tomkaz

First Ever Beach Tarpon, the Fish Gods Were Smiling Upon Me

31 posts in this topic

Did you ever have one of those days where you thought the fishing gods were smiling upon you? 

 

I did yesterday when I landed my first tarpon from the surf, ever. My first tarpon on an artificial and the largest fish I have ever caught out of the surf as well. Best guesstimate was 5.5-6 feet long and 100-110 pounds. 

 

THE FISH

3E6065AB-228D-4C1D-B9FE-99F521DFB572.jpeg.74558ba04db26879dce5310fbcee6cbf.jpeg

 

We moved to Florida three years ago but I have not really sought tarpon off the beach. My only tarpon prior to this was on bait on the west coast of FL in the channels and that was half my life ago. Nothing since then. 

 

On the suggestion of a fellow SOLer, I went to a very secluded open ocean beach on Monday. He was there the day before and hooked up with five tarpon, including one he said went over 150. Conditions when I got there were harsh with winds blowing out of east at 18/25mph. Two weeks of easterlies had massive amounts of sargassum weed floating loosely, in mats and washed up on the beach. Surf was churning with three rows of rollers and lots of spray which contained aerosolized algae. My headlamp showed the mist at the parking lot and I wondered how much algae was actually floating in the air. I wore a buff over my nose to keep the chit out of my nose and lungs. That mostly worked, mostly. 

 

As my non-angler wife asked later: What was I thinking? 

 

WAVES AFTER SUNRISE WITH OUTGOING TIDE AND REDUCED WAVE ACTION

E9567D33-BEC9-4E87-B904-5708784D1562.png.743ecb114100bfc934356ad95c9c6105.png

 

 

Well, at first light it was clear that the tarpon were rolling just off the sand eating white bait with abandon. Small 1-5 pound jack crevalle mixed in as well. The tarpon appeared to be 4-6 feet long with some seemingly larger. My friend said he thought there were fish over 175 in that pod which feeds there every morning before the sun gets high. 

 

THE HATCH

AEC86601-FEAF-42E9-A1C8-52222C87FD12.jpeg.30c4d1a62b6806ed0e5cae67f6e535c9.jpeg

 

THE MATCH”

664F2676-72BD-4AD0-AA54-6342DA64A279.jpeg.3ecd8fe64a98dedcc016c6480d45f8a3.jpeg

 

As mentioned, the sargassum weed was everywhere on the water and you had to work your way around the thick mats of floating weed. Even then, if you found “clear water”, you were only allowed a few cranks per cast before fouling. Thus, while the tarpon were out there, the trick was a proper presentation. Think of casting a size 18 BWO to a rising wild trout across several current lines on the West Branch of the Delaware. The “hatch” in this case were small white bait (pilchards, sardines) and the trick was to get your lure lure in front of the tarpon before fouling. 

 

THE WEEDS ON EVERY CAST

9734F874-4A30-4A1B-85F3-3AF62C490444.jpeg.ddd492e8c1060c1e046b86d0106c6d6f.jpeg

 

On Sunday, before I switched to the jig I was using topwaters (single hook rigged weedless with a rubber band) and consistently catching the small jacks, sometimes every other cast. While fun, that gets a little old when you know there are no 10+ pound jacks in there. The tarpon ignored the topwaters which was not a surprise.  

 

Just after official sunrise, I decided to try for a tarpon, even as they were thinning out with the rising sun. The “hatch” were small white bait perfectly matched by Hogy Pro Paddle Tail. Cast. I had one in my bag and tied it up. I cast, cranked twice and boom hooked up with something very large. Three headshakes later, I was off without ever seeing the fish. Bigger jack, tarpon, who knows? 

 

Same jig then caught several jacks but the tarpon were done for the morning. And that was OK because my eyes were irritated by then due to the spray. On the way home I stopped at local shop and bought out their supply of the white Hogy lures. 

 

I went back again yesterday morning to the same conditions, maybe even windier with the hurricane in the Gulf. The SOL friend's truck was there and he’d been working for about 15 minutes with a couple of hookups. I moved about 50 yards down the beach and got to work right away with my heavier Blackhole Rod rigged with a Gambler paddletail rigged weedless. Even then, weeds on every cast because the sargassum is like Velcro and just wraps around your line. Nothing on the hook, all of it at my FG knot and on the nose of the lure. 

 

Find that the weedless Gambler didn’t matter, I switched to my lighter Century 1326 and the Hogy jig with the exposed hook. It was between first light and sunrise at that point and seeing the tarpon was easy. They were roving up and down the beach, rolling and blowing into bait pods randomly. With the weeds and getting fouled after only a few cranks, it was a matter of casting to specific fish. It was all a matter of leading them which was easier said than done effectively. 

 

COMBO A BIT LIGHTER THAN OPTIMAL

95993479-0546-4769-81C5-78F0A99DB113.jpeg.73f98286a8a9a0f5bd03af147dd4b411.jpeg

 

First cast was nothing but the second was perfect. Cast, crank, crank, boom, hookset with prejudice. Tarpon immediately goes airborne twice before running down the beach 30-40 yards. Heart pounding while chasing the fist, I fumble with the drag, loosening it before tightening it. Spool of my Van Staal VR125 was hot to the touch and a tug of war ensued. 

