Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tarpon Slime.

I am not exactly sure what woke me up first, the incessant bites from the many mosquitos in the room or the howling screeches of the resident roosters outside the window. All I remember is waking up in unfamiliar territory. Shirtless and blanketless on an air mattress in the spare room in my brother's apartment in the Caribbean. Two days earlier I was waking up in the cold of Pennsylvania. The night before I battled my first Tarpon on two full days of no sleep. The lure of the tarpon ensured my senses were operating on all cylinders before I took a nosedive and crashed. Hard. Day two in the Caribbean and I slept in. Already nearing 9 o'clock, I just wasted nearly four hours of daylight & fishing. What a waste.

As the residents of the household converged in the living room, plans were formed for the days events. One of the many perks of my brother being a teacher on the island are the lavish gifts that his students bestowed upon him. Among them were bottles of wine, a dive knife, and the best one just happened to be the keys to a condo on a nearby island. We decided to head there and spend the night. My brother promised there would be some great nighttime tarpon fishing to be had. I was willing to sacrifice a day of fishing for an exotic beach and amazing scenery. Just as long as I got a chance to redeem myself from the night before.

The Sweet Rental. Suzuki Carry 1.3

Beach Front.

Playing Catch With a Coconut.
Jay-Z's Yacht.

After a day of ferries, hiking, lush beaches, and interuppting photo shoots, we finally embarked on the mission. Luckily the spot we visited had enough light to attract schools of small baitfish. Where there are baitfish, there are tarpon. From a distance greater than fifty yards we layed our eyes on a spotted eagle ray some five feet across slowly making its way through the water. After a minute of admiration the tarpon began lurking in and out of the light. I tied on a large purple tarpon toad and got into position.

Matt Trying Out for the Final Season of LOST.

The Baths.


Tying a Tarpon Leader in the Dr. Seuss Condo.

Before arriving on the island I half jokingly told my brother that I was going to land the first tarpon I saw, on the first cast I made. I got schooled that first night. A decade plus of trout fishing has a way of hardwiring your casting arm to lift the rod at every take. Bad news bears when fishing in the salt. If you lift the rod, a tarpon will sometimes give you a few precious seconds of chaos before seemingly spitting out the hook. You need to strip set hard. Much harder than you think in order to plant that steel in their prehistoric hinged jaw. These thoughts ran through my mind as my shot at redemption slowly meandered his way straight at me. I decided to let him swim under the pier and have my toad waiting for him on the opposite side. I casted the toad out about fifteen feet and waited. The tarpon swam out from the darkness directly between my legs inspected the fly briefly before inhaling it.

Lone Shot of the Battle.

Tailing a Tarpon. DUMB.

This Didn't Work Out Too Well.

It was more sheer luck than skill, that I caught my first tarpon. The first mistake I made was not strip setting. As soon as that fly disappeared in the mouth I lifted the rod. For weeks leading up to the visit I would practice strip setting while daydreaming about catching a tarpon. I even think I did it a few spontaneous times in public in front of people. All that practice and I was about to blow another shot at the king. However, this time I partially realized my mistake and dropped the tip and clamped down on the line just as the tarpon erupted. The fish took off and lept out of the air before heading to my right peeling line off the rod. He jumped directly next to the big ship at the end of the dock clearing the rail. He easily could have ended up in that ship and I was worried the second time he went for it. Of course this was all during the first ten seconds of the battle. I realized that this fish wasn't going anywhere and dropped my gaze on my reel. It was a tangled shit show. My line was wrapped around the butt of the rod and almost knotted in the spool. Despite this, the tarpon was STILL taking out line. Crazy.

Man Sized.

"O" Face.

My brother and I worked together to get out of that mess and when everything was clear he went on a little run. I kept the rod tip at my waste working him down and dirty in the opposite direction he was heading using the butt of the rod to wear him out. I walked him down to the beach and after a few tense moments and leaps in the surf, I wrapped my hands around my first megalops atlanticus. The whole show ending in less than ten minutes. I struggled to find the right thumb placement in his mouth. It was a pretty unfamiliar feeling sticking my hand in his mouth, it might as well have been a steel clamp. I led him out into the surf pushing water over his gills. I hoisted him up onto my chest using both arms holding him tight for an epic grip and grin shot.

Yeah, I Was Happy.

That night back in the condo, I slipped out to the pool and recounted the nights events under a star filled sky. The situation I found myself in was pretty ridiculous but it was made even sweeter by the fact that I had just caught my first tarpon. I reached out of the pool and grabbed my soaking wet shirt. It was coated in a layer of tarpon slime that reeked of fish. The entire front of the shirt was destroyed. I spent a few minutes scrubbing it in the pool to no avail. I placed the shirt in a plastic bag that eventually became several plastic bags as the week progressed. The shirt still reeks of my tarpon. It is a reminder of one fine night in the Caribbean.