Sunday, 10 June 2012

Key West, Florida, Part One

June 2nd,

I don't want to make you all jealous but as I sit here writing this it is 28 degrees, 10.37pm and my view is of the hotel pool and the calm sea waters of Duck Key beyond. I have a cold Bud to hand, there is a lady plucking acoustic tunes in the distance and the smell of fire torches is alighting my nasal senses. The kids are playing well together(for a change!) And the wife is quiet mainly due to her Rum cocktail. There is a downside to it all though but again I feel your sympathy may be in short supply. I have discovered new muscles and they are sending sharp twinges of pain to my brain even if I don't move. This morning I endured the longest hardest battle of strength and wits I have ever had with any fish and I think both of us will agree it was honours even.
Last week I spent five days straight in Disneyland, Orlando. The kids loved it, as did both Claire and I but by day five I was beat. We then drove down to Key West and it was 'adult time'. We checked in to our hotel late Wednesday afternoon and first thing Thursday morning I was in the concierge's ear quizzing him about getting a day afloat. Within an hour he had a Captain (not skipper as in Blighty) lined up for me, I was booked for the following day.
There is plenty of species down here to cross off the bucket list but I fancied getting out on the flats, Tarpon being the target. The following morning I was awoken by the phone ringing by the bed, unbelievable, while England bathed in glorious sunshine the Florida Keys was hit with tropical storms, 6 o'clock and a thunderstorm raged outside, my fishing session is postponed for 24 hours.  Saturday morning came, along with a break in the weather (we have had three days of rain whilst we have been over here!) and Brendon the Captain for the day picked me up at 6.15am with his boat on the trailer and down to the harbour we went.
Dawn, Key West Harbour
A quick stop off at the bait shop for crabs (never did find out what they were for) and we set off to his traps to pick up live bait. Then came the first surprise of the day. Trap one held a load of pinfish (what we wanted) and a large Moray eel (which we didn't want!).
Baitfish plus unwanted Moray Eel
We set the eel free, carefully!, and then proceeded to empty the other trap, thankfully full of pinfish only. Brendon's father was already fishing and his clients had lost two Tarpon already that morning so we anchored alongside as this was the obvious place to start.
Tarpon Alley
A pinfish was hooked on to a size 3/0 circle hook and cast out. Within five minutes the rod stopped it's small baitfish tapping as it bent double, fish on.  In Florida they call it sport fishing but I thought it a little ridiculous that to catch a massive powerful fish they use a seven foot spinning rod with 15lb braid mainline and a 20lb mono hook length. I just hung on, there was nothing else I could do.  Tarpon are a prehistoric creature, this is born out by the fact their evolution has not changed them for 18 million years, we were still apes then! They have the ability to breathe underwater but also the capacity to take huge gulps of air and process that also into energy. Any other fish you battle if it takes a gulp of air you know you have it beaten, with a Tarpon it has more energy for a fight. They come to the surface regularly which means you know what you're up against . Sometimes this is a nerve racking roll, other times an acrobatic leap seven feet in the air, spectacular shows of agility and aggressive behaviour.
Taken on Brendon's phone
The big girl I was attached to leapt out over a dozen times and every leap was accompanied by a 'that's a big fish man!' from my guide or 'that's a one thirty pounder!'. He wasn't helping my nerves in the slightest.  After 25 minutes I was starting to feel the pain. On the light gear we used we could do nothing but follow this fish. Slightly stronger tackle would still be sporting but give the angler more power to exert on the fish.  Before I knew it I had been playing the fish for an hour, I was swapping arms, gaining line where I could only for the tarpon to take it back at will and we had travelled two miles from where it was hooked. Hemingway must have hooked a Tarpon and not a Marlin, pound for pound there is no comparison. Ten minutes later we finally got the fish close enough to touch the leader, a caught fish in the skipper's mind and also according to the IGFA's rule book.
Despite my aching muscles I wanted to continue and try to get this fish on the boat. By now we were well off the flats where we hooked it and about 3 miles out to sea, yachts and speedboats passed us and it was getting choppy. Remnants from the recent storm. The skipper's father's Tarpon had also ended up out to sea but they decided it was too choppy and had cut the line. We soldiered on. The two hour mark passed, the fish was tiring, and so was I to the point of exhaustion. My shirt was welded to my back with sweat and I needed water.  I gave it as much pressure as I could probably too much because as I got it to the boat the mono parted. Respect was due on both sides. I do not think I will ever have another battle like it. I salute you big girl.  The question is does it count? The skipper said 'yes'. IGFA's rules say 'yes'. Some people may think 'no'. I am going with the adage 'when in Rome etc etc...'. My latest pb is a Tarpon of 130lb.  That wasn't the end of the session though. I drank a bottle of water in one, half of another bottle and sat down for a breather. The skipper asked if wanted to go for another Tarpon, no way, let's do something a bit easier. Off we sped to the mangrove flats.
Stunning Flats and Mangroves
The scenery was stunning, the water clearer than gin. We spotted Sting Rays, various sharks and our target species Barracuda. Every cast with a surface popping rattling lure produced a follow but they were being fussy.  At the third spot we found some 'Cuda' feeding aggressively and I nailed five in quick succession.
Toothy Critter!!
It was great fun as they attacked the lure hard and shot off stripping line and making the reel screech. The biggest was a four pounder, not massive but another species ticked off the bucket list and a new PB set.
Second pb of the day
I was back in the harbour by 1 pm, boat on the trailer and in the swimming pool with the kids by half past.


  1. That's fantastic! Well done on a monster tarpon. I say a leader touch is a caught fish and I believe I'm right in saying that in Florida you need a 'harvest tag' to actually remove a tarpon from the water, even for a quick photo before releasing.
    Very protective of there fish over here, and rightly so.

  2. Well done Joe, one in the bag for certain mate!