The Florida Keys is truly a special place, especially during tarpon season. I am truly blessed that I was able to tote the camera and rod to such an amazing place. This was my first time to the lower keys. We spent 5 days chasing big silvers near Big Pine Key, with Capt. Joel Dickey.
Hooking a tarpon is like nothing I have ever experienced. Everything is different. I was able to get my first eat on the first day, but did everything wrong. I set the hook just like a 18″ rainbow grabbed my fly. I had no idea you could wrench on a fish so much. We are used to fine tippets and keeping that rod high. With Tarpon, you do just the opposite. The second evening I caught my first tarpon, 100+ pounds. I was not prepared for such a gear shredding battle. For those of you who have never tarpon fished, I cannot even put the full experience into words. You just have to do it for yourself someday. These fish show you the definition of “going ballistic”. I still have a bruise on my waist from the fighting butt and line burns on my fingers. You definitely go thru some flies with these fish. You break them off not only by accident, but also on purpose. Often when we leadered a fish, we palmed the reel and sacrificed the fly. This saved the fish from sheer exhaustion, but also from the 12 foot hammerheads.
Most of the days we had intermittent clouds, combined with weak tides. This made finding fish difficult. Tides in the keys play a huge role in fishing conditions, just like flows in our rivers. The strong incoming tides were in the middle of the night, these are the tides where the tarpon do most of their traveling. This made finding the fish more interesting. The last two days of the trip where the best. Tides were perfect, but thunderstorms began to play games with us, but we still managed to hook fish.
On the third day we saw something the guide has never seen before, a set of mating sea turtles splashing at the surface. Capt. Joel has 2000+ days on the water and he has never seen mating turtles. I knew this was something special, so I managed to get a few images of them doing their thing.
The days when the tides and fishing were a little off, I clicked away at the shutter. There were a few shots I wanted to get, that I did not pull off, but kept shooting anyways. I tend to get so focus on getting one shot that I loose perspective on the entire experience. The shot above turned out to be my favorite for the trip, and I was just messing around during lunch with a camera in one hand and my turkey sandwich in the other.
Sunrises in the Keys made your heart stop. On the first day we were so focused in on finding fish, that we nearly missed this sunrise. We were on our way to our first spot for the morning and my good friend, Greg, looked to the east and suggested we get the camera out. So I did, while Joel was running the boat at 30mph over choppy seas. I was able to snap this photo while holding on and trying to stay on the boat. No stopping to goof off during tarpon season I guess.
To the left is the big “poon” that I was able to land late into the second evening. I hooked her just as the sun was going down and then fought her into the dark. This was a big fish, which I quickly learned how to put the pressure on. I saw this fish roll behind the boat, so I made a back cast to her. I had done this several times the day before, with no interest. As I was stripping, I said to Joel, “wouldn’t it be cool if she ate right at the…..”. 15 feet from the boat a giant black hole engulfed the fly….and I froze, which as a good thing, because I didn’t pull the fly away. I managed to jump her several times and landed her next to the boat. Greg managed to get a couple shots off while she was jumping. I will NEVER forget my first tarpon.