First off, I want to take a minute to introduce myself. My name is John, and I run Tailing Tide Guide Service out of coastal North Carolina. I eat, sleep, and breathe redfish…although I’ll chase anything that has fins and scales. Recently I was honored with a chance to jump onboard with the Marsh Wear Ambassador program and I gladly accepted. I’m looking forward to keeping everyone updated with fishing reports and articles on the Marsh Wear Blog.
Last December, I put a deposit down on a new poling skiff. At that point I had been running a micro skiff for a few years, and although it was perfect for me and a bud to go fly fishing for reds, it wasn’t exactly cutting the mustard as a guide boat. When you take a lot of different folks fishing, you quickly figure out what you want, and what you don’t want in a boat. I spent a lot of time researching all of the top skiffs and settled on an East Cape Fury for my next boat. Fast forward 6 months from putting down the deposit, and my new ride was ready to be picked up.
We lined up the pickup with a week vacation in the Florida Keys. I’m a huge Keys fan and there was no way we were going to pick up a boat in central Florida without heading all the way South. With the SUV slam packed with my wife, my son, and way too much fishing and diving gear, we made the 17 hour drive south to Marathon. This was a family vacation, but I was able to manage four mornings out on the flats chasing baby tarpon.
The first two mornings, I fished a flat covered with turtle grass that ran for a good mile along a mangrove shoreline. The water at the edge of the mangroves was only about a foot deep and was full of small 5lb tarpon and lots of little barracuda. About 50 yards off the shoreline, the water was about 3ft deep and the tarpon ranged from 10-20lbs. And if you went a bit farther out, there were poons in the 30-50lb range rolling on the surface. As the sun broke the horizon, everywhere you looked you could see tarpon rolling with their backs breaking the slick calm surface. The same scene would play out each time. You make an approach as the tarpon happily roll on the surface, and then make the cast to the unassuming school of fish. Your offering would either be met with a follow and a strike, or with a refusal and a huge wake leaving the flat at warp speed. And when they did eat, they’d immediately go berserk which is much different than what I’m used to with a redfish. Most of the eats immediately turn into a fly or lure sailing through the air. The ones you are able to connect with, usually still manage to toss your hook after a jump or two. And then every once in a while, things line up where you don’t screw up, and they don’t outwit you, and one of these beautiful fish come to hand.
The final two days of the trip I found another flat with scattered mangroves along the grass bottom. I poled the flat for a while with starfish and upside down jellies being the only life I could find. At the back of the flat, there was a deep man made canal lined with mangroves. As soon as I pushed the boat into the canal, I could see the backs of tarpon breaking the water’s surface ahead of me. I eased into casting range and was immediately rewarded with a hookup under the mangrove branches. The water was dark and tannic, unlike the clear water on the flats. The water was so dark that the silvery tarpon would disappear as soon as they got a few inches under the surface. A gurgler fly stripped across the surface did a great job dredging them up from the depths to investigate. Just like earlier in the week….lots of eats, with most throwing the hook within the first jump or two. I had the pleasure of bringing a few to hand, so that I could admire them for a few seconds before sending them back into the tannic stained water.
I’m a redfish guy, but these tarpon haunt my dreams, make my heart beat faster, and give me an adrenaline rush every time they swim by. I’m not sure if it’s their beauty, their acrobatics, or the gorgeous scenery that accompanies these silver princes….maybe it’s all of it, but I’m definitely addicted to them, and always will be.
check out the link below for some sweet tarpon footage