Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nature Girl: The Elusive Tarpon



"Fishing is a sport that requires a lot of patience and persistence."

The last time I went fishing, if memory serves me right, was right after September 11, 2001. I was stuck in Spain, not able to return to the states, so an angler friend drove me to Galicia for sea bass.

Hard to believe that was 10 years ago, for so many reasons, obviously. And hard to believe that I went so long without fishing! I could go without sex for years, but fishing? No way!

It was an itch I couldn't scratch but finally relieved last weekend when I got my hands on a rod and tried to catch a tarpon. Thanks to Captain Phil, who happens to be married to one of my best friends from high school, I was treated to the best loss of fishing virginity a girl could desire.

Let's face it, I might as well have been a fishing virgin again.

The three of us set out from a private marina in Pine Island with Captain Greg, Phil's partner in fishing crime. After netting some live bait, we drifted out in Captiva Pass between North Captiva and Cayo Costa, Captain Phil deftly keeping the bait fish out of the floating weeds. Captain Greg stood next to him, letting his bait lie lower in the water.

What more could a girl want? I had two men fishing for me, with the promise of handing over whatever rod got hit first so I could set the hook.

The afternoon could not have been more perfect. We had textbook tarpon fishing conditions. The water was smooth. A few tarpon were rolling. Captain Phil thought most of them were lying in ambush on the deeper edge of the pass.

Tarpon are like a bad-ass gang. I could imagine them hanging out on their turf, grinning slyly, waiting to gulp some wary bait fish swimming out to the gulf.

tarponThe magnificent megalops atlanticus.


Oh and the sunset. Yes, your typical gulf coast sunset was ablaze in all its celestial glory.

And then that line of clouds menacing from the east got closer, blowing hard wind and cold rain, which of course was exactly the moment when Captain Greg's rod squealed. All of a sudden, the water was roiling and after two hours of perfect calm I finally had a fish.

But it wasn't a tarpon.

Instead, I landed a small black tip shark, which I wanted to release, but the captain wanted to eat. (Yeah, it's good eats.)

And then I remembered. I was so obsessed with tarpon that I had forgotten I had always wanted to catch a shark!

Black Tip Shark
I wanted a tarpon, but ended up with a shark. Oh heck, I wanted a shark, too!

My first and only tarpon catch happened long before 2001. The sun was rising at Christian Point down in the Everglades when a school of juvenile tarpon surrounded the canoe. I caught one about 50 pounds on light tackle and golden spoon.

Last weekend, those damn bastards were there but just didn't want to bite. They taunted us by mouthing the bait and then swimming away. Fickle finny creatures ... the day before, Captain Phil's guests had hooked a big tarpon. I guess it just wasn't my day, nature conspiring against me with a storm that pounded my ass and soaked me to the bone on the way back to the marina.

After so many years of not fishing, I certainly earned some sea legs. I loved every minute of it.

And it's not really about the fish, of course. It's about connecting with nature, experiencing the water, the wind, the rain, the sun and the beauty of the gulf coast islands, all while hanging out with great friends.

I may not have a caught a tarpon, but hey, I can scratch shark off my bucket list.

And more importantly, I did catch me a some big happy.

More video: Captain Phil explaining fishing in the weeds.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This trip to the gulf coast was supported in part by GM Southeast. I got there and back on a Hybrid Chevy Tahoe. And of course, many thanks go to Captain Phil and my old friend for treating me to a great afternoon!

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