OK, now it’s tarpon time. We are almost into the last week of May, and in between the very windy days, the tarpon action has been great for the fly fisher. Tarpon are being found everywhere: On the beach from Sanibel to Sarasota, inside from Pine Island Sound into Charlotte Harbor, and still up the Peace and Myakka Rivers.
I’m glad to say the tarpon seem to be as abundant this year as ever before… and I’m sorry to say that they seem to be acting the same as ever before. What does that mean? It means there will be a few days when I have it all figured out. I’ll get on fish that my clients will cast to (if they can cast) — and lo and behold, the tarpon eat! I am the tarpon god! I can’t do anything wrong.
Then, I’ll go to find those fish and they aren’t there or just won’t show. Or (and this is worse) I do find them, and they pretend that they don’t even know me. “But I am the tarpon god!” I proclaim, as they swim by giving me the proverbial fin like tarpon do.
Geez, I hate tarpon! No, I take that back — I love them. No, I hate ‘em. Really, it’s a very fine line between love or hate. At the very least, I am obsessed with them. And for a few months out of the year, we live in one of the top tarpon gathering grounds in the world. Maybe I should move for the sake of my mental health.
Yes, we live in the greatest gathering spot for tarpon in the world — but, I have been lucky (?) to have fished for, caught and been given the fin by tarpon all around this giant peninsula we live on, plus a few more exotic places.
Carrabelle (Lanark) up in the Florida Panhandle was where I caught my first tarpon over a hundred pounds. What a great day that was to be a tarpon god. Sliding south around the panhandle is Cedar Key, home of my biggest tarpon ever on fly. Yes, tarpon god again.
South of that is Homosassa, a place of tarpon myth and legend. Billy Pate, Al Pflueger, Capt. Bill Curtis and Capt. Steve Huff, to name a few, were the tarpon gods of the day. It has been said that the fishing was so good that world records never made it to the IGFA record books, because they were broken day after day. When I got there 25 years later, the fish seemed few (compared to the stories) and they were all giving me the fin big time.
I guess the Tampa Bay area would come next on the tarpon spot hit list. But it seems like all their captains and clients come here to fish, so I’ve never been. I’m sure it would be another wonderful place to be given the fin. Sarasota has given up a couple fish for me, but I have received more fins there also.
Now we come to our territory, South Venice to Sanibel on the beach and the whole Boca Grande-Charlotte Harbor area. We know what this place is like is like. If you don’t know, read the first paragraph again.
Let’s resume our gathering of fin flippers in the Everglades, from Marco Island to the Florida Bay side of the Keys. I haven’t even begun to put a dent in all of that water.
My first experience with laid-up tarpon came down there in the park. I love that game! Find those big fish sunning and sleeping over the warm mud bottom, put a fly on their nose, watch them flare their gills like a Hoover vacuum and in the air they go! Awesome. Then you spook one, and it takes so long for the mud to clear in that area that you need to find another spot to fish. You just know that you got the biggest fin ever, but you can’t even see it through the cloud of mud.
We all know about the Keys tarpon fishing. In the Keys, there seem to be more tarpon willing to eat a well-presented fly. Badda-boom, badda-bing, tarpon god in Big Pine Key! Then I moved up three bridges to Islamorada; nothing but smirks and fins from those fish.
Is there a recurring theme here? Let’s keep moving up the coast (skipping over Miami, of course; I just don’t want to go there). Now we have to travel all the way up to the Titusville area. This is where I caught my first Florida tarpon in Flip Pallot’s canoe. I fished in the Indian River and many of its adjacent canals he directed me to explore.
What great fun catching the juveniles that roamed those waters. Once you had the size fly you needed, it was game on for days. Then, just like their moms and dads, bam — they hit you with the fin and you had to start all over again. Even at that young age, they have no respect for us.
Further north to Jacksonville, straight up I-95 we travel for more youngsters in the backwater sloughs and lakes that surround that area. Redfishing is good in the marshes, but I heard rumors of baby tarpon in the lakes so it was bye-bye redfish. I pushed and poled my little Pathfinder over oyster bars and scraped by cypress stumps to get into these little jewels of water … and found rollers everywhere
I was ecstatic. I was in fly rod heaven. Come to find out that, although I had a thousand flies with me that day, none of them were the right one. They rubbed that fact in continuously by rolling and giving me the fin until I had to leave before darkness set in. I never did catch any of those little jerks — but the redfishing was good.
My last stop is off the peninsula of Florida just up the Georgia coast to the St. Simons area. Fishing for tarpon here is just looking for rollers in dirty water (sound familiar?) and trying to get a fly in front of them. I caught a few and jumped a few more. I loved fishing tarpon there, because you couldn’t see them giving you the fin during those long, long periods of no takes in that dirty water.
We could add many more places to the list: The Bahamas, Belize, the Yucatan peninsula, Honduras, Costa Rica and beyond. I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that no matter where you go to fish for tarpon, you could be a tarpon god or a collector of flipped fins. I’ve been both many times. Hey — that’s tarpon fishing.
Capt. Rex Gudgel is a fly fishing guide in the Boca Grande area and an International Federation of Fly Fishers Master Certified casting instructor. If you’d like to get casting lessons, book a trip or just need more fly fishing info, contact him at 706-254-3504 or visit BocaGrandeSlamFlyFishing.com or CastWithRex.com.