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21st century tarpon: back to the future with The prehistoric, bone-crusher brute.


Ever since the first recorded landing of a tarpon in Florida in modern times--New Yorker W.H. Wood's catch in 1885 near Fort Myers, in Lee County--tarpon have been aweing anglers with their magnificence, power and crushing indifference to human civilization's presence. Even if we build it, and build it we have in Florida, the tarpon keep on coming.

Great fisheries that still exist today grew up around those first tarpon catches in Southwest Florida and in the Keys, where anglers from around the world go to test their nerves and skills against the silver king. And the tarpon keep coming to meet them.

In the old days, tarpon fishing was primarily the sport of rich men and women, fishing with local guides in 8-foot lapstrake rowboats. For the last 40 years, FS has tracked tarpon up and down our state's coasts, so that by now, we could tell you where to go in Florida any day of the year to try to catch a big tarpon. And still, after a century, the tarpon keep returning to our coasts.


Back in the good-old days, big tarpon were customarily killed and posted on spikes as trophies. In recent years, that killing has stopped, and now attention is focused on proper revival and release techniques to give the tarpon a chance to fight again. Many tarpon anglers, even during tournaments, also engage in tagging studies to help scientists track tarpon migrations. In the latest wrinkle, anglers are helping the FWC collect DNA samples of tarpon. As much as we've learned over the last century about the species, there's still much more to be revealed about the great and ancient king, Megalops atlanticus.

And still, the tarpon keep coming.


--David Conway, Managing Editor



In our earliest issues, we were busy tracking tarpon around the state--from the Keys, north to Lauderdale, and on the west coast, from Ten Thousand Islands to Tampa. By then, the tarpon migration had been well-routed and established in anglers' minds, but the traditions and lore of fishing, jumping, landing and losing silver kings were still growing. In this issue, Lofty Kreh, among other notable contributors, chronicled the myriad ways we target tarpon and the tackle and techniques used.--Ed.


"Nothing in fishing thrills me more than to stand on a casting platform of a skiff, armed with a fragile fly rod or spinning stick, and see a log of a tarpon coasting across the hats.

The big ones, more than 100 pounds, make you feel inept and foolish as you stand there, poised with a three-inch streamer fly in your hand ... Legs become rubber supports, arms inoperable, and eyes misjudge."

Regional Editor Bill Miller gave a snapshot of the fishery at Boca Grande, circa 1970.

"On a busy weekend in June as many as 70 boats may be fishing the pass at one time. Boats which have completed a drift race back uptide to begin another. The traffic is like Grand Central Station ...

Though decades were to go by before all tournaments switched over to the release format, the change was afoot among anglers.--Ed.

"By freeing the tarpon while it is still a bit 'green,' guides increase the odds of the fish being able to escape the huge sharks in the pass. The Boca Grande guides seldom kill a tarpon unless it is to be mounted. This quick release practiced by the guides allows a couple of anglers to 'catch' a dozen or more fish on a single tide."

These days, all of the big tournaments are catch and release.--Ed.

MARCH 1978


In his survey and analysis of boats popular with tarpon guides around the state, editor Don Mann probed into the history of the ultimate tarpon-catching craft.--Ed.

"The skiffs preferred by the greatest number of Florida Keys guides and tarpon pros include the Mako 17, the Fibercraft Guide Skiff, the Murphy Skimmer, the Maverick, the Hewes Bonefisher and Redfisher and the newer Super models of Bob Hewes' standards."

Mann also put down in words what today turns out to be a nostalgic look at yesterday's easier prices.--Ed.

"Base price of the Mako 17 is $3,395 with a lengthy list of options ... The Maverick goes for about $4,500, but it should be noted that this hefty tag includes a number of niceties that many other builders list as extra-cost options."

The price of FS back then, incidentally, was $1.--Ed.

JULY 1982



Long-time contributor Chico Fernandez became famous for his exploratory work in sorting out, and divulging, the mysterious ways of snook, tarpon and permit, and for his love of easy-access, roadside canal fishing. His take-all-comers style included giving baby tarpon their fair due--babies, that is, that even at 30 pounds can rattle an angler's cage and pull like a horse.--Ed.

"For my money, baby tarpon have to be the best all-around sport fish in south Florida. If tarpon could be filleted and deep fried, they would be perfect. But, they would also be scarce, so I am thankful they're not good to eat."

MARCH 1984



Writer Stuart McIver dove into the rich history of Florida tarpon fishing, down to the start of it all with his story profiling Tarpon House, the legendary hotel on San Carlos Bay where anglers pursuing tarpon lodged during the late 1800s.--Ed.

