We cruised down the road a short ways when Tiger told me to pull over. ‘Ready to catch some tarpon?’, he asked. I don’t remember my exact reply, but yeah, I was ready. We walked down to the side where the tide ran under the bridge. It was dark except for the street lights shining down onto the water . ‘Right along that line, the shadow line, it’s where they’ll be if they’re here,’ Tiger said. We stood in the dark staring and listened. We could hear water crashing.
“They’re here, big tarpon too’, he said, ‘let’s get ready’. He headed back to the car. I stood for a few moments straining my eyes to see something, anything in the water, but it was too dark. They’re out there. My anticipation continued to build. We rigged up a 9 weight rod with a piece of 30 lb tippet about 7 feet long and a fly Tiger had tied and spun with deer hair. It resembled a small mullet which is what the tarpon were feeding on. It was tricky casting in the dark and having to shoot my backcast between a sign and a light pole. After some time we determined that the wind and the limited area of that bridge proved too difficult to fish and we ventured down the road.
The next bridge offered plenty of space for backcasts. I was instructed to cast out at a good distance and let it drift into the shadow water all the time retrieving it fast enough not to get snagged on the bridge pylons. I had never had a tarpon hit my fly and had no idea what to expect. I don’t remember how many casts I had made, not too many, when I was stripping my fly in and the line stopped and stopped hard. In an instant, I forgot everything I was supposed to do to set the hook. The best I could do was freeze. The fish was close enough for both of us to see. The surface exploded, light flashed off the water and the fish when it jumped. Tiger yelled, ‘you got him?’ ‘No’, I answered staring at the spot where the fish had been. I admitted that the fish had scared the hell out of me. Tiger laughed, ‘that was a nice fish too’, he said. We had been trading off, but he told me to keep fishing. He was as determined to get me my first tarpon as I was.
A few more casts and the next time I was ready. The line stopped hard again, I strip set the hook, clasped down on the line and rod handle, pointed the rod down and jerked back on it twice to further set the hook. The fight was on. As fast as I could I reeled all the loose line in on the reel and kept the pressure on by pointing the rod down using the butt of the rod to fight the fish and prevent it from going under the bridge. The fish jumped and ran, I brought it in, it jumped and ran again. It flashed in the light adding to the mystery of its size. It didn’t matter what size it was, it was a baby tarpon that would be my first if I could land it without it breaking off or spitting the fly! With coaching from Tiger, I was able to bring the fish in. It was beautiful. It shone like a chrome plated trophy with eyes that glowed red-orange. He grabbed it with the boca grip and it weighed in at 15 lbs. Soon after Tiger brought one in and it weighed in at 10 lbs. We each lit up one of Tiger’s special victory cigars and after 12 hours on the road, called it a night.
The following days brought little results. We fished hard and long each day, but fish were not to be seen let alone cast to. Weather and wind were uncooperative. Our saving grace was fishing the bridges at night for baby tarpon. On the second night we each caught a couple and on our last night while a handful were lost due to spit flies and break offs, we boated four tarpon that ranged from 10 to 15 lbs. We fished hard, got little sleep, drank a lot of beer, smoked many cigars and caught tarpon on the fly. It was the perfect road trip to a bridge not too far.
-Chris D, Guest Columnist
Also Check out: A Bridge Not Too Far (part 1)