Night Fishing: A Report (Pt. I)

Caught: Tarpon (photo: Nate Dubya)

Night Tarpon:
A Report

“Chance is always powerful.
Let your line be always cast;
in the pool where you least expect it,
there will be a fish.”

August 5, 2005

Light East wind, 5-8 knots; high falling tide. Young moon and 86 degrees.

We hit the harbor to fish under the lights. Sometimes tarpon lay along the edges of the shadows and if you look carefully you can just make out their dark backs as they float in the clear water. You”ve got to pick your targets here, though blind casting works too. Sometimes the tarpon hunker down along the bottom and silhouette bait-fish on the surface. A slowly twitched Muddler can draw explosive strikes even if you don”t see the floaters.

That”s what we start off with, but I only get one half-hearted strike (a “blow job”, as one Keys guide calls it). I run my fingers along the shock tippet. It”s not even scratched; fish never touched the fly. I show it to maybe half-dozen other fish, picking my shots so that the fly swims close enough for them to see. A couple follows, but no dice.

Ok, Plan B: I tie on a sinking fly – yarn head, bead eyes and short splayed tail. All gray and brown. Maybe another half dozen tarpon see this one, but again, no dice.

Then I see a big fish hunkered down along a shadow line, barely moving. I lead it by a couple feet and get no response with the standard retrieve. Ok, let”s try a little teasing, you lazy ba$t@rd. This time the fly sinks about 5 feet in front of its nose and I twitch it, just a bump, maybe an inch or two. The fish comes to the fly in a wide swirl, the line simply jumping tight and it’s on: a big fish by the long, line eating run it makes—maybe a female, (since I heard somewhere they’re bigger).

Finally she slows about a hundred and fifty yards out. I hold for a few moments, palming the reel to pressure her. Hoping she’ll jump. When she moves again I barely move my fingers in time. The tarpon is airborne in a sweeping, greyhound leap that clears 20 feet and leaves the line no longer pointing in even the same general direction as the fish. The reel sounds like someone redlining one of those little four-cylinder Hondas and I pray it will hold together and not simply fly apart from the G”s.

That run stops maybe two hundred yards out and then the fish starts digging—a down and dirty tactic employed by big, smart fish. After maybe a minute of this I feel the tarpon speed for a jump, this time so far away that it seems like maybe another fish free jumping. I get to worrying that maybe I’ll have to reel her back from out there. Not a problem, since about three seconds later the line goes slack.

It takes another minute or two just to reel in to see what knot broke. The shock tippet’s gone. The Albright gave out.

Time to retie.

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