The Fish

12 February 2011: On Wednesday, Wayne and I were out on Florida Bay checking out an area where Charley and Paul had gotten into Spanish mackerel the day before. We were casting jigs with plastic baits attached and had picked up some nice Spotted Sea Trout, including three keepers to 19 inches.

I had a hit on my line. Wasn’t much of a hit…then all of a sudden “the fish” came up out of the water…all shiny and silver. As it rose up I immediately thought, “it’s a shark.” It was enormous. As it fell back into the water, creating a splash something like what you might get if you dropped a bathtub full of cement on the water’s surface, I realized it was a tarpon. A very big tarpon.

Wayne and I looked at each other…our mouths hanging open.

The tarpon was off and running…so was the line off the spool of the reel. I had hung this fish on a 7-foot, medium-light rod built for 6-12 pound line and 1/4-1/2-oz. lures. The line on the number 2500 reel was only 10-lb. and there was only a 3-foot, 20-lb. leader at the end of the line. This outfit is designed for handling fish maybe to 15 pounds. We guessed that the fish in question weighed 160 pounds, although Wayne felt it weighed closer to 200 than to 150 pounds.

Wayne got the trolling motor back into its mount and started the big motor so we could chase the fish and put some line back on the reel. We were off and chasing.

The next minutes are a blur. We followed that fish over miles of water. The fish jumped 5-6 times throwing spectacular amounts of water into the air each time. Sometimes we were so close to the fish that we could see it down in the water next to us. Other times it was peeling off line and heading for the ditch running through the adjacent sandbar.

With the rod/reel combo I was using there was no way to turn the fish. I tightened down the drag and hauled back on the rod to the point where we thought surely something has to break: The 10-lb line, the line-to-leader connection [a J-knot], the leader to jig connection [no-slip mono loop]…something had to give.
Nothing did.

The tarpon ran us up into shallow water…less than 2 feet deep…then it turned and came straight back at the boat somehow passing directly under the boat on its way to deeper water. There I was with the rod tip down in the water on the left side of the boat…the line running under the keel…and the fish on the other side heading for Cuba. I had to force the rod out away from the side of the boat and out around the trolling motor on the bow. The tarpon was still on. Wayne was doing a masterful job of boat-handling so that there was always line on the reel and the fish was always in a good position for me to fight it.

It’s hard to imagine the pressure that was on the fishing gear…especially the knots…and this went on for an hour and forty minutes.

One hour and forty minutes.

The fish was tiring…I was too. But it actually began to look as though we might have a chance of getting the fish alongside the boat. [Down here you can fish for tarpon but it’s illegal to remove them from the water…you have to unhook them at the side of the boat.]

Then the line popped.

The line had broken just above the line-leader knot.

The battle was over, but I had survived…and the fish is still out there alive and kicking as well.

Although I lost the fish of a lifetime, my only regret is that with Wayne at the helm of the boat and with me at the other end of the line connected to the tarpon, there was no one to take photos. No shots of the jumps. No pix of the fish down in the water near the boat.

Later on that afternoon, I asked Wayne: “Did that really happen, or did I just imagine the whole thing?

He responded, “Nope, it really did happen.”

I may have to keep asking Wayne that same question over the next several years.