Today just shows what Key West fishing is all about. For the past ten days we have run miles in search of top quality action but today Tom, Robin and I were never further than two miles from our base. Why? The tarpon are in town.
Unusually chill weather and low pressure has stopped the Silver King action but now we’re settled, warm and with easterly winds (good here, unlike at home), Mr T is on the munch.
True we only had two fish successfully to the boat today, both to Robin, but we hooked and jumped 6 and were really unlucky with 3 of the others.
The first fish came quite early, off a Fort Zachary Taylor State Park Beach. We’d found tarpon rolling on a rock pile and set up to chum them out into the tide. There were plenty of snappers giving us action, with decent yellowtail and muttons but when a poor, unfortunate yellowtail was itself snappered up by a big barracuda, Robin quickly set up a wire trace and gave it toothache…but not after a fantastic jump.
It wasn’t too long after that I hooked a tarpon; not a big fish – as tarpon go – probably around 60lb. After its initial and characteristic leap it swam into the human swimming area where boats can’t go but some brilliant manoeuvring by Capt Ryan saved the day and we soon had it out into open water, at the expense of some badly abraded line. That meant I couldn’t apply maximum pressure, although it wasn’t having things easy.
The fish turned the corner into the harbour, with us in pursuit and things seemed to be going my way until, for some inexplicable reason, the hooklnk parted. It was chafed just above the hook, something that happens occasionally.
It was Tom’s turn to hook up next, followin a move into the harbour proper, in front of Sunset Key. Us old timers know this as Tank Island as it was once the storage facility for Key West’s water and fuel. Now it is a luxury resort for people such as Oprah Winfrey and, allegedly, Sylvester Stallone. Perhaps that’s why it has rocky shores.
The tarpon Tom hooked was a beast, an absolutely monster. It leapt soon after being hooked then for reasons known only to it, ran to the shoreline and stayed there. Perhaps it was looking for celebrities but it never moved more than 10-15ft from the bank. There is a buoyed-off area for swimming and it went round the there twice, once each way.
We kept following the fish, all the way round to the back of the island where there is a small pier and dock for the ferry that runs customers across the harbour. Tom’s fish went that way and no amount of pulling or straining could deflect it from its intentions of smashing him up.
Tom, however, had other ideas and when the fish went under the pier he decided to leap in and go after it.
Having seen a VERY big hammerhead shark half an hour before, it was a brave decision and I’m with that lovely Scottish angler Paul Young in situations such as that. He always says “NFWI”: No Fish Worth It. However, Tom is much younger and VERY much fitter than me. Unfortunately, the line had been so badly chafed on the pier supports it soon parted.
We returned to our anchor and I hooked another tarpon that went under an invisible rope – well, we couldn’t see it – that was a long way beneath the surface and despite running the boat round and round the point of entry, eventually the line cut off! I was quite calm…😡
Robin’s turn came next on a new Daiwa rod and reel that he’s field testing and a tarpon that looked quite small took off with the usual leap. He soon subdued it – about 20 minutes counts as soon – and when he brought it to the surface it looked MUCH bigger…it was close to 80lb.
Once the fish came up I managed to grab the leader – using gloves! – and jump the fish off.
By now the tide was dying so we ran up to Demolition Key and set up there. It wasn’t long before tarpon were rolling in the channel behind us but the sea was alive with snappers. The water is 12ft deep and boiling with the speed of current yet they intercept the bait as it flies past.
Once again it was Robin tha made the hook-up and it was a BIG fish. Luckily it swam uptide which helps to beat it but then it speeded up and ran onto a shallow flat, no more than 2ft deep. It ceased to be a surprise when a damn great bull shark appeared behind it, chasing it.
Luckily the shark was put off by the shallow water and disappeared. Robin’s rod and reel did the damage again and soon the fish was laying beside th boat, asking to be released so I put on the glove and duly obliged, a fitting end to yet another’s wonderful day’s fishing in Paradise.