Anyone that knows me well knows that I work all the time, and I mean ALL the time. I have more things going on at any given time than most people could ever imagine. Taking a vacation is something that is very rare.
Before I get too far into this let me just say this before I go any further, yes I know this is a catfishing blog and this story has nothing at all to do with fishing for catfish. One of the things you will find about my blog when you have been reading for a while is I may mention something or tell a story that seems completely and totally irrelevant at the time, but I promise you it’s not. At some point something else is going to tie back into this post. With this particular post there will be a NUMBER of other posts that will tie back into this post so telling the back story is essential to all of this making sense. Just bear with me.
Last year I had an opportunity to go to Key Largo Florida for a vacation, and as soon as the topic came up visions of tarpon fishing started dancing through my head. The vacation was one of those “too good to be true” deals that was going to cost nothing but meals so we jumped on the opportunity.
I am a die hard catfisherman, but I also like anything that will pull (which probably explains my passion for catching trophy blue catfish). I also like to catch gar, redfish, hybrid stripers or anything else that will latch on to the other end of my fishing rod and put up a good fight.
Catch a tarpon was a life long dream and one of those “bucket list” kind of items that I had always dreamed about. I have watched countless hours of anglers catching the silver kings on the flats of the Florida Keys on TV, read books and every other possible resource that you could possibly imagine. I had even looked several times at going tarpon fishing in Galveston Texas but it just wasn’t the same as fishing the crystal blue waters of the Florida Keys so I never went.
We set the date and made all the arrangements for our Florida Keys vacation and I set off on a mission to find a way to go tarpon fishing while in the Florida Keys.
I started calling and talking to Florida Keys Tarpon Fishing Guides that started their trips all the way from key Largo to Key West and all points in between. I had talked to about two dozen Florida Keys Tarpon Guides and probably traded emails with a few dozen others as well trying to find someone that could take me on a guided tarpon fishing trip.
Ironically I made some friends along the way and have a couple of the Florida Keys tarpon guides that I still trade emails with today over a year later.
I was on a guided catfish fishing trip with some clients and was playing phone tag with some guides. My client that was with me on my Lake Lewisville guided catfishing trip was a “wordly fisherman” who fishes with me quite often. He is one of those guys that has had the luxury of fishing all over the world for just about every species of fish there is. We got to talking about tarpon fishing and he wrote a phone number down for me and told me to book with “his” tarpon guide and that I wouldn’t regret it.
Here I was a few days before I was supposed to leave and I call and get booked with a tarpon guide based out of Islamorada Florida (Islamorada is known by many as the sportfishing capital of the world).
I arrived in Key largo a few days later and anxiously awaited my Tarpon fishing trip the whole time. I was just counting down the minutes.
Finally the day came and I got up at the crack of dawn and drove the short drive from Key Largo to Islamorada for my guided Tarpon Fishing Trip with Captain Chris Barron of Stray Cats Charters at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Angler in Islamorada Florida.
I think I arrived at the Offshore Angler in Islamorada an two hours before I was supposed to because I couldn’t sleep the night before.
Captain Chris Barron arrived on time and was waiting for me at the dock when he said he would be. We loaded up in his 18 foot skiff and headed out to catch bait. The wind was blowing like crazy and bait had been hard to catch the days leading into my trip (according to Chris).
Chris Barron and I had discussed at length me being a catfish guide in Texas leading up to the trip so I quickly reminded him as we headed out that I would be happy to throw the cast net or drive the boat if it would be easier to catch bait with my assistance. Being a guide I am used to working so sitting back and watching everyone else do the work is not in my nature.
Chris and I made several attempts to catch bait and couldn’t get to the right sized mullet we needed because they kept running up on a shallow flat that we couldn’t get to. There were numerous other tarpon guides that were trying to catch bait in the same area and most of them packed up and headed out to fish without any fresh bait while Chris and I stayed and kept at it, finally catching enough live mullet that was the right size for catching tarpon (according to Chris). Catching bait was a team effort with me driving the boat and Chris throwing the net (and him giving me lessons in catching mullet).
We headed off through the mangroves of the Florida Keys in the skiff and traveled several miles to a large open area with a large flat and began drift fishing with a couple of fishing rods baited with live mullet and cut mullet. Chris and I were talking at this time and I made sure to reiterate what we had dicussed on the phone, I was after BIG tarpon. I had no interest in catching numbers of fish and I had rather take my chances of catching one big tarpon that catch a bunch of little tarpon.
Chris explained that he had caught some tarpon drift fishing in the area we were fishing in the last few days and that he had been doing well in this area. We drift fished this area for about twenty minutes and then Chris decided we needed to move after we didn’t receive any bites at all.
