Hello from Florida. I know that the fishing has not really blossomed around Shelter Island quite yet so I wanted to let you know that there’s some big fish somewhere and you can go get them.
I went out with my son-in-law, Dean Weaver, on his fast fishing boat along with a guide a few days ago with hopes of landing a lot of tarpon in the Gulf of Mexico between Ft. Myers up to the end of Sanibel island. We arrived at a good hour and fished with 10 other boats for three hours and saw very few “rolls” from the “Silver King” (a.k.a tarpon) that we can catch in the 85- to 110-pound area.
There was little going on around us except for a large group of more than 10 very large manatees (sea cows) moving past. We had only one bite catching and releasing a single small black tip shark.
Our guide had been talking to his buddies by cellphone throughout our search for tarpon and they were doing no better. We decided to go outside the Bay and into the super-calm Gulf where our guide had had some luck earlier in the week. We ran the boat through the narrow waterway out to the Gulf and then turned south outside, going about 3 miles where we noted five boats in one area, one with a tarpon hooked up before it jumped loose.
As we moved toward the activity we were immediately surrounded by dolphins. We baited up with four lines and casted them in the direction where we saw several good-sized tarpon surfacing, shining like mirrors as they started to work the area looking for food.
After a half an hour we noticed a bite or two on some of the other boats with no boats landing the hooked fish as they all jumped off quickly. I finally got a real bite as a tarpon picked up the bait on the line of the hefty STAR spinning rod I was holding with a heavy duty Penn spinning reel loaded with 75-pound Power Pro line on it, a 125-pound leader with a large-sized baited hook. The game was on!
I grabbed the rod and set the hook and immediately got a fabulous water-clearing jump and landing with a huge splash out of a large fish in the 100-pound range that really took off, trying to get away. With some scrambling we got the boat lined up properly bow to the fish and over the next 40-plus minutes it was a series of who could pull the hardest, the fish or me, followed by a short run and several other sky-high jumps.
It really was a give-and-take situation with me applying terrific pressure on the quarry and a strong fish that swam hard and jumped clear of the water almost every 6 to 8 minutes with me dropping the rod tip so the fish couldn’t land on the line and break it off.
So there I am, an 82-year-old, 170-pound fisherman trying to tug this monster closer to the boat, not knowing if he was going to continue to make 50-yard runs at 20 mph, which I had to counter while my companions cheered me on. As the fight continued, the tarpon tired a bit and I’d get the fish within 15 yards of the boat, but suddenly it would be in the air, eye-to-eye with us, followed by a huge splash and another long run.
Finally, after 42 minutes of a back-breaking tug-of-war, and with the help of lots of cheers from the others aboard, I was able to work the fish to within 5 yards of the boat, so close that the captain was ready to grab it by the lips (there are no big teeth in a tarpon’s mouth) and we all thought the fish was ready to quit.
I was hoping that Mr. Tarpon would let us take a fish scale about the size of a large silver dollar off its body (which I have done many times in the past) and let us get our photos at close range. Wrong again. The fish made a quick turn away from the boat and made a surprise dive. I put some power on it thinking I could turn it and … twang! The hook finally pulled out and the fish was loose and gone.
We all looked at each other and moaned. I admit saying a few cuss words as it disappeared into the deeper water giving me a “Ha-Ha”-wag of its tail, which I hope meant, “I’ll see you again some day.”
After that struggle it was apparent the fish school had spread out and gotten spotty as the tide started to change. Since we were over 20 miles from our dock, we headed in that direction, ending our day on the water.
The photo attached was taken by my daughter Debbie Weaver who was with us from Jamestown, N.Y., an expert photographer. We both remembered the time we fished for tarpon for the first time with a really “old coot” captain on a wooden 30-foot boat way back in 1984. On that trip we fished about 20 miles farther north of this week’s fishing trip at a still famous spot called Boca Grande. We both had to grab the captain by his belt as he worked to haul my first tarpon over the gunwaIe. We lost several others that day so long ago but we had that fish mounted and it is still on the wall in our house on Shelter island.
Deb pushed me hard to go out the next week with the same old guide to the same place and, believe it or not, she landed a fish larger than mine and still tells all of her friends about it. We had to release that one since I didn’t have enough cash to pay for another mounting. These days you have to release all caught tarpon at boatside according to the law.
Take a good look at Debbie’s photo and try to imagine you or your family members trying to corral some of these magnificent fish and you’ll have the thrill of a lifetime. Beautiful weather, great scenery and fun boating too.
See you on Shelter Island in a month.