Finally getting the girl to the boat:
I grew up in New England. Wicked cold winters. When we were little, my Mom would bribe us: for each 'A' we got in school, she'd treat us to a ski trip. At one point, we'd racked up so many 'A's' that she was pulling us out of school to go skiing. The principal didn't like this. He told her, "Mrs. Kells, you shouldn't be taking your children out of school to go skiing!" Her response? "Well, they're getting 'A's' aren't they?" Good point.
And what does this have to do with fishing? Well, back then the skiing in the Northeast was hit or miss. If you hit the slopes after a snow storm, the skiing was great. If not, you skied on rocks and ice. We didn't care - we didn't know anything else! It wasn't until many years later, when I lived in Steamboat Springs, did I experience 'real' skiing. Powder. All the time. And it spoiled me rotten. Never skied in New England again. I hear they've got good snow machines now, but who wants to listen to that noise?
I've done a lot of fishing in my 49 years. Not as much as some, but more than most. Inshore, offshore, wreck, reef, beach, inlet, sound, bay, marinas, harbors, rivers, ponds, creeks... you name it. I took my first Tarpon trip a year ago. It was a combination "Congratulations for finishing the book, and Happy Christmas" present. I didn't know what I was in for, but I knew I wanted to catch Tarpon. I'd heard the stories and seen the pictures. Well, just like skiing out West, catching Tarpon on the flats of the Florida Keys has spoiled me rotten. Nothing like it...
This year we were up at 3:30... Met Pat and his boat at the marina at 5... Tied to the pole in the channel by 5:15... We were rigged and were fishing by 5:30. I felt a tug on my line and was hooked up at about 5:35. The sky was still dark, and I had 160 pounds of Tarpon on the end of my line. Big fish. Strong fish. Determined fish. Leaping fish. That fish had 40 pounds on me and eventually took us a mile from where we started. I almost gave up, and I NEVER give up! My back began to cave, my legs shook, my hands cramped, and sweat ran down my face. I'd get her close, then she'd take off, or she'd dive and hold tight. Captain Pat encouraged me, pulled on the leader when he could, then let go when the fish ran again, and again. The rod bowed so low it ran against the gunnel. The fish shot off so fast, I was slammed into the bow. When I finally got the fish to the boat, when she finally cried 'uncle', the sun peeked over the clouds. What a gorgeous animal! The eyes! The scales! The power, the beauty. If I could have, I'd have dived in to hug her.
I pushed back my tears, Captain Pat cut her lose, and I fell prone and heaving on the bow. My knees and shins were bruised. My left hand was curled into a 'monkey paw.' "Holy Shit! Goddam! I didn't think I could do it!" To which Pat said, "I knew you could do it. Good job. Now, up! We need to find the pole so we can catch 'ya another." A short while later I hooked a 140 pounder. Another old girl. Another long test ensued. My husband caught two more, and when the tide went slack we hit the flats and caught our share of Bonefish under clouds so ephemeral they didn't seem real.
That evening I flopped into bed, passed out, rose again at 3:30, and hit the water for round #2. 100 pound Tarpon? 120 pound Tarpon? No problem!
Tarpon fishing brings out the best in you. It reveals your character. It takes patience, skill, tenacity, courage, and a depth of determination you may not know you have, until you go against the big one. Do you have the will? Do you have the strength? Go Tarpon fishing. So what if you're spoiled? It's worth every dime and every mile. And you'll never lose the memories.
Captain Pat Bracher. Fish Overtime. Cudjoe Key. Top notch.