Written by: Sarah Hoog
I hear the alarm go off at 5 a.m., jump up, grab an iPhone, and check the weather. Guess what? It’s blowing 15 knots. But what else is new? It must be my day to fish because the water was slick calm the last two days while I was working. Oh well. We decide to pass on a day of fishing and go back to sleep. At 7 a.m., the dogs are making noise, so we’re awake again and my husband Chris says, “I just had a dream you caught a tarpon, get ready. We’re going.” Well, okay. Twist my arm! So we take our time getting ready, swing by Cracker Barrel for a breakfast sandwich, to go (of course.) We pop on down to the boat at the crack of 8:15 and head out into a nasty chop.
The first spot yields nothing, so onto the next, which is a 6-mile run directly into the waves. It’s okay, though; I didn’t need to use my back today for any reason. We pull up to the bank, and right away there is a single tarpon coming at me. Wind or no wind, I will not mess this up! So, perfect cast, right in front of him, and, he turns away. Discouraging, yes, but five minutes later here comes another. Same result, absolutely no interest in my fly (or my perfect presentation.) A few minutes later, a group of five goes by, and I have to cast into the wind, which doesn’t work so well, and off they go to the north. I’m still pumped, fish are moving today, but are they biting? Chris decides to change my fly, and I’m rocking the Chartreuse Tarpon Bunny on my custom Helios 12-weight now, electric blue thread and all. We did that fly change just in time because there is a school of five tarpon coming at me. I cast, drop it right in front of them, let it sink, and WHAM, the lead fish absolutely inhales the fly.
Now, it’s been awhile since I hooked a fish, so that tarpon ate and I kind of froze up. Duh, setting the hook would be a great plan, and what seems like five minutes after he eats, I realize this. I set the hook and off he goes. I’m hooked up, finally! I’m yelling and whooping, as only a chick can, and the boats going through the channel next to us are yelling and whooping right back. It was really tons of fun, and even more fun that I got the leader release about five minutes into the fight. After that, I just wanted a picture with the fish. So I fought him for another 20 minutes to get him boatside. When he gave up, he just hung alongside while we took pics and revived all 80 pounds of him. He swam off to fight another day. Next time Chris tells me he’s had a dream of me catching a tarpon, I’ll believe him!
We set back up, and it’s Chris’s turn. I get the platform, and he gets the bow. He misses a few, much like I did, but then gets the same scenario; casts to a school and the lead fish gobbles that fly right up. His fish was 100 pounds and jumped like a whirling dervish. I have no idea how he stayed hooked, but we got the leader in minutes and headed back to the dock two-for-two, in less than two hours.
So, what did we learn? Even a bad weather day can yield a great catch! Luckily we had the wind at our backs and were able to make long casts to the fish before they got too close and were spooked by the boat.
Now that tarpon season is winding down, I’m so happy that I finally got to fight one at our home port. And, even though my husband’s fish was bigger than mine, it’s okay. I’m realizing that I’ve got to let him win, sometimes!
Sarah Hoog is a devoted fly fisher and manager of the Orvis Ocean Reef Club store.