We’re far from the herd now.
A mammoth tarpon has dragged our 23-foot Dorado tower boat away from the swarms of boats taking advantage of possibly thousands of tarpon that are feeding in preparation for their upcoming spawn.
Now, seated in a fighting chair, I have a decision to make.
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I can only feel stinging pains in my hands that have clenched an 8-foot Billy Stick custom-made rod for a half-hour. My arms are shaking each time I dip the rod and reel 50-pound line into the spool of my Shimano Trinidad 20 reel. Each revolution of the handle, a sweat-spitting ordeal, gets the tarpon maybe a couple yards closer from the bottom of this deep water pass.
So I decide to lean back, straighten my arms, and put the burden of this beast on my back muscles. Then, once I’ve worn out that option, I cradle and cross my arms around the rod, my tense hands free to sweat in the sun.
“You can hand the rod off,” one of the anglers on the boat said — I’ll never remember which one after my dizzied state. “We do that sometimes.”
Not an option. I’d gone this far. The tarpon hit our standard tarpon jig and, after that, it was 30 minutes of heavy weight lifting. The pole would have to fall from my hands.
This, perhaps, is the addiction anglers have with tarpon fishing in Boca Grande Pass. Besides the camaraderie, the pods of tarpon that suddenly roll their great silver backs through the water, the whole spectacle of sometimes fishing 10 feet from four boats, this is the habit Boca Grande silver-king fanatics may never snap.
“It’s addicting, isn’t it?” one angler onboard said.
I struggled to say, “Oh, yeah.”
Finally, the tarpon was boat side. We managed to grab the leader — the closest thing to landing a tarpon because it is now illegal to boat one.
I wondered why I felt so crippled after this fish put it to me. A high-five to a fishing buddy felt like squeezing an over-pumped tennis ball.
It swam away and I watched its awesome girth part a wavy path in the choppy water. That’s when I found out why.
“That,” Capt. T.J. Stewart, “is the fattest tarpon I’ve ever seen.”
I had to ask if that was true.
“Really,” Stewart said, “it was.”
Later, Dave Stark brought a tarpon to the boat that a team of Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute members estimated was between 160 and 170 pounds.
“If that’s true,” Stewart said, “yours was probably 180 or 190.”
We’ll never know.
Regardless, it was an adventure of a lifetime. There were two hooked tarpon that escaped pursuing fish after either Dave Stark or Steve Fecher, on board from Daytona and fishing with Stewart as their team “MyELS.com/Castaway Charters” prepared for Sunday’s Professional Tarpon Tournament Series, opened the spool and let the silver king run. There were multiple tangles in lines where jigs were removed from other boats’ lines. There even was a swapping of rods.
This came when Stark’s tarpon went underneath another boat. On that boat, an angler also had hooked a silver king. Because their angler couldn’t get their line over our tower, we simply traded rods and fought each other’s fish.
Both fish got off and all tackle was given back to its proper owner.
In all, we hooked nine tarpon and “landed” five.
Looking back on this epic adventure, it seems there are two reminders that mark a stellar day of Boca Grande tarpon fishing — the memories of curling rods and the battered limbs that could cramp for days.
THE GUIDE: Capt. T.J. Stewart of Cast Away Charters can be reached at 737-5985. Web site is www.castawaycharters inc.com.