 

Candidly, during the give and take battle, worsened by 10+ pounds of weed on line, waves and current, I kept wondering if the months-old FG knot or quickly tied clinch knot and 30 pound braid would hold. 

 

Ten minutes later, after three more runs and a half dozen jumps, I get the fish in the wash and and now have to figure out how to get him up on the sand alone. My heart was nearly leaping out of my chest as I was trying to figure out how to grab the fish while holding my rod. Memory was failing me on whether the tarpon had sharp gill plates (no moran, that’s snook) though I knew they had no teeth but I was without gloves. Finally, I get a hand on the tail and drag him a few feet. 

 

SOLer was down the beach and was not aware of what I was doing, focused on his own fish. Needing proof (or “it didn’t happen”), it was all I could manage to get my iPhone out of my chest pocket for two quick Live Photos. Then a wave comes and moves the fish from under my foot and I have an Oh Chit moment. The slack line had wrapped around my ankle and through my toes and, as the fish is being swept toward open water by the wave, I am thinking if he’s still hooked, I am going to get sliced by the braid. After two seconds of worry, I see the jig sitting in the sand, the fish had spat if out; no worries about losing any toes. My last view of the fish was his fin and tail and with a shake, he was gone. 

 

When I went to inspect my leader, I was again amazed that the knots had held. The FG knot was tied during the spring and I told myself it needed to be retied. And the clinch knot, well, it was a couple of wraps short of optimal, but it held. And then I noticed the hood on the jig and marveled that the Barbarian VMC hook opened as much as it did. Hogy says the hooks and landed a 200 pound tarpon but it was opening with a fish half that size. Sure, the pressure of the ocean current, wave action, weeds, etc. would be more than just 100 pounds but still. 

 

MANGLED FG, LAME CLINCH AND WIDENED GAP

 

8ACE1AF8-ACEA-47B0-A45E-22B5FF4E3A33.jpeg.e27e6bb1ec2cdfe287cf89680d1754b2.jpeg

 

 

Sorry about the rambling tale but it is rare at this point in my life for a fish to leaving me breathing heavy and my heart racing. I appreciate that some reading this have landed dozens of such fish and I now understand how chasing tarpon can become addictive.

8 people like this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not sure the GIF’s animation will work here or not, but shows the moment when the fish got loose and I was worried about braid cuts. 

 

2CD7A457-F61A-4F3B-B042-5BA9842453F2.jpeg.1070ca82d723b0f96d938a3321a19137.jpeg

 

ETA - Live Photo to GIF conversion not animated above nor in my avatar. Must be doing something wrong. 

 

ETA2: Video version of above. 

 

9ABADCAE-D158-46DB-BDA3-C6BE4B9AE886.MOV

Edited by tomkaz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

awesome, so jealous of you.  I made a run down to the Sebastian/Ft Pierce area this past February looking for snook and tarpon.  Ended up finding the tarpon but couldn't get a solid hookset on any of them, got shook or jumped within seconds.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 mins ago, kurazy kracka said:

awesome, so jealous of you.  I made a run down to the Sebastian/Ft Pierce area this past February looking for snook and tarpon.  Ended up finding the tarpon but couldn't get a solid hookset on any of them, got shook or jumped within seconds.

The sharpie who is an SOLer recommends smaller than expected 6X strong trebles on all his lures that are not jigs. The smaller hooks set better but they need to be extra strong compared to standard hooks of that size. He says it makes all the difference in the world. 

 

On Tuesday he missed three and lost his favorite lure on another. It is not easy even for the best. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
39 mins ago, Otshawytsha said:

Great report that does sound like it could become addictive especially if the weeds clear up. 

Makes me wonder about bringing a 12wt to that beach if the weeds blow out. Well within reasonable casting distance, even with 10+ headwind. That would be a knuckle buster for sure. 

Edited by tomkaz

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Congrats on a nice fish and an epic story! I can see how that is addicting as well. 

 

Bucket list fish for me for sure! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great catch and nicely written story. I got bombed by a small tarpon on the Texas gulf coast a couple of years ago while wade fishing for specs. Maybe 40-50 lb fish. 3 violent cartwheels clicked off right in front of me, spit the hardware and was gone. Most exciting 3 seconds of my life. I'm assuming you'll be back at the same spot given the first first opportunity. Don't forget to update us.

Edited by kgtexas

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 mins ago, tomkaz said:

The sharpie who is an SOLer recommends smaller than expected 6X strong trebles on all his lures that are not jigs. The smaller hooks set better but they need to be extra strong compared to standard hooks of that size. He says it makes all the difference in the world. 

 

On Tuesday he missed three and lost his favorite lure on another. It is not easy even for the best. 

 

I was missing and losing all my fish on plugs outfitted with 3/0 VMC 4x's.   All it really did is light the fire even more for me to want to catch one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, tomkaz said:

Makes me wonder about bringing a 12wt to that beach if the weeds blow out. Well within reasonable casting distance, even with 10+ headwind. That would be a knuckle buster for sure. 

And probably a great workout too! Get your cardio in while catching fish. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to register here in order to participate.

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.