"Perched atop 14-foot pilings, the Shultz Hotel, as it was called in the beginning, was a ramshackle, unpainted, salt-encrusted, wooden building. Some said it looked like an abandoned barn. "But Shultz, for some reason, was not attracting losers to his hotel. His guest list read like an international Who's Who: Grover Cleveland; Thomas A. Edison [and] a raft of financiers and captains of industry ... By the late 1880s the southwest coast of Florida was the place to catch tarpon, and the in place to stay while seeking the silver king was Shultz's hotel."




Writer Mike Holliday's blow-by-blow account of going toe-to-fin with a tarpon on the beach, full of know-how and tackle advice, stands as a classic piece of outdoors writing.--Ed.

"Maybe I willed that fish to a stop, or possibly some watchful force deemed my effort worthy of slowing that initial run, but the fish came to a halt with less than 10 yards of line left on the spool, then began running back toward the beach.'"


JUNE 1991


In this five-story spread to celebrate summer, FS covered tarpon action all over Florida, including the game at the Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay, along the bridges in the Keys and the famed palolo worm hatch, among other hotspots.--Ed.

From Glenn Law: "There are almost as many ways to hook up with one of these big shiny herring as there are places to fish for them."

From Jon West: "I lowered the greenback, lip-hooked onto a 7/0 hook, into the tide and free-lined the baitfish until it was swimming on the surface in the shadow cast by the bridge. Tarpon often hang out along this shadow line, out of the intense sunlight of summer's day."

From Ben Taylor: "On dark nights you let your ears do the 'watching.' Rolling and feeding tarpon make plenty of noise, and at night there usually isn't much other noise to drown them out."

From Biff Lampton: "You hear the whispers in the darkened watering holes of the Keys wherever tarpon chasers gather early each summer. 'The worms will hatch on ...'

And that's where the debate begins ... It's in late May and June that speculation reaches a crescendo about when the palolo worms will swarm ..."

From Chris Christian: "Finally it sank into my head. The worm hatch is real! And never in my long and varied fishing career have I seen anything to compare to it."

APRIL 1993



Editor Vic Dunaway turns his investigative reporting eye to the historical question, who caught the first 100-pound tarpon on fly? The resulting story is an entertaining stroll through the halls of history.--Ed.

"The concept and basic rules of competitive saltwater casting categories--fly, plug and spinning--were developed by the Rod and Reel Club of Miami Beach, and later passed along to the general angling public by being incorporated into the Metropolitan Miami (now South Florida) Fishing Tournament."


JULY 2000


Mike Conner, at the time FS Managing Editor and now Editor of Shallow Water Angler, captured the ballistics and joy of fishing for tarpon at night down in the Keys. "Today," says Conner now, "I want to catch them on fly, and I'd rather jump a bunch than battle one big one for hours. It's the strike I like."--Ed.


"And it's not all about highly skilled sight casters with high-end fly rods, machined fly reels and fancy fly patterns, This flashy sports car of a fish can be a garbage truck, a real trash can scavenger, more than happy to scoop a dead ladyfish, mullet or a cut bait off the bottom ... Tarpon, above all else, are survivors, as are the folks who chase them, and love them, above all other fish."




Editor Jeff Weakley kept pace with the latest in tarpon research studies with his story about Florida Institute of Technology Professor Ralph Turingan and grad student Cedric Guigand who used high-speed digital video to record captive tarpon feeding. The videos yield lessons not only about tarpon feeding habits but about fishing for tarpon.--Ed.


"Indeed, much of what they've found supports notions about tarpon feeding that anglers have long maintained; other aspects of their research counter some of these beliefs."

"Of course, it's impossible to completely satisfy a fisherman--that nervous curiosity is what motivates us to spend all our available time on the great blue laboratory of our oceans and bays."

MAY 2003


Project Editor, and now Editor at Large, Frank Sargeant brought 40 years of FS tarpon coverage full circle--and full circle hook--for the current decade with a story about Boca Grande, where it all started in the first place. The scene is still going strong at Boca Grande today, where many tournaments are held.--Ed.



"You may not like tarpon fishing at Boca Grande. You may not like the feeling that you're fishing in the middle of an interstate highway during rush hour. You may not like lines tangled with lye other boats on every other hookup ... But that does not change the fact that this huge natural pass at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor is demonstrably the world's best tarpon hole."

APRIL 2007



In another mega-Megalops issue, FS April, '07 carried 8 (!) stories about tarpon fishing around the state, plus Joe Richard's examination of the latest news about tarpon migrations. Get hold of that issue if you still have any questions about how to catch one of those big herring known as tarpon.--Ed.

"Florida anglers may not realize it, but studies confirm that we're sitting smack in the crossroad for migrating west Atlantic tarpon. Florida researchers are finding tarpon from North Carolina, Mexico and Louisiana here--but they suspect additional fish are arriving from places like Puerto Rico, Costa Rico, Cuba and The Bahamas, as well."

It's good to know what we always believed--that we're the tarpon capital of the Western World.--Ed.
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Title Annotation:recreational fishing
Author:Conway, David
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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