Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Confession.

-Dec 2009

The fish was about 25lbs, but fought with more tenacity than any of the other tarpon I’ve landed. It wasn’t until the fish was close and in the surf that I noticed the blood pumping from it’s gills. My heart sank. The local man next to me noticed as well, and said that it was an injured fish, better to let him take it home for his family.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been propositioned to hand over my catch. On each of the previous occasions that I’ve landed a tarpon, I’ve revived and released the fish under the watchful eyes of those that have asked. Even hooking and fighting a fish causes cars to stop and people to appear from nowhere to watch and inquire about what I’m going to do with it. When the fish breaks off or shakes the hook they offer condolences and return to wherever they came from.

This day, however, I relented. As I lipped the tarpon in the surf, I hoisted it as dozens of tourists snapped photos. Somewhere, people have photos of me holding the doomed tarpon up for their admiration. One of them asked me if bass were what I usually caught in these waters.

I turned and the local man was holding my fly rod. I had dropped it in the surf to land the fish. He asked me for the fish again and I gave it to him. We traded fly rod for tarpon and he walked up the narrow beach, holding it by the lower jaw. As he hopped the sea wall, the tarpon thrashed and slipped from his grip, landing with a thud on the macadam of the roadway.

I looked down at the fish, lying in a place where no fish should ever be. He picked it up again and dumped it into a trash bag that his friend was holding open for him. The writhing black bag was then unceremoniously tossed into the trunk of his car, the lid slammed.

As the tourists dispersed, I sat on the sand and rubbed my aching forearm and thought about the choice I’d just made. I don’t remember why I did that. The blossoming red cloud that I’d noticed in the water was not evident on my hands, clothing, sand or sea wall. Might the fish still be alive today, existing where millions of years of evolution had molded every silvery scale and that mechanical mouth, had I snubbed the hungry man asking for a free meal?

All of the hours spent chasing these fish over the 4 fishless months that I struggled to crack their codes, the bent hooks, exploded knots, shredded leaders, adrenaline rushes, the first landed tarpon, it all culminated in that tarpon flopping onto the blacktop, disgraced.

The tarpon that had taken my white deceiver was certainly not gliding through this bay anymore, rolling through schools of fry. It was locked in the trunk of a car, suffocating in a plastic bag.

I just needed to get that off of my chest.


Matthew D Dunn said...

Wow. This is a powerful story. Thanks. I react in two different ways at the same time. Good stuff.

Matt said...

Thanks. I haven't caught a fish since then. I must lift the curse somehow.

Fishing Fury said...

I almost handed a tarpon to an onlooker who had asked for it several times. As I hesitantly handed the fish to him the feisty tarpon gave a quick headshake and escaped my light grip and fell back into the drink. And I was relived.

I'd like to think tarpon are incredibly resilient, but I have read otherwise. In your case there is no telling if the fish would have survived, or if the blood was flowing from a mortal wound. At least some mouths were fed, despite the unsatisfactory send off.

Matt said...

I've read mortality studies as well. It seems they aren't as hardy as they appear, but I think giving it a chance would have been the best thing to do.
Long fights leave them exhausted and my own observations have lead me to believe that they, like carp, release some kind of stress hormone or pheromone into the water when spooked for hooked that turns other fish in the area off.

Fishing Fury said...

Crazy, I never new about the hormone thing with carp or tarpon - most of my fishing for both has been in rivers or areas with current.

Matt said...

it's just an idea. i know carp get totally turned off upon hooking one from the same area of water they have congregated it.
tarpon seem to be the same way. they get lockjaw after hooking one of them. even if the one you hooked was on the first cast, the rest seem to cool down when it would appear as if they were aggressively feeding.
based on no evidence other than about 6 months of fishing for them.