We moved to another area and Chris threw out two lines from the back of the boat after we anchored, one baited with a big chunk of cut mullet and another with a large live mullet. About ten to fifteen minutes passed and we were discussing the life of a fishing guide, and having other various fishing conversations and we got a hit. The Shakespeare Ugly Stik Toger Rod was doubled over in the rod holder and by the time I had reached the back of the boat Chris had mumbled “nurse shark” and snapped the line and began rigginbg the fishing rod again.
We baited the line with another live mullet and threw out some chum, and I sat back and relaxed again waiting for the next run while Chris and I continued talking. Chris is a Florida Keys native (or might as well be as long as he has lived there) and I was pestering him with questions about life in the Florida Keys (I would probably pack up and move if I could talk the family into it).
There are boats lined up all up and down the bridge where we are Tarpon fishing South of Islamorada and we see a few small tarpon being caught here and there but nothing of any substance, we see some people catch a few small sharks, and even a couple of rays but there are no big Tarpon being caught.
Just when I began to let my guard down, WHAM, the rod doubles over in the fishing rod holder and Chris yells to me to get to the rod, I grab the rod, and hang on setting the hook. Chris drops the anchor and gets to the wheel of the boat, fires up his outboard and tells me to hang on. All the while I feel like I just latched on to the back of a school bus moving 85 miles per hour. All I can do is hold on, we are running at the fish with the outboard, and going fast, and the tarpon is still stripping drag like we are not even moving.
The tarpon makes a pass at the bridge and Chris tells me to watch my head and we go running through the bridge columns and my standing on the deck of the boat holding the rod with all I have got, and then Chris turns and heads back through another hole in the bridge, still chasing the fish.
Finally, after several passes through the bridge the tarpon makes a break for open water and we go chasing after it, traveling several hundred yards into open water before Chris shuts down the outboard and sits back to watch me fight my fish, all the while I am still just holding on, with no chance of gaining any line on the silver king.
Finally, the fish begins to tire and I start fighting the fish, working the rod, gaining feet of fishing line at a time, and then losing as much or more as a gain. After a while when I finally feel that I am gaining some line on my big tarpon and then it happens, this monster Islamorada Florida tarpon comes flying out of the water and rolls in the air, putting on an aerial show that would rival any I ever saw on television or in magazines. The adrenaline rush of the whole experience seeing this monster tarpon flying through the air was unbelievable.
During this time I told Chris the fish was tiring and he chuckled when the fish came flying through the air because it then began to strip the fishing line off the reel with more fury than it had since I had originally hooked the giant fish (the fish had taken a big gasp of oxygen in the air and was ready to test me again).
Chris then gave me lessons on some of the finer points of fighting a big tarpon showing me how to keep the fish from doing the aerial flips and rolls and getting more energy by staying low in the boat and fighting the fish to the side, as well as a number of other tarpon fishing tricks that helped me land the fish and we got the fish to the side of the boat and I got my first glimpse of my trophy tarpon, and then it was gone. The fish started stripping line off the reel again.
Finally we got the fish to the side of the boat and Chris grabbed a kit from his storage box to take a DNA sample of the fish (he works with the University Of Miami on a program that tracks the tarpon movement) and he took a quick sample from the fish. I laid down in the deck of the boat holding my fish and Chris took a few quick pictures and we then released my trophy tarpon. (I shot a quick video when Chris was doing the DNA swab as well).
I had fulfilled the fishing dream of a lifetime and realized rather quickly that I would never look at another fish the same after catching this tarpon.
We returned to our spot and anchored back up to everyone around asking about our big fish and started fishing again, and repeated this process three more times after this, with the fish getting smaller each time. The first fish being the largest but the subsequent fish were all still huge trophy tarpon that would all have easily been capable of fulfilling my tarpon fishing expectations.
After Tarpon fishing in Islamorada with Captain Chris Barron of Stray Cats Charters I will probably never look at fishing the same again. If I could pack up now and head to the Florida Keys and spend the rest of my life catching Tarpon I probably would, but nothing will ever compare to the adrenaline rush and sheer power of my first trophy tarpon caught in the Florida Keys.
I was beat, and my arms and shoulders hurt so bad I could barely move them, not to mention that I was fishing after recovering from a broken hand and had lost all feeling in my hand after fighting these big fish.
Chris and rolled up the lines, and headed back off into the mangroves of the Florida Keys with me grinning from ear to ear the whole time.
If you ever get down near the Florida Keys and want to go fishing, I highly recommend Captain Chris Barron with Stray Cats Charters. Chris is a class act and has probably forgotten more about fishing in the Florida Keys than most will ever know in their lifetime. Chris website is http://www.straycatscharters.com
Now that I have that out of the way, one of these days I will get around to what I took away from my Florida Keys tarpon fishing charter and how it applies to fishing for catfish.
Here is a video of Chris taking a DNA sample from the Tarpon
Me Trying To Fight This Monster Tarpon And Run A Video Camera