A light, tropical breeze rustled the leaves of palm trees lining the dock as I strolled towards a smiling man in waders perched on the bow of his boat. The sun had just started to peek over the horizon, casting a golden glow across the rows of white fishing vessels.
“Good Morning!” the grinning man bellowed out to us, now waving us over as he pulled the nose of his craft over to the dock. He introduced himself as Captain Javier and eagerly ushered us aboard.
As he maneuvered the boat out of its stall, he explained that we’d first obtain bait in the marina and then hustle out to the lagoon to hopefully catch prime feeding time for our target fish.
The Caribbean is known for myriad marine species in its renowned fishing waters. Puerto Rico, where we had just arrived the day prior, is known particularly for trophy tarpon. Thus, a tarpon charter was the first excursion scheduled on our vacation itinerary.
Having fished for red fish in the Gulf, I had some inkling of what we’d be in for, but tarpon was a uniquely new species for me. I was ripe with anticipation for the day ahead.
We coasted across the marina towards a series of tiny air bubbles we had just seen rise to the surface, indicative of a bait school. The net went overboard where the bubbles had dissipated seconds earlier and emerged with a score of sardines entangled in it. After several more casts, we were set with an abundance of live sardines swimming in the cooler.
The motor roared to life as the throttle was cranked wide open. We navigated out of the docks and into the lagoon, seemingly gliding across the glassy water as though we were skating on ice.
Mangroves consumed the view on both sides, twisted thickets comprised of vines intertwined with rooted trees. Snow white egrets perched majestically atop branches, scanning the water for their next meal.
I thought we’d have quite a trek to come across tarpon, but no more than a few minutes into our ride, we saw flashes of chrome rolling in our wake. Slowing to a halt, the captain chucked pieces of bait overboard in all directions.
A tarpon jumped, excited to have scored some free breakfast (I’d imagine). I eagerly cast in his direction.
Seconds after the line hit the water, my rod tip bent and my heart rate elevated. “Fish On!” the captain bellowed.
I dutifully pulled up and began reeling down, thrilled at the heavy tug on my line. But, I wasn’t prepared for the acrobatic jump my tarpon made, lurching out of the water and twisting mid-air before re-submerging, managing to slip off the circle hook attached to the end of my leader.
“You’ve got to bow!”, yelled the captain.
“If only he had told me that before..”, I thought to myself.
The jumping technique was a new one for me. I cast out again, and it wasn’t long before I had another nibble. Eagerly, I tried to set my hook, only to trigger an admonishment, “No! It’s a circle hook!”
But, alas, the guidance was a bit too late. The second tarpon evaded me quicker than the first.
Do not set the hook, and bow when they jump – my first lessons of tarpon fishing.
I employed these throughout the rest of the morning. The ‘golden hour’ lasted only those first two fish, and the bite slowed down after the initial feeding frenzy. As the sun rose higher in the sky, we trolled back further into the lagoons, ultimately anchoring up with four poles out.
Perhaps an hour into our anchor, I had my third bite.
This time, I let the fish hook himself. I bowed when I was supposed to as he made his first predictable leap out of the water. Relieved that I managed to retain the fish after his initial escape attempt, the fight ensued.
He bobbed and swerved, made several admirable flights through the air, charged and reversed.
Eventually, I reeled him close enough to the boat that he decided to take shelter under the bow. The struggle continued on until finally he popped out from the shade of the craft and the captain was able to net him.
Success!! My first tarpon. What a glorious moment to see that glistening chrome be pulled out of the water and placed in my hands. We estimate he was about 30 pounds, and I sure was proud at that moment.
As the day progressed and the sun rose higher, I of course turned into a lobster, but had the opportunity to reel in several of these exhilarating fish.
Tarpon are a bucket list fish if you haven’t had the opportunity to pursue them. Fighters to the end, and I was pulling in the babies of them.
Until next time Puerto Rico! Thank you for the trip of a lifetime Captain Javier and Puerto Rico Extreme Fishing.
Also, if you’re wondering what in the world Wide Open Fishing is, and why I’m wearing their shirt – let me explain. I’ve been working with a few other talented techies and passionate anglers over the past year to develop an app that will bring tournaments to both avid and recreational fisherman alike. Even if you’ve never participated in a fishing tournament previously, you’d be able to win reel cash and prizes via WideOpen Fishing. If you want to get your hook into this app as soon as it hits the iOS and Android app stores, sign up for updates on our launch page.