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Great waters provide more great fishing

Once again, Manatee County proved it has some of the best fishing waters in the world.

A 10-minute boat ride to tarpon. What can be better?

Capt. T.J. Stewart of Cast Away Charters made the quick trip from the 59th Street boat ramp to the Sunshine Skyway bridge on Friday morning.

Two hours and six hooked tarpon later, Bob Lumsden from Greensboro, Ga., was boiling over with fishing fury.

“That,” Lumsden said, “was the best trip of my life.”

Setting up under the southern span just after the sun shed a blinding streak across Tampa Bay, Stewart used shiners, 65-pound PowerPro line, 80-pound fluorocarbon leader and small circle hooks with shiners (believe it or not) to trigger a silver king bite.

Even when tides on the flats are slow, those around the bridge seem to be twice as fast in the open waters.

Lumsden’s favorite fight involved a tarpon that didn’t come to the boat. The bruiser blasted away from the pilings and into open water. After a long run, the line lengthened and rose as the water parted for the skyrocketing tarpon, a piscatorial cocktail of gill-plate rattling and silver-scale shimmying.

“I like fish that jump,” Lumdsen said, “smallmouth bass jump a lot. I also like fly-fishing for trout.”

But this was no trout.

It was about an 80-pound bait-wrecker.

There are not as many big tarpon as there were from February through June, but the small ones can still put a hurting on an angler, even with heavy tackle.

It is, of course, a good idea not to lose those expensive outfits. That morning, as we headed out, Stewart told a story of how a customer, about a month ago, had left a rod leaning against the gunnel with the spool closed. A snook ripped the rod into the water, and Stewart leaped into the water to save his rod.

Fast-forward to Friday. Stewart was pulling anchor when he accidentally kicked two rods into the water.

A second later, Stewart was in the water, scattering bait fish under the bridge as he grabbed his rods. There was no hesitation before the jump.

“I’m not letting two rods go,” Stewart said.

Too bad tarpon aren’t as easy to tame. We hooked six and brought two to the boat. I had one that freed itself of the hook after it jumped from the water, and bowing the rod to the tarpon to put slack in the line didn’t make a difference.

It was only a half-day of fishing, but once again, Manatee County did itself proud.

“I’ve never done that before,” Lumsden said. “There were a lot of fish moving around, I got good guiding advice on how to handle the fish. And it was a great fight. It’s all about the fight, and if you want to eat fish, go to the grocery store.”

I had to respectfully disagree, however, and take two plump mangrove snapper home to the fryer.

That also is what Manatee fishing is about.

Nick Walter, Herald staff writer, can be reached at 745-7013.