the line. It seems hours of preparation are added to a tarpon trip compared heading salmon or trout fishing somewhere. This all adding to the anticipation, like a kid on Christmas eve.
Finally, the mental game. This maybe one of my biggest points of focus. The fact that I know there may only be one opportunity on an entire trip and it will typically be far from ideal or easy. This gives me an anxiety that takes some intensive focus and preparation to believe I can overcome. I know I am not the only person who has probably gotten the "buck fever" on a few simple redfish casts. What will my brain do to me when I am staring down a train of migrating tarpon at forty feet? Have I trained my cast enough to make it automatic? Will I remember to get my cast under the wind? Will I remember to keep my left hand engaged so my line doesn't wrap around the reel? Will I remember NOT TO TOUT SET? Clear the line, bow to the king, and check your drag. Wow, thank god Tarpon guides are known to be vocal and hard on guys like me.
These are the reasons I love Tarpon. The buildup and anticipation continues.